The number of civilian casualties resulting from the conflict in Afghanistan has risen for a fifth consecutive year, the United Nations reported today, blaming a change in tactics by the Taliban and other anti-Government forces for the higher death toll.
The annual report on protection of civilians in armed conflict, prepared by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), recorded 3,021 civilian deaths last year -- an increase of eight per cent on the previous year's total of 2,790.
Since 2007, at least 11,864 civilians have lost their lives in the ongoing conflict between the Government, backed by international forces, and the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
Jan Kubis, the head of UNAMA and the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that "for much too long, Afghan civilians have paid the highest price of war. Parties to the conflict must greatly increase their efforts to protect civilians to prevent yet another increase in civilian deaths and injuries in 2012."
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay described the figures are extremely worrying. "Behind these numbers is real suffering and loss for families in Afghanistan," she said.
Anti-Government forces were responsible for an increasingly large majority of the deaths, and last year accounted for 77 per cent of all civilians who were killed.
The report noted that the Taliban and related groups use improvised explosive devices (IEDs) more frequently and more widely, with the IEDs detonating whenever a person, including a child, steps on them or whenever a vehicle drives over them.
Anti-Government forces also conducted more deadly suicide attacks that led to higher death tolls, and stepped up the targeted killings of civilians. The report documented 495 such killings, including those of provincial governors, district governors, local government workers and tribal elders.
And while the number of civilians killed by pro-Government forces fell overall last year, the number killed from aerial attacks rose.
The report found that the conflict is playing an increasingly intrusive role in the day-to-day lives of Afghans, with nearly 200,000 people displaced last year by the fighting, thousands of others losing their livelihoods and property, and many more having their freedom of movement restricted because of the clashes.
"Unremitting civilian casualties coupled with pervasive intimidation by parties to the conflict and an expanding number of pro- and anti-Government armed groups affected many Afghan civilians directly, and many more indirectly, by fueling uncertainty, tension and fear," the report stated.
The geographic distribution of casualties evolved last year as well, with an increasing proportion located in Afghanistan's southeast, east and north as armed fighting lessened in severity in the south.
While the Afghan Local Police had improved security in most areas where they operated, they also stood accused of human rights abuses against civilians in several districts.
The report's authors lay out a series of recommendations for participants to the conflict, including urging anti-Government forces to stop using victim-activated pressure-plate IEDs, cease targeting civilians, hold accountable those members who kill and injure civilians and stop attacking places of worship.
The report calls on the Afghan Government to ensure its troops are trained adequately in tactics and procedures, particularly concerning alternatives to lethal forces, and to improve the recruitment and oversight of the Afghan Local Police.
International military forces are called on to further review their procedures aimed at preventing any incidental loss of civilian life in the carrying out of military operations, especially aerial attacks, and to promote transparency and accountability when dealing with Afghan civilians and communities.
Georgette Gagnon, the director of human rights at UNAMA, noted that new proposals have been put forward in recent months that could lead to a process of peace negotiations between the pro- and anti-Government sides.
"To the Afghan people, the credibility and value of a negotiation process and progress toward peace will be measured by reduced civilian casualties and real improvements in security, particularly in conflict-affected areas," she said. "Only through increased actions to protect civilians will the relentless toll of death and injury to Afghan children, women and men be ended during and following a peace process."