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Despite drop in civilian casualties, Afghan conflict still takes devastating toll – UN

UNAMA Deputy Special Representative Nicholas Haysom (centre), addresses the press in Kabul, Afghanistan.
UNAMA/Eric Kanalstein
UNAMA Deputy Special Representative Nicholas Haysom (centre), addresses the press in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Despite drop in civilian casualties, Afghan conflict still takes devastating toll – UN

Conflict-related violence in Afghanistan is still having devastating consequences for civilians despite the decrease in casualties this year, according to a United Nations report released today.

“The United Nations welcomes the reduction in civilian casualties, but we must remember that Afghan children, women and men continue to be killed and injured at alarmingly high levels,” the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, said in a news release.

The 2012 Midyear Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict states that during the first half of the year, conflict-related violence led to 1,145 civilian deaths and 1,954 injuries. While these figures represent a 15 per cent decrease compared to last year, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) stressed that more needs to be done protect civilians.

“The 3,099 civilian casualties documented in this report were ordinary Afghans struggling to go about their daily lives in the midst of an armed conflict,” said Mr. Haysom, adding that out of the 3,099 casualties, 925 were women and children. “I call on all parties to the conflict to increase their efforts to protect civilians from harm and to respect the sanctity of human life.”

The report notes that anti-Government elements were responsible for 80 per cent of civilian casualties, down 15 per cent from the same time period in 2011. UNAMA documented that Pro-Government forces were responsible for 10 per cent of the civilian casualties, down 25 per cent on the previous year, while the remaining 10 per cent of the casualty total could not be attributed to any party in the conflict.

The report also notes that while overall casualties have decreased, attacks against schools have increased and the Taliban’s interference in the running of schools has impact on children’s access to education, especially girls.

During the first six months of the year, UNAMA verified 34 attacks, including cases of burnings of school buildings, targeted killings and intimidation of teachers and school officials, armed attacks against and occupation of schools and closures, particularly of girls’ schools.

“It is extremely worrying that attacks against schools have increased so dramatically,” said acting head of UNAMA’s Human Rights Unit, James Rodehaver. “These attacks not only put children at risk of harm, but also seriously impede their access to education, which is a fundamental human right.”

The report also states that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) continue be one of the biggest threats to civilians. They account for 33 per cent of all casualties, higher than any other cause. This figure goes up to 53 per cent when taking into account suicide and complex attacks which used IEDs.

“Victim-activated improvised explosive devices are illegal, as they fail to distinguish between civilians and combatants,” said Mr. Haysom “This heinous weapon has killed or maimed the greatest number of Afghan civilians during the conflict and I call on the Taliban to cease their use.”

The report also documents human rights abuses against civilians in seven provinces across the country, many of which were not investigated or prosecuted by the Afghan local police. Local residents also raised with UNAMA their concerns over human rights abusers being recruited into the police force.

“Impunity for human rights abuses only emboldens the perpetrators,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. “Violations must be duly investigated, perpetrators brought to justice and the victims granted remedies. Holding violators accountable is a crucial step towards improving security for Afghan women, men and children.”