The number of Afghan civilians killed or injured in 2012 decreased for the first time since the United Nations began keeping track of such figures, according to a report released today, but attacks on women and children, and threats on perceived Government supporters, are on the rise.
Civilian deaths dropped 12 per cent for the first time in six years, according to figures in the 2012 Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, prepared by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), in coordination with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
“The decrease in civilian casualties UNAMA documented in 2012 is very much welcome. Yet, the human cost of the conflict remains unacceptable,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš.
Addressing journalists in Kabul, Mr. Kubiš spoke out against threats and intimidation of people perceived to be aligned with the Government of President Hamid Karzai.
“There is a 700 per cent increase, 700 per cent, in the killing and harming of civilians, and I’m stressing civilians who are perceived to be working in favour of the Government – different officials, tribal leaders, religious leaders, those that are speaking in favour of peace.”
Particularly disturbing were targeted killings of women by anti-Government elements (AGEs), as demonstrated by the killings of the head and deputy head of the Laghman Department of Women’s Affairs in July and December 2012.
Civilian casualties from targeted killings by AGEs increased by 108 per cent compared with 2011. Within that category, the killing of civilian Government employees rose 700 per cent, according to the report.
Another concerning trend are the attacks on women and children, especially as they were working or going to school. Of the 7,559 civilian casualties confirmed in 2012 by UNAMA, 301 women and girls were killed and 563 were injured – an overall increase of 20 per cent from the previous year.
“It is the tragic reality that most Afghan women and girls were killed or injured while engaging in their everyday activities,” said the Director of Human Rights for UNAMA, Georgette Gagnon, who also spoke at the press conference.
According to the report, AGEs, which include the Taliban, were responsible for 6,131 casualties or 81 per cent of the killings and injuries. The figure is an increase of nine per cent over 2011, mostly due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Of particular concern to the UN is illegal pressure-plate IEDs, which can be detonated by any person, including children, stepping on them or any vehicle such as civilian minibuses driving over them. According to Ms. Gagnon, these types of IEDs are planted in public places used by civilians such as bazaars, markets and roads “with devastating consequences for civilians” and increase threats to civilians carrying out daily activities in their communities.
Also disruptive to communities is the threat of suicide bombers, who Mr. Kubiš described as children who had been “brainwashed” by the AGEs.
“We need to deliver a change of the situation,” Mr. Kubiš said. Speaking directly to the Taliban, who he said comprises the strongest and most organized group fighting the Government, he said: “Talk to us. Let’s work. Redefine your definition of civilians and then follow the prescriptions of the international humanitarian law.”
Turning to the pro-Government forces, who account for eight per cent of civilian casualties, Mr. Kubiš noted that the UN works in a “very tough dialogue” with the Government and with the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO-led security force in Afghanistan, to minimize harm to civilians during their operations.
Civilian casualties from aerial operations dropped by 42 per cent, but remained the cause of most civilian deaths and injuries caused by pro-Government forces, in particular international military forces.
Mr. Kubiš also spoke about the upcoming Afghan elections, saying that a group from the UN Electoral Assistance Division had been working with authorities, the Independent Election Commission, political parties and leaders, civil society representatives and the international community to prepare recommendations for the 2014 presidential polls. Once completed, those will be made public during a press conference.
In March, the Security Council is due to discuss the work and mandate of UNAMA and the UN agencies, funds and programmes operating in Afghanistan.
The envoy said that the wish of the Government is not to see less of the UN after 2014 but perhaps “working differently more in support of the priorities of Afghanistan to benefit the people of Afghanistan.”