Even though overall conflict-related civilian casualty numbers in Afghanistan fell by one per cent in the first nine months of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015, child casualties saw a marked increase of 15 per cent, the United Nations mission in the country said today.
According to the latest figures released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), of the total 8,397 casualties (2,562 deaths and 5,835 injured), 29.3 per cent or 2,461 casualties were children (639 deaths and 1,822 injured).
“Increased fighting in densely populated areas makes it imperative for parties to take immediate steps to ensure all feasible precautions are being taken to spare civilians from harm,” the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said today in a news release issued by the mission.
Of particular concern, UNAMA noted in the release, was the continued rise in child casualties. In the first nine months of this year, 2,461 child casualties (639 deaths and 1,822 injured) were document, a 15 per cent increase over the same period in 2015. Ground engagements caused more than half of all child casualties in 2016 and some 84 per cent victims of unexploded ordnance were children.
Emphasizing the need to protect children, UNAMA Human Rights Director Danielle Belle stressed: “All parties must systematically track, mark and clear unexploded ordinance in order protect current and future generations of children from harm.”
The mission also noted a total of 877 women civilian casualties (240 deaths and 637 injured). This number had dropped 12 per cent from last year, primarily due to fewer women casualties from suicide and complex attacks, as well as from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
In terms of actors causing the casualties, the mission said that anti-Government elements caused about 61 per cent (5,143) of the total casualties, including 1,569 deaths and 3,574 injured. About 23 per cent (1,897; 623 deaths and 1,274 injured) of all casualties were attributed to pro-Government forces. 11 per cent of civilian casualties resulted from ground fighting between anti-Government elements and pro-Government forces where the responsible party could not be identified and unattributed unexploded ordnance caused the majority of the remaining civilian casualties (5 per cent).
While UNAMA noted significant decreases in civilian casualties caused by IEDs (by 22 per cent) and targeted killings (by 30 per cent), it also found that ground engagements between pro-Government forces and anti-Government elements (accounting for 39 per cent of all civilian casualties) had increased by 18 per cent compared to the same period in 2015.Notwithstanding these decreases, attacks conducted by anti-Government elements directly targeting civilians or in areas with a large civilian presence also continued. One sobering incident was the 23 July suicide attack against a crowd of peaceful demonstrators in Kabul that killed 85 persons and injured more than 400. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da'esh) had claimed responsibility for the attack.
The mission also documented a number of conflict-related incidents targeting health-care and educational facilities, as well as humanitarian de-miners, polio vaccinators, and those providing humanitarian aid. Since 1 January, there have been 75 such attacks including a suicide attack at the American University of Afghanistan on 24 August, which killed 13 civilians and injured 48.
In the news release today, UNAMA underscored that attacks directly targeting civilians may constitute war crimes and called on all parties to the conflict to abide by international humanitarian law.
During the reporting period, UNAMA also documented 1,897 civilian casualties (623 deaths and 1,274 injured) caused by pro-Government forces, a 42 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2015. The majority of these occurred in the context of ground fighting between pro-Government forces and anti-Government elements.
Furthermore, civilian casualties caused by aerial strikes by pro-Government forces (292 civilian casualties, including 133 deaths and 159 injured) rose by almost 72 per cent. One third of these casualties were caused by international military forces, said the mission.