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Protect ordinary Afghans ahead of peace talks, urges UN Mission chief

Information about COVID-19 is being distributed in some of Afghanistan's remotest areas.
Information about COVID-19 is being distributed in some of Afghanistan's remotest areas.

Protect ordinary Afghans ahead of peace talks, urges UN Mission chief

Peace and Security

Ahead of hoped-for peace talks between Afghan Government and Taliban negotiators, UN peacekeepers in Afghanistan have urged parties to “redouble” their efforts to keep civilians safe.

The appeal from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), also calls for a de-escalation of the conflict to save lives and facilitate discussions in Qatar.

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It follows a recent spate of deliberate attacks against religious leaders, healthcare workers, members of the judiciary, civil society activists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and journalists.

‘Shocking and criminal’ attacks

In the first six months of the year, more than 800 civilians were killed and injured in deliberate attacks.

UNAMA attributed responsibility for approximately half of these civilian casualties to the Taliban.

These are “shocking and criminal” attacks, UNAMA said in a statement.

The Mission’s chief, Deborah Lyons, meanwhile, warned against “spoilers who do not wish to see an end to war.”

Ms Lyons, who is also the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that it had taken “enormous work and …brave decisions for Afghans”, to reach the point of being on the eve of unprecedented intra-Afghan negotiations.

“No matter what tactics they employ to de-rail the peace process, they cannot be allowed to succeed,” she insisted.

Catalogue of violence

UNAMA said it remains particularly concerned by the deliberate targeting of religious leaders, with 18 incidents verified this year (six in June); healthcare personnel, with 13 incidents verified this year (two last month); judiciary members, with 11 incidents verified this year (three in June); civil society activists, with six incidents verified this year; NGOs, with five incidents verified this year (one in June); and journalists, with three incidents verified so far during 2020.

June incidents that require further verification, said the Mission, include the 22 June attack in Kabul, when armed men on a motorbike opened fire on a vehicle, killing all five passengers inside, including one prosecutor, working in the Bagram detention facility; and the 27 June incident also in the capital, when an Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission staff member and driver, were killed by an improvised device, when they were traveling to work.

Possible war crimes

The UN reiterates that attacks deliberately targeting Afghanistan’s civilian population are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.

UNAMA also drew attention to the continued harm to civilians from the use of indirect fire during ground engagements, in civilian-populated areas, that has caused roughly 25 per cent of civilian casualties in the second quarter of 2020.

The Mission’s continued call for an end to violence is also immediately linked to the need for all parties to provide the necessary focus and resources to combating the COVID-19 pandemic, “a serious threat to everyone in Afghanistan”.