Citing rising death toll, UN urges better protection of Afghan civilians

Injured civilians at a clinic

9 March 2011 – Ordinary Afghans continue to bear the brunt of the ongoing conflict in the country, says a United Nations report released today that points to a 15 per cent rise in the death toll last year and urges greater efforts by all parties to protect civilians.

There were 2,777 conflict-related civilian deaths in 2010, according to the 2010 Annual Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, prepared by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Over the past four years, 8,832 civilians have been killed in the conflict with civilian deaths increasing each year.

“We urge all parties to the armed conflict – the anti-government elements, the Government of Afghanistan and international military forces – to do far more in 2011 to comply with their legal responsibilities to protect civilians,” Georgette Gagnon, head of UNAMA’s Human Rights Unit,  told a news conference in Kabul.

“2011 should be a year of escalating civilian protection, not another year of increasing civilian casualties,” she added.

Anti-government elements were linked to 2,080 civilian deaths (75 per cent of all civilian deaths), up 28 per cent from 2009, while pro-government forces were linked to 440 civilian deaths (16 per cent), down 26 per cent from 2009. Nine per cent of civilian deaths in 2010 could not be attributed to any party to the conflict.

Suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices killed the most Afghan civilians in the conflict in 2010, taking 1,141 lives, or 55 per cent of civilian deaths attributed to anti-government elements.

In the most alarming trend, the report finds that 462 civilians were assassinated by anti-government elements, up 105 per cent from 2009. Half of civilian assassinations took place in southern Afghanistan, with a 588 per cent increase in 2010 in Helmand province and a 248 per cent increase in Kandahar province.

“In a year of intensified armed conflict, with a surge of activity by pro-government forces and increased use of improvised explosive devices and assassinations by anti-government elements, Afghan civilians paid the price with their lives in even greater numbers in 2010,” said Ivan Šimonovic, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.

Among tactics used by pro-government forces, aerial attacks continued to have the highest human cost in 2010, killing 171 civilians or 39 per cent of total civilian deaths linked to pro-government forces.

However, in spite of a significant increase in the use of air assets by pro-government forces in 2010, the proportion of civilian deaths attributed to aerial attacks by pro-government forces fell sharply by 52 per cent compared to 2009.

Among some 25 recommendations put forth by UNAMA and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, they urge anti-government elements to immediately cease targeting civilians and withdraw orders that permit attacks and killings of civilians.

They also recommend that the Government establish a standing, professional body with powers to respond to major incidents of civilian casualties and authority to interact with all interested parties on information sharing, investigations and findings.

In addition, they call on the international military forces to undertake thorough, impartial and transparent investigations into all incidents involving civilian casualties, report promptly on their results and take action against anyone found responsible for human rights violations.

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