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Civilian casualties increase by 22pc in 2014

AT-KABUL: Afghan war has taken a brutal turn in the previous year as armed conflict between the warring parties has resulted in twenty-two percent increase in civilian causalities.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in its annual report, released on Wednesday, documented 10,548 civilian casualties caused by armed conflict that revealed 22 percent rise in 2014.

The report finding showed the highest number of civilian deaths and injuries recorded in a single year since 2009, which included 3,699 civilian deaths (up by 25 percent) and 6,849 injuries (up 21 percent) and in total it revealed 22 percent increase in civilian casualties in 2014 as compared to 2013. Since 2009, the armed conflict in Afghanistan has caused 47,745 civilian casualties with 17,774 Afghan civilians killed and 29,971 injured.

The report termed ground combat among parties to the armed conflict in Afghanistan surpassed and secondly improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were the leading cause of conflict-related death and injury for Afghan civilians in 2014.

For the first time since 2009, more Afghan civilians were killed and injured in ground engagements than by IEDs or any other tactic. The report found that civilian deaths and injuries from ground operations surged by 54 per cent making them the leading cause of civilian casualties and the biggest killers of Afghan women and children in 2014.

The rise in civilian casualties in 2014 resulted mainly from increased ground engagements across Afghanistan in which parties to the conflict increasingly used explosive weapons systems such as mortars, rockets and grenades, sometimes indiscriminately, in civilian-populated areas with devastating consequences for civilians. The increased indiscriminate use of IEDs and increased number of suicide attacks by anti-government elements added to the rising civilian casualties in 2014.

The United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Nicholas Haysom said that in communities across Afghanistan, increased ground fighting among parties to the conflict and more IED attacks exacted a heavy toll on Afghan civilians.

He said: “Rising civilian deaths and injuries in 2014 attests to a failure to fulfill commitments to protect Afghan civilians from harm. Parties to the conflict should understand the impact of their actions and take responsibility for them, uphold the values they claim to defend, and make protecting civilians their first priority. We need to see concrete steps and a real drop in civilian casualties in 2015.”

The UNAMA report highlighted that anti-government elements remained responsible for the vast majority of Afghan civilian deaths and injuries. The report attributed 72 per cent of all civilian casualties to anti-government elements, 14 per cent to pro-government forces (12 per cent to Afghan national security forces, two per cent to international military forces) and 10 per cent to ground engagements between anti-government elements and Afghan national security forces in which a civilian casualty could not be attributed to a specific party. Three per cent of all civilian casualties were caused by unattributed explosive remnants of war with one per cent from cross-border shelling.

The UNAMA report found that half of all civilian casualties from ground engagements were from the use of indirect weapons with a wide-area impact, mainly mortars, along with rockets and grenades by all parties.

The UNAMA Director of Human Rights, Georgette Gagnon, said that finding of this report demonstrated women and children were particularly hard hit by the armed conflict and increased ground engagement in 2014.

She said that UNAMA documented a 40 percent increase in children casualties with 2,474 children casualties (714 killed and 1,760 injured). Women casualties increased by 21 percent with 298 women killed and 611 injured.

UNAMA’s report noted a significant increase in human rights abuses committed against civilians by Pro-Government armed groups in the north, northeast and southeast regions of Afghanistan, together with a widespread failure by the Government of Afghanistan to hold these armed groups accountable, and to protect affected civilians and communities. UNAMA called on the Government of Afghanistan to promptly disband and disarm these armed groups in line with its stated commitments.

In 2014, UNAMA documented increased incidents of Anti-Government Elements, including the Taliban, punishing civilians for alleged infractions of sharia law, perceived offences and allegations of spying. Incidents recorded included Anti-Government Elements’ carrying out summary executions, beheadings, amputations of body parts, beatings, lashings and illegal detention. UNAMA highlights that such parallel judicial structures are illegal and have no legitimacy or basis under the laws of Afghanistan. Punishments meted out by these structures amount to human rights abuses, criminal acts under the laws of Afghanistan, and, in some circumstances, war crimes.

UNAMA made recommendations to different parties in order to protect civilians. The UNAMA asked Anti-Government Elements Cease carrying out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, and firing mortars, rockets and grenades into civilian-populated areas, Cease the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian objects including places of worship and culture, and civilian Government offices, Cease the use of IEDs, particularly suicide attacks in all areas frequented by civilians, and stop using illegal pressure-plate IEDs,     Apply a definition of ‘civilian(s)’ that is consistent with international humanitarian law and comply with the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in all military operations and enforce statements made by the Taliban leadership that prohibit attacks against civilians and attacks in civilian-populated areas.

The UNAMA also asked Government of Afghanistan Cease firing mortars, rockets and grenades into civilian-populated areas; enhance efforts to protect civilians from conflict-related harm by developing and implementing clear tactical directives, rules of engagement and other procedures, and by training and resourcing all Afghan national security forces on civilian protection measures, mitigation, accountability, and compensation for victims, disband and disarm all armed groups and ensure accountability for those members of armed groups who carry out human rights abuses.

UNAMA recommended to International Military Forces to provide support from the NATO Resolute Support Mission to Afghan national security forces beyond 2015 to ensure Afghan forces are sufficiently resourced, trained and equipped in the current operational context. Continue support to Afghan security forces to command, control and effectively conduct counter-IED operations and IED-disposal, including exploitation in 2015-17.

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