In the first six months of 2012, conflict-related violence in Afghanistan continued to take a devastating toll on civilians, but recorded a marginal 15 per cent decrease in overall civilian casualties compared with the same period in 2011.
Between January 1 and June 30, 2012, conflict-related violence resulted in 3,099 civilian casualties -- 1,145 civilians killed and 1,954 injured, the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said on Wednesday, releasing its 2012 midyear report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.
Of the 3,099 civilians killed or wounded, 925 were women or children representing 30 per cent of all civilian casualties.
During the first half of last year, UNAMA documented 3,654 civilian casualties (1,510 killed and 2,144 injured).
Nicholas Haysom, Deputy U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan, said "the United Nations welcomes the reduction in civilian casualties," but reminded that "Afghan children, women and men continue to be killed and injured at alarmingly high levels. The 3,099 civilian casualties documented in this report were ordinary Afghans struggling to go about their daily lives in the midst of an armed conflict," he added.
He called on "all parties to the conflict to increase their efforts to protect civilians from harm and to respect the sanctity of human life."
Anti-government elements were responsible for 80 per cent of civilian casualties, killing 882 civilians and injuring 1,593 others during the first six months of 2012.
In the first half of this year, UNAMA documented 165 civilian deaths and 131 others injured from the operations of pro-government forces -10 per cent of the total number of civilian casualties -- reflecting a 25 per cent reduction compared with the same period of 2011. A further 98 civilian deaths and 230 injured, or 10 per cent of the total casualties, could not be attributed to any party to the conflict.
Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) continued to cause the greatest number of civilian casualties. Between January 1 and June 30, 2012, IEDs alone accounted for 33 per cent of all civilian casualties - killing 327 civilians and injuring 689 others. When taking suicide and complex attacks which used IEDs into account, the overall use of IEDs by anti-government elements caused 53 per cent of all civilian deaths and injuries documented in the report.
"Victim-activated improvised explosive devices are illegal, as they fail to distinguish between civilians and combatants," said Haysom. "This heinous weapon has killed or maimed the greatest number of Afghan civilians during the conflict," he said, and urged the Taliban to stop their use.
Civilian casualties, resulting from targeted killings by anti-government elements, increased by 53 per cent in 2012 with UNAMA documenting the death of 255 civilians and injuries to 101 others in 237 separate incidents.
Aerial operations by international military forces have continued to cause more civilian deaths and injuries than any other tactic used by pro-government forces since UNAMA began documenting civilian casualties. Between January 1 and June 30, UNAMA documented 83 civilian deaths and 46 injured as a result of aerial attacks by international military forces.
Although this is a 23 per cent reduction in civilian casualties from aerial operations compared with the same period in 2011, the report notes that nearly two-thirds of all civilian deaths and injuries resulting from air operations in the first half of this year were women and children.
The report notes that ISAF has taken steps intended to prevent civilian casualties during air operations. The NATO-led force's air strike on June 6, 2012 in Logar resulted in a disproportionate loss of civilian life, killing 18 civilians, mostly women and children.
Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF night search operations continued to decrease with 32 civilian casualties (20 killed and 12 injured) occurring during the first six months of the 2012, a 27 per cent decrease compared with the same period in 2011.
While many communities reported improvements in the security environment in locations where Afghan local police were deployed, local residents raised concerns including on the recruitment of human rights abusers into the Afghan Police in some districts and weaknesses in vetting processes, training, command and control and accountability and oversight mechanisms. UNAMA documented human rights abuses against civilians in seven provinces across the country along with failures to investigate and prosecute Afghan local police suspected of abuses.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stressed the importance of holding accountable the perpetrators of human rights violations in efforts to bring down the number of civilian casualties.
As documented in the report, attacks against schools have increased and the Taliban's interference in the running of local schools has impacted the access of children, especially girls, to education.
In the first six months of 2012, UNAMA verified 34 attacks against schools, including cases of burnings of school buildings, targeted killings and intimidation of teachers and school officials, armed attacks against and occupation of schools, and closures, particularly of girls' schools. "It is extremely worrying that attacks against schools have increased so dramatically," said James Rodehaver, acting-Chief of the UNAMA Human Rights Unit.
UNAMA interviewed residents from communities in 99 districts, where anti-government elements have increasingly exerted influence or control, to assess human rights protection in those locations. Local communities provided consistent accounts of anti-government elements introducing parallel judicial mechanisms that carried out serious human rights abuses with impunity, including executions, amputations, mutilations and severe beatings.
Taliban officials threatened, intimidated and abducted residents they considered to be supporters of the government and imposed illegal taxes on many communities. Anti-government elements also restricted access to health care in some communities, the report said.
by RTT Staff Writer
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