A new report published on Monday 27 July 2020 by the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) shows that 1,282 civilians were killed in Afghanistan during the first half of this year. A further 2,176 civilians were injured, totalling 3,458 UN documented civilian casualties in the country over the six month period.
Of this figure, 340 children were killed and another 727 were wounded. A separate UN report released in June found that 2019 was the fifth consecutive year that Afghanistan has been the deadliest country on the planet for children, with more than 3,000 children killed over the calendar year.
The UNAMA report has said that:
“While the civilian casualty figures represent a 13 per cent decrease as compared to the first six months of 2019, Afghanistan remains one of the deadliest conflicts in the world for civilians.”
They also note that there has been “no reduction in civilian casualties caused by the Taliban and Afghan national security forces”. The report attributes the fall in civilian casualties from the year before to a “reduction in operations by international military forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant–Khorasan Province”.
The report comes amidst a long drawn out peace process between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, with the United States being another key stakeholder. However, progress on peace talks have stalled since the Trump administration pulled out of a near deal with the Taliban in September 2019 in response to the death of an American.
On the release of the report, Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan said:
“At a time when the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban have a historic opportunity to come together at the negotiating table for peace talks, the tragic reality is that the fighting continues inflicting terrible harm to civilians every day,”
“I urge the parties to pause, to reflect on the chilling incidents and the harm that they are causing to the Afghan people as documented in this report, and to take decisive action to stop the carnage and get to the negotiating table,”
Attribution of civilian casualties
The report found that Anti-Government Elements (AGE’s), such as the Taliban and the so-called Islamic State (IS), continued to be responsible for the majority of civilian casualties.
AGE’s accounted for 58 percent of the victims, with the Taliban responsible for 1,473 civilian casualties (580 killed and 893 injured); meaning they alone accounted for 43 per cent of the total number between 1 January – 30 June 2020 period.
The UNAMA also documented a “disturbing increase in civilian casualties attributed to the Taliban from pressure-plate improvised explosive devices, as well as from abductions that led to ill-treatment and summary executions.”
The number of civilian casualties attributed to Afghan national security forces increased by nine percent, up to 23 percent of the total number. UNAMA says the rise is “mainly due to [the increased use of] airstrikes and the use of indirect fire during ground engagements.”
Afghan national forces were responsible for 281 civilian deaths and injured a further 508. During the first six months of 2020, casualties from airstrikes carried out by the Afghan Air Force tripled compared to the same period in 2019.
Pro-government forces also remained responsible for most child deaths.
Women and children
Another bleak finding of the report is that women and children continue to be “disproportionately affected by the direct and indirect impacts of the armed conflict”.
Women and children accounted for more than 40 percent of the total civilian casualties. In the first six months of the year 138 women were killed and a further 259 injured. Over the same period, 340 children were killed and 727 injured.
The report highlights how children in Afghanistan have been made especially vulnerable to recruitment and use by parties in conflict during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the release of the United Nations’ annual Children in Armed Conflict report in June 2020, U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres said:
“I am extremely concerned about the increased number of children killed and maimed by all parties…I remain concerned about casualties caused by government and international forces, and I urge them to review, strengthen and implement current tactical protocols to prevent [them].”
The impact of civilian casualties
The UNAMA report ends by emphasising the lasting impact armed conflict has on civilians. New monitoring by the UNAMA shows:
“victims suffer incalculable harm weeks and months after an incident occurs, including physically, emotionally and psychologically, financially and otherwise, affecting their ability to enjoy a broad range of human rights.”
It is also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically impeded the ability of victims to recover. As a result of the pandemic, UNAMA suggests it is “even more imperative for the parties to the conflict to reduce the violence now and acknowledge and address the needs and rights of the victims.”
Fiona Frazer, the Chief of Human Rights at UNAMA, ultimately concludes that:
“The experiences, rights and needs of individuals and communities who have been affected by violence must be a central consideration in the upcoming peace talks,”
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