8 August 2012 - About a month ago a Kabul resident was enjoying a midsummer evening with his family at a hotel on a lake outside of the city. It was such a pleasant evening that the man decided he wanted to record parts of it. He slipped away to retrieve his camera. What happened next is representative of the kinds of indiscriminate attacks against civilians that occur nearly each day throughout Afghanistan. Full Press Conference Transcript
“I went to the car; it was then when I heard the shooting. I saw gunmen firing randomly at people. Some of them weren’t killed instantly; the wounded were crying for help and the gunman came back and shot them, targeting their heads. He killed them all,” said the Kabul resident.
In its latest semi-annual Civilian Casualties Report, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) describes the changing ways in which the war continues to damage civilians. The report was released today at a press conference in Kabul.
UNAMA reported a modest 15% drop in the number of civilian casualties compared to the same time last year. Altogether there were 3,099 casualties between January and June, including 1,145 civilians killed and 1,954 injured. Nearly 80% of these killings were attributed to Anti-Government Elements. Yet UNAMA cautioned that this decline masked some more ominous trends. Targeted killings of pro-government officials, the growing use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) against civilians, and threats against schools are all on the rise.
"The drop in civilian casualties is a trend that seems to be hollow, as the percentage drop in civilian casualties has dropped consistently over the last three months as the fighting season has intensified," said James Rodehaver, the head of UNAMA’s human rights unit.
In the first six months of 2012, UNAMA recorded 34 closures of schools, particularly schools for girls. Target killings rose 53% from the same time last year. UNAMA documented the death of 255 civilians and 101 injuries in 237 separate incidents. The use of IED’s combined caused 327 civilian deaths and 689 injuries. These IED’s accounted for 33% of all civilian deaths and injuries.
“Victim-activated improvised explosive devices are illegal as they fail to distinguish between civilians and combatants,” said Nicholas Haysom, the Deputy UN Special Representative of the Secretary General in Afghanistan. “This heinous weapon has killed or maimed the greatest number of Afghans during the conflict and I call on the Taliban to cease their use.”
International and pro-government forces were be responsible for about 10% of civilian casualties. While decreasing by 25% from the same time last year, aerial operations by international military forces continue to cause more deaths and injuries than any of their other tactics. UNAMA documented 83 civilian deaths and 46 injuries as a result of these attacks. The number of casualties from night raids also continued to decrease, with 20 deaths and 12 injuries.
Today’s report also marks a departure from the way previous reports have been produced. More than just accounting for deaths and injuries, the human rights unit interviewed residents of 99 districts throughout the country in order to assess human rights conditions.
The findings were startling. Even in areas with a strong presence of Afghan soldiers, control by the government seldom extends very far beyond town centers. Communities throughout the country offered consistent accounts of expanding control and abuses from Anti-Government Elements. These abuses include the introduction of parallel judicial mechanisms that have carried out amputations, beatings and executions to residents they deemed non-supporters. In some cases these forces are also routinely denying residents access to health care and imposing new taxes.
“The reduction in civilian casualties is welcomed but does not represent a sustained move towards a more peaceful society,” said Mr. Haysom.