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UNAMA report shows sharp rise in casualties among Afghan civilians in first half of 2013

31 July 2013 – Afghanistan saw a 23 per cent rise in the number of civilian casualties over the first six months of 2013 compared to last year, with the majority caused by the increased use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), according to the latest Mid-Year Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Afghanistan released today by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

UNAMA documented 1,319 civilian deaths and 2,533 injuries in the first half of 2013, marking increases of 14 per cent in deaths and 28 per cent in injuries over the same period in 2012. This rise reverses the decline observed in 2012 and suggested a return to the trend of 2011 when high numbers of civilian deaths and injuries were documented.

The report attributes 74 per cent of all civil casualties to actions taken by Anti-Government Elements, a rise of 16 per cent over the same period last year 2012. Pro-Government forces were found responsible for nine percent of casualties, 12 per cent of the casualties were unattributed and resulted from ground engagements between Pro-Government Forces and Anti-Government Elements and the remaining five per cent were unattributed, resulting mostly from unexploded ordnance. The annual report prepared by UNAMA has been documenting the deaths and injuries of non-combatants since 2007.

“The violent impact of the conflict on Afghan civilians marked by the return of rising civilian casualties in 2013 demands even greater commitment and further efforts by parties to the conflict to better protect civilians who are increasingly being killed and injured in the cross-fire,” said the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš. “The increase in the indiscriminate use of IEDs and the deliberate targeting of civilians by Anti-Government Elements is particularly alarming and must stop.”

Of the documented casualties, the report observes that the main factor driving the increase were the use of IEDs, responsible for 35 per cent of deaths and injuries. Altogether 443 civilians were killed and 917 were injured from IEDs, a 34 per cent increase over the same period in 2012. Tactics involving IEDs, including suicide and complex attacks, accounted for 52 per cent of all civilian casualties documented by UNAMA.

The second highest cause of the increase in civilian casualties was combat between Afghan armed forces and Anti-Government Elements, accounting for 25 per cent of all civilian casualties. The report documented 971 casualties from such action, a 42 per cent increase from 2012, including 207 civilian deaths and 764 injuries. Also noted were an increase in targeted killings, attacks against civilian Government workers and high levels of threats and intimidation, which the report attributed to Anti-Government Elements.

“The growing loss of life and injuries to Afghan women and children in 2013 is particularly disturbing,” said the Director of UNAMA’s Human Rights Unit, Georgette Gagnon. “Deaths and injuries to women and children increased by 38 per cent in the first half of 2013 reflecting a grim reality of the conflict today in Afghanistan.”

Ms. Gagnon addressed a press conference on the report’s findings in the Afghan capital, Kabul, today.

“UNAM urges parties to the conflict to exercise constant care to protect civilians from the dangers of military operations, and to take feasible measures to avoid and minimize incidental loss of civilian life and injury,”

UNAMA has repeatedly condemned attacks which have led to civilian casualties and called for their halt, in addition to emphasizing that indiscriminate and deliberate targeting of civilians are violations of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes.

The report notes a number of other troubling findings. For instance, conflict-related violence killed 106 women and injured another 241, an increase of 61 per cent over 2012. Ground engagements involving parties to the conflict were the leading cause for such casualties. Children too were frequent victims. Altogether there were 760 child casualties (231 killed, 529 injured), up 30 per cent from last year. IEDs, followed by ground engagements and unexploded ordinance or abandoned explosive ordinance were the leading causes of casualties.

The targeting of people perceived by Anti-Government Elements to be supporting the Government of Afghanistan also rose. The report notes that 262 such incidents occurred, with 312 killed and 131 injured, up 29 per cent from 2012.

Civilians working for the Afghan Government were prime targets. UNAMA identified a 76 per cent increase in civilian casualties from Anti-Government Elements targeting Government employees, offices, district headquarters and other Government structures. In 103 recorded attacks, the report noted 114 civilians killed and 324 injured. Four attacks alone, against courthouses and judicial and prosecution staff, killed 57 and injured 145.

UNAMA’s report noted another emerging pattern – threats and attacks against mullahs (religious leaders). The UN Mission documented 14 incidents in which either persons or places of worship were directly threatened or attacked, resulting in seven civilian deaths. The attacks were directed against mullahs who were performing funeral ceremonies for deceased members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and those showing public support for the government.

As international forces depart Afghanistan, the report raises alarms that facilities have not been adequately cleared of unexploded ordinance. This, along with the increase in ground engagements, accounts for the growing threat from Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) to the safety of civilians and their livelihoods, particularly children. Altogether, UNAMA documented 43 civilian deaths and 102 injuries from ERW, a 53 per cent increase over 2012. Seventy-nine percent of these victims were children.

Throughout the conflict in Afghanistan, air strikes by Pro-Government Forces and the casualties they cause among civilians have been a persistent worry. In the first six months of 2012, the number of civilian casualties caused by air strikes declined by 30 per cent. UNAMA documented 49 civilian deaths and 41 injuries from air strikes by Pro-Government Forces. Women and children accounted for 54 per cent of the total civilian casualties from air operations. UNAMA noted this reduction from air operations, but emphasized concern with the disproportionate loss of civilian life and injury from air strikes in two incidents that took place in the Sheigal district of Kunar province – one on 6 February and the other on 13 April – which resulted in 22 civilian deaths and 10 injuries, mostly women and children.

The Mid-Year Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Afghanistan contained a number of recommendations for all parties involved in the conflict.

UNAMA directed a number of their recommendations at Anti-Government Elements. The UN Mission urged them urged to comply with international humanitarian law, uphold the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautionary measures, and apply a definition of ‘civilian’ that is consistent with international humanitarian law.

UNAMA also urged Anti-Government Elements to halt their deliberate targeting and killing of civilians and withdraw orders that permit attacks and killings of civilians, in particular, religious personnel, judicial authorities and civilian Government workers. They ought to also stop their indiscriminate use of IEDs, and parallel judicial structures that impose unlawful punishments should also cease. Finally, a code of conduct instructing members to prevent and avoid civilian casualties ought to be enforced, with those who target, kill or injure civilians being held accountable.

Other recommendations were directed at the Government of Afghanistan. UNAMA urged the Government to prioritize the implementation of a counter-IED strategy. It also urged the Government to strengthen structures that track, mitigate and provide accountability for civilian casualties caused by Pro-Government Forces. The UN Missions said that the Government ought to revise and strengthen its tactical directives, rules of engagement and other procedures to ensure full compliance with legal obligations to protect civilians. Finally, UNAMA also urged the Government to disband groups with longstanding impunity from human rights violations and to disband and disarm illegal armed groups.

UNAMA offered international military forces a number of recommendations. These included undertaking countrywide verification measures to ensure that international military bases and firing ranges that have been closed have been cleaned of ordnance. A mechanism should be created whereby the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the ANSF communicate the suspected presence of unexploded ordnance to appropriate authorities. They should also mark and clear suspected areas.

UNAMA also urged ISAF to promote transparency and accountability through the prompt and public release of all findings on incidents involving civilian casualties, in particular those incidents resulting from aerial operations. The UN Mission urged ISAF to strengthen its support to ANSF so that body can improve its civilian casualty mitigation, reporting and analysis capacity, including through the continued operation of ISAF’s Civilian Casualty Mitigation Team. In addition, it recommended a full handover and training of ANSF on tactical directives, procedures and best practices that have been found to increase civilian protection. Finally, ISAF should provide support to the ANSF so that they are sufficiently trained and equipped to conduct counter-IED operations and IED-disposal.


- For the: press release in English and Dari and Pashto.

- For the: transcript of the Kabul press conference held to launch the report.

- For the English version of the Mid-Year Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Afghanistan.

- For the Dari and Pashto versions of the Mid-Year Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Afghanistan.

- For the: Dari and  Pashto versions of the Executive Summary of the Mid-Year Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Afghanistan.

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