Mid-Year Report 2011- Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict - 14 July
KABUL - Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan:
Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim. Thank you for coming. I think it is the right time, I’m sorry to say,
for addressing issues relating to civilian casualties. We do have a report – every six months.
This report is particularly important in our opinion because it is taking place at the very time
when perhaps we are in the middle of the so-called Spring offensive and at the same time in the
middle of the most intense part of the so-called surge. So I will leave Georgette Gagnon, our
director of human rights issues, to elaborate on the report and I will then make some additional
comments. Thank you.
Georgette Gagnon, Director of Human Rights, UNAMA: Good morning. The human cost of
the Afghan conflict for Afghan civilians rose in the first six months of 2011. Afghan civilians
experienced a 15 per cent increase in conflict-related civilian deaths over the past first six
months compared to the same period in 2010. This dramatic growth was mainly due to the use
of landmine-like pressure plate improvised explosive devices or IEDs by Anti-Government
Elements. We at UNAMA documented 1,462 civilian deaths for this period, with 80 per cent
attributed to Anti-Government Elements, an increase of 28 per cent in civilian deaths from the
same period in 2010.
A further 14 per cent of civilian deaths over the last six months were attributed to the Pro-
Government Forces – this is the Afghan National Security Forces and International Military
Forces. This was down nine per cent from the same period in 2010. And six per cent of civilian
deaths we could not attributed to any party to the conflict.
As UNAMA documented a few weeks ago, May 2011 was the deadliest month for Afghan
civilians since 2007. In June of this year, a further 360 civilian deaths were recorded.
June also saw an all-time high in the number of security incidents recorded in a single month
and the highest number ever of IED attacks recorded in a one-month period.
IED and suicide attacks, tactics used by Anti-Government Elements, accounted for nearly half of
all civilian deaths and injuries in the first six months of this year. IED attacks, with 444 victims,
were the single largest killer of Afghan civilians and caused 30 per cent of all civilian deaths.
Air strikes remained the leading cause of civilian deaths by the Pro-Government Forces, with an
increasing proportion of those attributed to helicopters. Seventy-nine Afghan civilians were killed
by air strikes, which is a 14 per cent increase in civilian deaths from air strikes compared to the
same period in 2010.
Civilian deaths from ground combat and armed clashes in the first half this year increased by 36
per cent compared to the same period last year. Two per cent of all civilian casualties occurred
as a result of night raids, which is down slightly from the first half of 2010. We documented 30
civilian deaths during night raid operations in the past six months.
UNAMA found that over the past six months the Anti-Government Elements expanded their use
of victim-activated pressure plate IEDs which act like anti-personnel land mines and cannot
distinguish between civilians and a military target. This tactic of using these IEDs is a violation of
the laws of war and humanitarian principles. Two thirds of all IEDs used in Afghanistan, and the
vast majority that kill civilians, are designed to be triggered by a weight – that is the weight of a
human, and in some cases that of a child. Meaning that these IEDs – these victim-activated
pressure plate IEDs – function effectively as massive anti-personnel mines. Clearly any civilian
who steps on or drives over these IEDs has no defence against them and little chance of
Targeted killings or assassinations of Afghan civilians by Anti-Government Elements continued
at last year’s high rate. We documented 191 targeted killings compared to 181 in the same
period last year.
We would also like to draw your attention to the accounts from Afghan civilians of how the
conflict affects them which is laid out in the report and also in our press release. And we want to
draw your attention in particular the feeling of many Afghans civilians that they are caught in the
middle – caught between two sides and have few places of refuge and little protection. I will just
read to you what one civilian from Marja told us.
“The Taliban come to any house they please, by force. Then they fire from the house and then
ISAF and the ANA fire at the house. But if I tell the Taliban not to enter, the Taliban will kill me.
So, what is the answer? Either ISAF kills me or the Taliban kills me. The people cannot live like
Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan:
Thank you Georgette. And thank you, to you and your team made up of internationals and
Afghans. There are more than 70 of our colleagues working on this. I have a few comments.
The first one is, if one day the UN will be remembered for its contribution to the future and
present Afghanistan, we hope and believe it is also going to be because the UN has, through
our human rights team, kept alive the concerns of all Afghans on issues of human rights and
certainly, in particular, the issue about civilian casualties.
That is why we take very seriously this issue and this report which as you know comes out
every six months. It is particularly important for us because it is taking place in the middle of
what is considered the most acute period of the surge and the most intense period of what the
Taliban call their Spring/Summer offensive. Summer is not over yet.
Four months ago we issued a report on the previous civilian casualties. And we made a special
appeal on that occasion because we had indications from all sides that the forthcoming Spring
and Summer would be very intense in terms of conflict.
And we have appealed to all sides to actually make a special effort to reduce what they call
sometimes incidents but in fact often are simply civilian casualties being penalised. We saw the
trend going in the wrong direction and in May, in fact three weeks ago, not in May, three weeks
ago, we indicated through a press release that Georgette issued that May had been the month
where the most civilian casualties had occurred since the time that the UN had started to record
civilian casualties, which means 2007. We have the figures now: 1,462, and that has been
during the last six months. Most of them, close to 80 per cent, 79-point-something per cent,
have been caused by indiscriminate type of tactics such as these pressure-plate landmines.
And they can pressured by a child of 10 kilos, up to 100 kilos: in other words, anyone who is
unlucky enough to pass by will be killed and has been killed.
Now, let me elaborate a little bit more about some issues that perhaps are not totally on your
radar screen. We have been in touch with the Taliban about the issue of civilian casualties and
we are in touch with them. And they’ve been contributing by indicating some figures and facts
that according to them are inaccurate. And we’ve taken into due account all this when they are
confirmed by factual numbers on our side and factual reports on our side. On the other hand,
what we need from them is factual changes. In other words a reduction, an elimination of civilian
casualties caused for instance by these pressure-plate, indiscriminate IED’s.
They will not like this report. They will complain about it. Our message remains the same. They
can contribute to correct factual mistakes or inaccuracies and we are actually giving a chance to
ISAF to do the same. But they also have to contribute, not to us but to the Afghan people, the
very people that they belong to - the Taliban are Afghans - to reduce civilian casualties
particularly with this item which is clearly indiscriminate and mostly hits civilians.
ISAF is also being reminded by us about the fact that civilian casualties is something that we all,
and they should too, take very seriously. And indeed we have seen from what Georgette’s
report is indicating there has been an effort and there has been a reduction. But we are also
aware that for a international force which is meant to protect civilians, one civilian killed, even by
mistake, is one too many. You must have heard about this very sad event which took place
yesterday near Khost. We are unable to make a comment on it now because there is still an
investigation, but it is just a reminder on how sometimes that this happens just before our own
report and as a reminder that this is a sad event.
Let’s go back to the Taliban. Because regardless of whether they are happy or unhappy about
it, and I know they will be unhappy, these figures speak clearly. Seventy-nine per cent of the
civilian casualties are caused by them. These are not just figures. These are names, these are
people, these are men, women, elderly people, children, these are Afghan people, as you could
see from one of the many examples that we have been collecting in our interviews.
Let’s remember one element that we often, including me, sometimes have been forgetting. But
on 6 October 1998 Mullah Omar issued an edict and a decision to appeal and implement the
banning of mines in the country, and all over the world, but particularly in this country which has
seen so much of it. And these pressure-plate landmines are the worst of the landmines because
as we heard although they are meant to hit a tank they are actually being triggered most of the
time by a minibus by a car or even by a person walking, and therefore is statistically by far more
likely it will be an Afghan civilian. It is not by coincidence that the ICRC [International Committee
of the Red Cross] Director of Operations, who is visiting Afghanistan on this date, has issued an
appeal and an element of their concern is along the same lines – civilian casualties, civilian
In less than 16 days, inshallah, we’ll have the holy month of Ramadan in Afghanistan, in the
whole world. Let us appeal to the Taliban. At least let’s send a message to the Afghan
population that during this holy month of Ramadan IED’s, pressure-plate IEDs, will not be
placed. Let’s send a signal in the right direction. Let’s give them a sign of hope that if as we all
hope there will be negotiations, there will be discussions, there will be a political solution,
meanwhile we will not have so many victims dying until peace is achieved here and most of
them, if not all, civilians. The fact that the Taliban have been discussing this issue of civilian
casualties and the fact we have been receiving already a beginning of their own contribution to
address this issue gives us we want to believe the hope that they are serious in also addressing
the actual fact produced by these landmines.
Thank you. Any questions? We are ready to take some questions. Please identity yourself.
Reuters: You just mentioned that the Taliban said they plan to address the issue of civilian
casualties. How are they trying to do that? And on the issue of more deaths from airstrikes and
helicopters, is there a particular region where those have increased?
Staffan de Mistura: I’ll answer the first part and Georgette the second. This report is not just
meant to be an academic exercise. That’s why when we prepare it what we need is to have a
chance and give a chance for those who we are addressing in the report – that is, the Taliban,
ISAF and the Government – to actually contribute to it.
Which means – correct – we’re not perfect. We try to get as much information as we can. We do
have good sources because luckily we are all over the country and we do have Afghan and
international presence, but there can be mistakes. And we give a chance, in this case as you
referred to, to the Taliban to correct inaccuracies.
Example – if they claim that they didn’t do what was reported, they should then indicate who did
it and on what basis they believe someone else did it. There are sometimes indications that a
certain attack was done by bandits. Well, let’s be specific. When we ask ISAF to correct if they
can some indication, they also are expected to be specific – factual comments, not rhetorical
comments. And we will take those things into account.
As I said, but we’re not expected to just have a report that’s only academic and therefore the
bottom line is not only correcting the facts in the report but correcting the attitude. In other
words, if the report, as we believe, has had an impact on ISAF – there have been several new
directives that have progressively been taking place and making some difference. And we
recognise that. Well, from the Taliban we haven’t seen that kind of reduction of the casualties
caused by their own devices.
1,462 victims, which means 1,462 families, civilian families, speak for themselves.
Georgette Gagnon: Just a point on the Taliban response. At the end of the report you’ll see
that the Taliban issued a statement in response to our press release on the May deaths, and it
was quite interesting, and then we also issued a report to them. You may also note that
yesterday an indication of the casualties that they allege were caused by ISAF was on one of
their websites. So we view this as the start of a good dialogue, but as the SRSG said they need
to do more than words but show some action on that front. Regarding the helicopters, the increase has been in the east and south-east in particular.
Staffan de Mistura: One on this side and then we move over to this side. The gentleman there
now – we are equal –we are just trying to diversify a little.
Ariana TV translated from Dari]: From Ariana TV, the question is focused on the number of
casualties that you just reported on. The countries who are Member States of the UN and abide
by the United Nations Charter, if there is any intervention from any other country they should be
under the protection of the United Nations. But in the case of Afghanistan that has been through
three decades of war, and there has been no decisive action by the UN and others to prevent
such a situation in Afghanistan. For instance, each time there is a casualty there is only a figure
which they announce, it’s only a monitoring but nothing in particular, nothing in action. Why
doesn’t the UN take decisive action to pressure, to stop inflicting casualties on civilians? It’s like
when we go to a Ministry and we ask for something. They just say we’re only a policymaker and
have no executive power. Is it the same with the UN? It’s only a policymaker and doesn’t have
any power to prevent such casualties from happening?
Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan: Can
I just say, in the future if we can have questions not speeches. But I will definitely answer this
I can understand your frustrations. The Afghans have the right to be frustrated. I was here 22
years ago. At the time it was a completely different environment but again they were the civilian
Afghans who were suffering. And the Afghan people have been abandoned already twice after
an international presence. At the same time in all fairness I don’t believe this time the
international community is keen at all to abandon Afghanistan. Just the contrary. There will be a
change in the military presence, definitely. But on the humanitarian and development side we’re
expecting and all that I’m hearing is that this time the Afghan people will not be left alone.
Regarding that we only talk about this (civilian casualties) as the UN, I will react to that. I’ve
been with the UN 41 years in 18 war zones, three times in Afghanistan. I lost many of my
friends and colleagues. And I know also that we were here during the time of Najibullah, during
the time of the Mujahideen, during the time of the Taliban, during the time of the current
presence. We will not, unless the Afghan people ask us to do so, leave you alone.
Issuing a report like this, as I said, is not academic, otherwise people would not react to it,
otherwise there would not be a feeling of pressure that comes thanks to you actually, thanks to
the media and thanks to the opinion, public opinion. The 76 colleagues who’re working on
human rights in Afghanistan do much more than just writing a report.
Thank you. I will jump to this side now and give the floor to a lady, then another one here.
Please, the lady.
Wall Street Journal: I am a little confused about the discrepancy between ISAF claims of
deaths which they say are on the way down and the UN claims which contradict this [inaudible].
Staffan de Mistura: The answer probably is very simple. We’re talking about two different
things. On the one side I’m not ignoring the fact that when you look at the statistics of previous years and certainly since many [inaudible] there haveve been less attacks, less incidents seen
from a military point of view. We are in the business of looking at civilian casualties and the
number of civilian casualties has increased and no one is questioning that.
Good Morning Afghanistan [translated from Dari]: My question is about the use of the new
type of the pressure-plate IEDs. What are your findings about where are these mines coming
from? And secondly, you mentioned about the civilian casualties because of helicopters - what
are you doing to stop these type casualties?
Staffan de Mistura: On the first one, actually I went through myself, in fact, when I came here
for the first time 22 years ago a training in de-mining. So I have a de-mining competency, if you
could put it like this. These devices first of all are produced in many parts of the world and
secondly they can also be hand-made, in other words locally produced. Unfortunately they are
relatively simple. They are not sophisticated and there are no infra-red issues here, there is no
electronic device, just pressure. That is why they are so terrible, because they are simple to be
produced, easy to be found in terms of material and totally indiscriminate. The first one who puts
feet on it, it explodes. It is not at all targeted in a military fashion, it is really indiscriminate. On
how this report and what we try to do constantly on air strikes I will leave the floor to Georgette.
Georgette Gagnon: In the report we have some recommendations for the ISAF on how to
better target the these bombs coming from these helicopters. We do have a number of
concerns. For instance, some of these pilots are not trained appropriately on the tactical
directives ISAF have on the use of force, we understand they recently took some action
regarding this. All the pilots who fly these helicopters need to know about these. We are also
concerned about the cultural awareness of some of the pilots who fly these, for example, when
some people or some children are watering the gardens late at night or picking stones
sometimes they are accused or seen as planting IEDs when they are not. So these are a couple
of the recommendations we made.
Tolo TV [translated from Dari]: You said for the purpose of reduction in civilian casualties you
have had contacts with the Taliban. With whom in the Taliban did you have these contacts? And
why haven’t you been able to convince them that their actions are against the principles of
humanitarians laws, as we saw in such a report few months back.
Staffan de Mistura: I am not in a position of elaborating publically the type of contacts and the
level of contacts. What you should perhaps take note of is that these contacts are linked to
confidence building measures. And that this civilian casualty issue is the classic, the ultimately
most important confidence building measure - not for us, not for anyone else but the Afghan
Ghorbat TV [translated from Dari]: Given the high number of civilian casualties compared to
same period last year, with transition ahead of us and security responsibility given to Afghans,
do you think Afghanistan will have good days ahead of it?
Staffan de Mistura: Thank you, it is a very fine question. Well I am affected by a terrible
disease which is called optimism. Otherwise I would have not been going through 18 wars and
41 years in this type of conflict. Therefore you have to forgive me, I will be slightly biased on
that. My hope is that this is temporary and it is during this critical crucial delicate period, which is
period where you have a surge and spring offensive, that it will lead and has no option but to
lead to a political solution. Everyone has agreed, everybody feels that there is no military
solution and what we are seeing is military activities and terrorism attacks [inaudible]. That
cannot continue. But my concern is while we are waiting for this political solution, which is
unavoidable, so many Afghan civilians will suffer again and that is why this report becomes
more than a report, it becomes an appeal to everyone.
Thank you very much. Tashakor.