Conflicts & War

UN reports surge in civilian casualties after Afghanistan peace talks

Kabul, Feb 23 (efe-epa).- The number of civilians killed and injured in Afghanistan surged after the start of peace talks even as the overall figure declined last year compared to 2019, according to a report by the United Nations released on Tuesday.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office in the report called for a ceasefire as the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators on Monday resumed peace talks in Doha following a stalemate that lasted for over a month.

The report documents the appalling level of harm inflicted on civilians as it traces the disturbing spike in violence against them in the last quarter of the year.

The year “2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict,” said Deborah Lyons, UN’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.

The report documented that 3,035 civilians were killed and 5,785 injured from Jan.1 to Dec.31 of last year “with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian.”

The report noted that the overall number of civilian casualties in 2020 fell below 10,000 for the first time since 2013 and was 15 percent down on 2019.

“While the reduced numbers are welcome, documentation shows that the lower levels of overall harm were partially offset by increases from certain tactics, as well as from an uncharacteristic increase in civilian harm in the last quarter of the year.”

The overall reduction in civilian casualties in 2020 was because of fewer suicide attacks by militants and a stark drop by international military forces.

It said that there was an increase in the number of civilian casualties that were unclaimed by any party and for which the UN agency could not attribute responsibility.

Militants caused 5,459 civilian casualties (1,885 deaths and 3,574 injuries) or 62 percent of the total, according to the report.

The report has found that the Taliban caused 19 percent fewer civilian casualties than in 2019 and the Islamic State 45 percent fewer.

The government forces were responsible for a quarter of all civilian casualties, totaling 2,231 (841 killed and 1,390 injured), a decrease of 24 percent from 2019.

The Afghan national security forces caused most of these (22 percent of the total).

Targeted killings by militants last year constituted 14 percent of the total civilian casualties and increased by 45 percent compared to 2019.

The report noted members from the media, civil society, judiciary, and the government were as well as family members of combatants were targeted, calling it “a matter of profound concerns.”

“The report also reminds the parties that attacks deliberately targeting civilians or civilian objects are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.”

The UN representative urged the warring parties to take “urgent steps to avoid more suffering.”

“Ultimately, the best way to protect civilians is to establish a humanitarian ceasefire,” she said.

“Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences of such a posture on the lives of Afghan civilians.”

The report noted that “a distressing feature of the conflict remains the shocking and disproportionate impact on Afghan women and children.”

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