Thursday, February 19, 2015

Afghanistan: In Afghanistan’s deadliest year, civilian casualties top 10,000 in 2014

An IDP camp in the northern Afghanistan Province of Balkh. Photo: UNAMA/Eric Kanalstein

UN - 18 February 2015 – Civilian casualties in Afghanistan topped 10,000 in 2014, a 22 per cent increase compared to the past year, reflecting increased ground battles between armed groups and the Government, and a drastic drawdown of Western troop presence in the country, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said today.

A total of 3,699 civilians were killed and 6,849 injured in 2014. The figures, released today in the Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict and prepared in coordination with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, are the highest number of civilian casualties recorded in a single year since the UN started keeping track in 2007.

The report also found that for the first time since 2009, more Afghan civilians were killed and injured in ground engagements than improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Civilian deaths and injuries from ground operations surged 54 per cent in 2014. Parties to the conflict are increasingly using mortars, rockets and grenades, sometimes indiscriminately, in civilian areas.

“Rising civilian deaths and injuries in 2014 attests to a failure to fulfil commitments to protect Afghan civilians from harm,” the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Nicholas Haysom, said today as he presented the report in Kabul.

“Parties to the conflict should understand the impact of their actions and take responsibility for them, uphold the values they claim to defend, and make protecting civilians their first priority. We need to see concrete steps and a real drop in civilian casualties in 2015,” Mr. Haysom stressed further.

The UNAMA report highlighted that 'Anti-Government Elements' remain responsible for 72 per cent of all civilian casualties. Meanwhile, Pro-Government Forces are responsible for 14 per cent of civilian casualties with 12 per cent of that linked to the Afghan national security forces and two per cent to international military forces. Ten per cent of civilian casualties could not be attributed to a specific party and three per cent were caused by explosive remnants of war.

As Western nations withdrew their military forces and combat support in 2014, UNAMA observed a rise in deadly ground battles. Civilian deaths and injuries from ground engagements, operations and attacks by Pro-Government Forces rose significantly with 921 civilian casualties (336 killed and 585 injured). This is an increase of 141 per cent increase from 2013. An increase in civilian casualties by Anti-Government Elements was also documented with 1,551 civilian casualties (438 deaths and 1,113 injured), up 51 per cent from 2013.

Women and children were particularly hard hit by the armed conflict in 2014, the report found, documenting a 40 per cent increase in children casualties with 2,474 children casualties (714 killed and 1,760 injured) compared to 2013. Women casualties increased by 21 per cent with 298 women killed and 611 injured.

In speaking with dozens of women from all regions in Afghanistan whose husbands –all civilians – were killed or seriously injured, UNAMA found that women who were left as sole income-providers for their households faced poverty forcing many women to give their daughters in marriage in exchange for debts or to take their children out of school to work. Widowed women were particularly vulnerable to forms of violence from family and community members.

The UN Mission had shared a draft of its 2014 Annual Report with the Government of Afghanistan, the Taliban and NATO's Resolute Support Mission. In its recommendations to all three groups, UNAMA called on Anti-Government Elements to cease carrying out indiscriminate attacks and deliberately targeting civilians. Armed groups must also enforce statements made by Taliban leadership that prohibit attacks on civilians.

Meanwhile, UNAMA called on the Government of Afghanistan to cease firing rockets and grenades into civilian areas and enforce efforts to protect its people. It must also disarm armed groups and ensure accountability for human rights abuses. To international forces, UNAMA urged them to ensure all foreign intelligence or security forces take all necessary measures to protect civilians during ground and aerial operations.

Since 2009, the conflict in Afghanistan has caused 47,745 civilian casualties with 17,774 Afghan civilians killed and 29,971 injured.