US allies maintain lead over Taliban in civilian deaths

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a midyear report July 30 detailing the 3,812 civilian casualties in Afghanistan since Jan. 1, 2019. According to this report, Afghan government forces and their allies killed 717 civilians, while the Taliban and other militant groups have killed 531 civilians. Nonetheless, there was an overall 27% decrease in civilian casualties from the same period of 2018, with the decrease being attributed to a shift away from ground engagements and suicide bombers. Aerial operations continue to be a rising cause of civilian casualties. The report also states that women are disproportionately affected by the ongoing attacks, not only due to loss of life or serious injury, but also secondary effects such as economic insecurity and displacement. In addition, women are at a higher risk of sexual violence and gender-based violence.

Children are also a vulnerable group: they are exposed to the attacks, as well as to recruitment and to sexual violence. They also make up the majority of casualties from “explosive remnants of war.” This is due in part to the Taliban attacking schools and health care facilities. The Taliban has also banned activities by the World Health Organization, stopping polio vaccinations in a country where polio is endemic.

The report notes that there is deliberate targeting of civilians. UNAMA documented 985 civilian casualties as a result of “Anti-Government Element” attacks which targeted civilians. “UNAMA reiterates that the killing, by any party to the conflict, of persons taking no active part in hostilities is explicitly prohibited by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions at any time and any place, and may amount to a war crime.”

The report also makes note of the use of irregular paramilitary forces by the government, including the Khost Protection Force and Shaheen militia. In closing, UNAMA “calls on the Afghan authorities to immediately disband and disarm all illegal armed groups and militias…and investigate all allegations of human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations with a view to ensuring accountability.”

From Jurist, Aug. 2. Used with permission.

Note: A premilinary report issued by UNAMA earlier this year likewise found that pro-government forces had overtaken the Taliban in overall civilian deaths. Victims of war crimes in Afghanistan have filed an appeal with the International Criminal Court (ICC) challenging the court’s recent decision not to pursue a war crimes investigation in the country.

Photo: USAF