This annual report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Afghanistan for 2015 was prepared by the Human Rights Unit of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and covers the period from 1 January to 31 December 2015.
The UNAMA Human Rights Unit prepared this report pursuant to the UNAMA mandate under United Nations Security Council resolution 2210 (2015) “to monitor the situation of civilians, to coordinate efforts to ensure their protection, to promote accountability, and to assist in the full implementation of the fundamental freedoms and human rights provisions of the Afghan Constitution and international treaties to which Afghanistan is a State party, in particular those regarding the full enjoyment by women of their human rights.” Security Council resolution 2210 (2015) recognizes the importance of ongoing monitoring and reporting to the Security Council on the situation of civilians in the armed conflict, particularly on civilian casualties.
UNAMA undertakes a range of activities aimed at minimizing the impact of the armed conflict on civilians including: independent and impartial monitoring of incidents involving loss of life or injury to civilians; advocacy to strengthen protection of civilians affected by the armed conflict; and initiatives to promote compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, and the Constitution and laws of Afghanistan among all parties to the conflict.
This report received technical input from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
UNAMA investigates reports of civilian casualties by conducting on-site investigations, wherever possible, consulting a broad range of sources and accessing various types of information, with all sources thoroughly evaluated for their credibility and reliability. In undertaking investigation and analysis of each incident, UNAMA exercises due diligence to corroborate and crosscheck information from as wide a range of sources as possible, including accounts of witnesses, victims and directly-affected persons, military actors (including the Government of Afghanistan, Anti-Government Elements, and international military forces), local village/district and provincial authorities, religious and community leaders, and other interlocutors.
UNAMA obtains information through direct site visits, physical examination of items and evidence gathered at the location of incidents, visits to hospitals and medical facilities, still and video images, reports of the United Nations Department of Safety and Security and other United Nations entities, secondary source accounts, and information gathered by NGOs and other third parties.
For verification of each incident involving a civilian casualty, UNAMA requires at least three types of sources, i.e. victim, witness, medical practitioner, local authorities, confirmation by party to the conflict, community leader or other sources. Wherever possible, investigations are based on the primary accounts of victims and/or witnesses of the incident and on-site investigations. On some occasions, primarily due to securityrelated constraints affecting access, this form of investigation is not possible. In such instances, UNAMA relies on a range of techniques to gain information through reliable networks, again through as wide a range of sources as possible that are evaluated for credibility and reliability.
Where UNAMA is not satisfied with information concerning an incident, it will not be considered verified nor will unverified incidents be reported. In some instances, investigations may take several weeks before conclusions can be drawn. This may mean that conclusions on civilian casualties from an incident may be revised as more information becomes available and is incorporated into the analysis. Where information is unclear, conclusions will not be drawn until more satisfactory evidence is obtained, or the case will be closed without conclusion and will not be included in the statistical reporting.
In some incidents, the civilian status of the reported victims cannot be conclusively established or is disputed. In such cases, UNAMA is guided by the applicable norms of international humanitarian law and does not presume fighting-age males are either civilians or fighters. Rather, such claims are assessed and documented based upon the facts available on the incident in question.
UNAMA established an electronic database in 2009 to support its analysis and reporting on protection of civilians in armed conflict. The database is designed to facilitate the systematic, uniform and effective collection and analysis of information, including disaggregation by age, gender, perpetrator, tactic, weapon and other categories.
As multiple parties are engaged in the conflict, UNAMA makes every effort to identify as precisely as possible the party responsible for a particular civilian casualty, for example, Taliban or Afghan National Army. Due to limitations associated with the operating environment, such as the joint nature of some military operations, and the inability of primary sources in many incidents to identify clearly or distinguish between diverse military actors or insurgents, or where no party claims responsibility for an incident, it might not be possible to ascertain which specific military actor, security force or insurgent group was responsible for a particular civilian casualty. UNAMA attributes responsibility for each civilian casualty incident to either Pro-Government Forces or Anti-Government Elements.
In cases of ground engagements between Pro-Government Forces and AntiGovernment Elements in which a civilian casualty cannot be attributed to one party, UNAMA attributes responsibility to both groups and records them in a separate category, entitled Pro-Government Forces and Anti-Government Elements. UNAMA does not claim that statistics presented in this report are complete and may be underreporting civilian casualties given limitations inherent in the operating environment.
“After I fed my baby and put him back to sleep, I took a sip of water and returned to bed.
There was a huge explosion and our roof began to collapse. I saw the roof falling on me and I lost consciousness. When I opened my eyes, I saw that my hand, legs, and back were bleeding. I tried to stand but could not get up. After 20 minutes, I heard my husband shouting over and over again, “Where are the others? My father, my father.” The blast seriously injured him and my son. My brother-in-law lost both of his eyes. We are a poor family and have lost everything.”
-- Woman injured in a suicide vehicle borne-IED attack, on 7 August 2015, in the Shah Shahid area of Kabul city. The attack killed 15 civilians, injured 283 others and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes.
In 2015, the conflict in Afghanistan continued to cause extreme harm to the civilian population, with the highest number of total civilian casualties recorded by UNAMA since 2009. Following increases in 2013 and 2014, civilian deaths and injuries from conflictrelated violence increased by four per cent compared with 2014. Between 1 January and 31 December 2015, UNAMA documented 11,002 civilian casualties (3,545 civilian deaths and 7,457 injured), marking a four per cent decrease in civilian deaths and a nine per cent increase in civilians injured.2 Since UNAMA began systematically documenting civilian casualties on 1 January 2009 up to 31 December 2015, UNAMA recorded 58,736 civilian casualties (21,323 deaths and 37,413 injured).
This report documents the immediate harm to the civilian population of Afghanistan from conflict related violence in 2015. The consequences of the armed conflict, and the related violations of human rights and international humanitarian law accompanying it, went far beyond the tragic loss of life and physical injury. Throughout 2015, conflict-related violence destroyed homes, livelihoods and property, displaced thousands of families and restricted the freedom of civilians to access to education, health and other services. Moreover, the short and long-term effects of growing insecurity, weakened civilian protection and lack of respect for human rights and international humanitarian law will continue long beyond these immediate impacts. Generations of people in Afghanistan suffer the physical and mental effects of the conflict, receiving little or no support from Government institutions.
Conflict-related violence increasingly harmed the most vulnerable: in 2015, one in 10 civilian casualties was a woman and one in four was a child. While overall civilian casualties increased by four per cent in 2015, the mission documented a 37 per cent increase in women casualties (1,246 women casualties, comprising 333 deaths and 913 injured) and a 14 per cent increase in child casualties (2,829 comprising 733 deaths and 2,096 injured).
Ground engagements between parties to the conflict continued to cause the highest number of total civilian casualties (deaths and injured), followed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide and complex attacks. Ground engagements killed the most civilians, followed by targeted and deliberate killings.
The rise in overall civilian casualties in 2015 mainly stemmed from increases in complex and suicide attacks and targeted and deliberate killings by Anti-Government Elements, increasing civilian casualties caused by Pro-Government Forces during ground engagements and aerial operations, and rising numbers of civilians caught in crossfire between the parties to the conflict, most notably in Kunduz province.