Afghanistan: UNAMA calls for increased protection of civilians

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today called for all parties fighting in Afghanistan to make increased efforts to ensure the protection of innocent civilians. In particular, all parties shall avoid, by all necessary means, combat in populated areas, which results in higher civilian casualties.

UNAMA called on the extremist Taliban and other terrorist groups to stop attacks affecting civilians, including suicide bombings, improvised-explosive devices (IEDs) and executions in which hundreds of civilians have been killed in recent months and thousands of others affected. UNAMA also highlights the need for better coordination between and among Afghan and international military forces to minimise the impact of their operations on civilians, particularly in highly populated areas.

Richard Bennett, chief of human rights for UNAMA said: "International humanitarian law is clear - the safety of civilians must come first and foremost. This principle needs to be respected by all parties to this conflict, including military forces that are supporting the Afghan Government. Insurgents and other groups using terrorist tactics must cease the kind of operations which have seen hundreds of civilians being killed in recent months. We also call on the Afghan and international military forces to plan and coordinate their efforts better to ensure the protection of innocent civilians and to enhance the safety and welfare of communities."

Over the past weeks UNAMA has stepped up efforts to ensure the protection of civilians by holding consultations with local communities in conflict-affected areas of the country, including Jalalabad, Assadabad, Gardez, Herat and Kandahar. These consultations serve as preparation for a conference which will be held in August. The conference will bring together the Government of Afghanistan, together with Afghan and international military forces and Afghan civil society, including community representatives to look at ways of ensuring the safety and welfare of all communities.

Richard Bennett continued: "Insurgent groups and their leadership must stop the wanton disregard they have shown for innocent life including suicide bomb attacks, use of IEDs, abductions, beheadings and the deliberate use of civilian locations to plan and launch attacks.

"House searches by military forces can only be fully successful on the basis of accurate intelligence, high quality translation, sensitivity to local culture and compliance with the law. Further precautions need to be taken to reduce the risks of harm to civilians relating to military convoys traveling through urban areas. Military forces must, wherever possible, forewarn communities before military operations are conducted.

"We ask all parties to the conflict to cooperate with UNAMA and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) while carrying out independent verification missions into alleged incidents involving civilians. UNAMA stands ready to assist in these efforts over the coming months to ensure that safety of the Afghan people comes first."