UNAMA documents 5,939 civilian casualties in first nine months of 2020

In a new report released Tuesday, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said the overall civilian casualty figure for the first nine months of this year had dropped by about 30 percent against the same period last year but that the harm done to civilians remains inordinate and shocking.

In their latest quarterly report, UNAMA documented 5,939 civilian casualties (2,117 killed and 3,822 injured) from 1 January to 30 September 2020.

In their report, the mission said: “High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian.”

UNAMA stated that while the number of civilian casualties documented is the lowest in the first nine months of any year since 2012, “the harm done to civilians remains inordinate and shocking.”

Once again the mission called on all parties to the conflict to end the violence. They said the parties “can and must do more to protect civilians from harm by urgently reviewing practices and strengthening mitigation measures, as well as working towards an end to the fighting – the only way to definitively stop conflict-related civilian casualties.”

UNAMA noted however that there had been no reduction in the documented number of civilian casualties, caused by parties involved in the current peace talks, since intra-Afghan negotiations started in September in comparison to previous weeks.

The mission said the period from 1 October is outside the scope of UNAMA’s latest quarterly report, but “raises its increasing concern over the intensification of the fighting in Helmand, as well as several indiscriminate attacks in Nangarhar, Laghman and Ghor along with an airstrike in Takhar and a suicide attack targeting civilians in Kabul that taken together killed and injured more than 400 civilians.”

“The peace talks will need some time to help deliver peace. But all parties can immediately prioritize discussions and take urgent, and frankly overdue, additional steps to stem the terrible harm to civilians,” said Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.

“New thinking and concrete action towards safeguarding civilian life will not only save thousands of families from suffering and grief but it can also help lessen recriminations and, instead, bolster confidence and trust among negotiators,” said Lyons, who is also head of UNAMA.

The mission stated that more than four out of every ten civilian casualties are children or women. Child casualties amounted to 31 percent of all civilian casualties in the first nine months of 2020, and women casualties 13 percent. UNAMA found that Anti-Government Elements (AGEs) remain responsible for the majority of civilian casualties (58 percent).

The mission also stated that attacks causing civilian casualties carried out by undetermined AGE increased. “There were more incidents, especially in relation to the use of IEDs and targeted killings, in which UNAMA could not determine which AGE group was responsible,” the report read.

“This also corresponds with a decrease in the number of incidents for which the Taliban or Islamic State of Iraq and the LevantKhorasan Province (ISIL-KP) claimed responsibility.”

Pressure-plate IEDs, used by the Taliban, function in Afghanistan as anti-personnel landmines continued to cause serious harm to civilians. The report stated that of the civilians killed by such devices, 31 percent were children and 12 percent were women.

UNAMA called on the Taliban to meet its commitments and “cease using these illegal weapons that wreak such harm on Afghan civilians.”

The mission said it also remains concerned about attacks deliberately targeting civilians, including education, health and humanitarian workers, members of the judiciary, tribal elders, religious leaders and civilian government employees.

However, ground engagements, mainly between the Taliban and the Afghan national security forces, caused the most civilian casualties, responsible for more than one-third of all civilian casualties.

This was followed by suicide and non-suicide IEDs (29 percent), targeted killings (16 percent) and airstrikes (eight percent).

Pro-Government Forces (PGFs) were responsible for more than a quarter of all civilian casualties – 28 percent and Afghan national security forces (ANSF) were responsible for 23 percent of all civilian casualties; a similar number was recorded in the first nine months of 2019.

UNAMA said almost half of civilian casualties by PGFs is caused by indirect fire, such as howitzers, mortars, rockets and grenades, often used in civilian-populated areas. “Women and children comprise almost three out of four civilian casualties from the use of these weapons by PGFs, as the projectiles often land near, or on, civilian homes,” read the report.

The mission said it was also concerned about the 70 percent increase of civilian casualties caused by Afghan Air Force airstrikes that accounted for most of the airstrike civilian casualties, which overall amounted to eight percent of civilian casualties.

On the issue of peace talks, UNAMA said the negotiations offer an opportunity for parties to the conflict to consider the irreversible loss and devastating effect that the war has had on Afghans, to acknowledge this with victims, and to address their rights to truth, justice, compensation, and reparation for the harm suffered.

“Our interviews with victims and their families reveal the near complete failure of parties to the conflict to acknowledge harm caused, nor even to make contact with them following an incident,” said Fiona Frazer, UNAMA’s Human Rights chief.

“The parties could, at minimum, acknowledge the pain caused, and look toward ways to help build reconciliation among the millions of Afghans who have suffered loss but whom desire an acknowledgement of what has happened to them, and a sustainable peace.”