The annual report, produced by the UNAMA in coordination with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Office (OHCHR), shows that increased ground fighting in and around populated areas, along with suicide and other attacks in major cities, were the main causes of conflict-related civilian deaths and injuries in 2015.
UNAMA documented 11,002 civilian casualties (3,545 deaths and 7,457 injured) in 2015, exceeding the previous record levels of civilian casualties that occurred in 2014. The latest figures show an overall increase of four per cent during 2015 in total civilian casualties from the previous year. UNAMA began its systematic documentation of civilian casualties in 2009.
According the report, ground engagements between parties to the conflict caused the highest number of total civilian casualties (fatalities and injuries), followed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide and complex attacks. Ground engagements caused the most fatalities among civilians, followed by targeted and deliberate killings.
The Afghanistan’s Taliban spokesman labeled this report as partial propaganda compiled at the behest of occupying forces. Zabihullah Mujahid further observed that civilian casualties can never be prevented through such biased reporting and ‘only encourages the irresponsibility’ of the Kabul regime and their foreign backers.
It is worthwhile to state that the Islamic Emirate has consistently called on UNAMA to vigorously check their sources and facts and give all parties an opportunity to rebut accusations before publishing such reports yet UNAMA persistently fails to heed such calls. UNAMA lacks the will power to visit the affected areas and cross-examine these allegations. Rather their only sources of information are the American Embassy in Kabul and the ministries of Kabul regime.
How can we then expect such an institution to thoroughly investigate claims of civilian casualties and publish impartial and proportionate reports?
Let us take this recent report as an example. The report alleges that 37 percent of the civilian casualties were caused as a result of ground engagements. Clearly specifying the responsible party in such engagements is one of the most difficult tasks of all.
To fairly apportion blame in such an engagement would require a thorough investigation involving the examination of the territory where such incidents occur as well as interviewing the victims or those close to the victims at the time of the incident. Moreover, defining the actions of the responsible party as accidental or deliberate would require communication with the belligerent parties before reaching a judgment on their motives.
UNAMA has failed to carry out any of these steps. They refuse to visit many of the outlying theatres of conflict and when they do visit or contact the victims they are often escorted by regime forces or foreign troops which undermine the very notion of a fair and impartial investigation.
On the other hand, the report only attributes 3 percent of the civilian casualties to air operations. To anyone that has ever visited the conflict areas during active engagements this figure would appear comical since the vast majority of casualties during regime operations are caused by indiscriminate air bombardment coupled with large scale mortar and artillery shelling.
This discrepancy between the ground events and the 3 percent apportioning can only be described by speculating that either UNAMA takes all NATO and regime claims regarding casualties prima facie or else they are too afraid to report the true damage caused by aerial operations.
If UNAMA truly wishes to reduce the number of civilian casualties and bring the perpetrators of such actions to justice then they should accept the Afghanistan’s Taliban proposal to set up a joint committee that will freely visit both insurgent-controlled and regime-controlled areas in order to conduct extensive investigations of civilian casualties and judiciously identify the party responsible. As an additional step UNAMA should also provide a copy of such reports to the Afghanistan’s Taliban Department for the Prevention of Civilian Casualties so as to give them an opportunity to answer the allegations against them before deciding to publish such reports.
Failing such reasonable steps, with a deep heart, it must be said, that the war will continue unabated, civilians with continue to suffer their plight, and the real perpetrators of these crimes against humanity with continue to slaughter with impunity.