Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Report reveals steep rise in Afghan civilian casualties

Mark Tran
Monday April 16, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

The number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan soared last year as insurgents deliberately targeted non-combatants including doctors and religious leaders, a report released today said.

Human Rights Watch - which declared such attacks to be war crimes - said 669 civilians were killed last year, mainly by the Taliban and Hezb-i Islami, a faction that backs Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the renegade former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

The toll was the heaviest since the Taliban regime was overthrown by the US in 2001.

"The insurgents are increasingly committing war crimes, often by directly targeting civilians," Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch, said.

"Even when they're aiming at military targets, insurgent attacks are often so indiscriminate that Afghan civilians end up as the main victims."

The New York-based organisation said the Taliban had been targeting certain groups of civilians, including humanitarian aid workers, journalists, doctors, religious leaders and civilian government employees, condemning them as spies or collaborators.

In 2006, at least 177 civilians were killed in assassinations, and similar ambushes and attacks have continued this year.

"A recent and horrific example was the Taliban's summary execution of the Afghan journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi and his driver, Sayed Agha, in violation of the laws of war," the report said.

Most of the deaths - 500 - resulted from almost 200 bomb attacks, more than double the 2005 total.

Human Rights Watch accused insurgents of intentionally picking out civilian targets that served no military purpose, including schools, buses, or bazaars. The group said bombings had been carried out without regard for excessive civilian casualties or any expected military gains.

One man, who was burned in a July 2006 explosion near the ministry of justice in Kabul, told Human Rights Watch: "I didn't see any [international forces] that day near the ministry, I just saw my people, Afghan people. What was the target, the people?"

Suicide attacks increased sixfold last year compared with 2005, killing at least 272 Afghan civilians and 37 government or international forces - eight times as many civilians as combatants.

The new report also revealed how attacks on Afghan teachers - especially in girls' schools - had doubled from already high levels in 2005, forcing hundreds of thousands of students out of classrooms.

Human Rights Watch criticised the Afghan government and international forces for military operations that have caused heavy civilian casualties.

At least 230 civilians were killed during US-led or Nato operations in 2006, with some of those operations appearing to have violated the laws of war, the group said.

While it added that there was no evidence that US-led forces had intentionally targeted civilians, international forces had either conducted indiscriminate attacks or failed to take adequate precautions to prevent harm to civilians.

Human Rights Watch called on the Taliban and associated groups to stop all intentional attacks on civilians and civilian targets, and avoid all attacks that did not distinguish between civilians and combatants or which cause disproportionate harm to civilians.

No comments: