UN: Afghan peace talks fail to halt civilian casualties
UN report says 5,939 civilians killed in first 9 months of 2020
The ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have failed to slow down civilian casualties in Afghanistan, a UN report said on Tuesday, adding 5,939 civilians were killed in the first nine months of 2020.
Sharing the latest figures, Deborah Lyons, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, said some 2,117 civilians were killed and 3,822 others injured from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2020. She urged all parties to the Afghan conflict to immediately prioritize discussions and take steps to stem the rising violence.
A graphic illustration of the extent of harm caused to civilians in Afghanistan showed that four out of every 10 civilian casualties were children or women, with child casualties amounting to 31% of all civilian casualties in the first nine months of 2020, while women casualties stood at 13%.
"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 the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
The number of civilians killed by the Taliban was 45% of total civilian casualties in the first nine months of this year.
However, the Taliban rejected the UN report. The group's spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that the report was based on information provided by the "enemy."
"The underlying cause of civilian casualties as known to the entire nation is the enemy [Afghan and US forces] airstrikes, targeting of villages and homes with heavy artillery and mortar fire, abuse of locals by Arbaki militias and attacks on public places, with indiscriminate airstrikes on mosques and civilian homes," Mujahid added.
According to the UN report, pro-government forces were responsible for more than a quarter of all civilian casualties -- 28%. This was 34% lower than the same period in 2019, due mainly to the steep drop in international military forces' airstrikes since March, it said.
For its part, the Afghan government's National Security Council said it has "noted" the UN report. "The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces remain in defensive posture for the sake of success of the peace efforts and safeguarding civilian casualties," it said.
The council added that the government has "concerns and questions" about the mechanism used by the UN mission to collect the data on civilian casualties.
The UN mission said the Afghanistan peace negotiations offer an opportunity to the warring parties to consider the loss and devastation that the war has brought on Afghans and address their rights to truth, justice, compensation and reparations for the harm suffered.
"Our interviews with victims and their families reveal the near complete failure of parties to the conflict to acknowledge the harm caused, nor even to make contact with them following an incident," said Fiona Frazer, human rights chief of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
"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 who desire an acknowledgement of what has happened to them, and a sustainable peace," she added.