Assassinations spike in worst year for Afghan civilians
In an annual report on the conflict's civilian toll, the United Nations said there had been a 15 percent rise in the number of civilians killed to 2,777 in 2010, the highest number in the past five years.
The report, which was coauthored by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, comes at a time when the issue of civilian casualties in NATO-led operations has sparked protests across the country.
Yet, the UN report said that deaths of civilians due to pro-government forces had dropped 26 percent in 2010, accounting for 16 percent of all casualties. Aerial strikes continued to claim the most number of lives, but had fallen 52 percent from 2009, it said.
It will come as little comfort to the families of the nine Afghan boys gunned down on March 1 by a NATO-led helicopter team which had mistaken them for Taliban insurgents in the eastern province of Kunar. Nor for the families of the 65 people, including women and children, killed in a similar allied airstrike less than two weeks earlier in the same province. The deaths promoted a rare and frank apology both from the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates, who is currently visiting Afghanistan.
The vast majority of civilian casualties, 75 percent, continued to be caused by insurgents, the report said, with suicide attacks and roadside bombs killing the most number of people.
Abductions rose 83 percent, and violence spread from the south to the north, east and west, the report said. Civilian deaths in the north, in particular, rose 76 percent.
But the most "alarming" trend, it said, was a 105 percent increase in the targeted killing of government officials, aid workers and civilians perceived to be supportive of the Afghan government or NATO-led foreign forces.
Half of civilian assassinations took place in southern Afghanistan, with a 588 per cent increase in 2010 in Helmand province and a 248 per cent increase in Kandahar province.
"Assassinations affect Afghan society and violate human rights in ways that go far beyond the body count," said Nader Nadery, commissioner of the human rights commission. "Assassinations deter civilians from exercising their basic human rights to life and security, and violate their freedoms of expression, political participation, to work and get an education. This suppression of rights has severe political, economic and social consequences as it slows governance and development."
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan, Unama, has called for 2011 to be a year of protecting civilians. The two organizations listed 25 recommendations addressed to insurgents, as well as the government of Afghanistan and the NATO-allied coalition to bring down the number of civilian casualties. The suggestions included refraining from targeting civilians and also the setting up of a body within the Afghan security forces that would act on reports of civilian casualties, including investigations, accountability and compensation.
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