Against the sobering backdrop of the ongoing intense conflict across Afghanistan, the United Nations remains troubled that civilians are being killed in high numbers and urges all parties to the conflict to meet their obligations to protect civilians from harm, the organization said in a statement on Sunday.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has found that anti-government elements deliberately and knowingly targeted civilians throughout the holy month of Ramadan, the statement said.
The attacks by anti-government elements mainly used improvised explosive devices and caused more than 100 civilian casualties in Kabul alone, the statement said.
UNAMA urges these anti-government elements to stop attacking the civilian population of Afghanistan.
“In international law, all parties to the conflict are prohibited from deliberate attacks carried out against civilians; by definition, these are war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA. “There is no justification whatsoever for any party to the conflict to attack civilians; they must never be a target.”
UNAMA’s findings indicate that, throughout Ramadan, civilians were deliberately targeted by anti-government elements, including during the 8 May attack on NGO staff in Kabul; the 24 May assassination of a religious scholar in a place of worship; the 27 May and 3 June incidents targeting civilian government officials; and the 2 June attack against Shia students.
“I condemn these deliberate attacks on civilians that signal a disturbing intent to spread fear; they delegitimize the perpetrators, depriving them of any claim to represent the people of Afghanistan,” said Yamamoto. “It is crucial that all respect their obligations under international law to protect civilians.”
The United Nations maintains that attacks deliberately targeting civilians run counter to the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and remains committed to an Afghan-led peace process that will end the ongoing war.
This year marks 20 years since ‘protection of civilians’ became a standing agenda item at the UN Security Council. On 23 May, around the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the Security Council, stressing that grave human suffering is still being caused by armed conflicts and lack of compliance with international humanitarian law. Guterres warned that, globally, civilians continue to make up the vast majority of casualties.
“As bleak as the current state of protection is, there is considerable scope for improvement if we each do our utmost to promote and implement the rules that bind us to preserve humanity in war,” Secretary-General Guterres told the Security Council.
UNAMA will continue to conduct its Security Council-mandated impartial monitoring and recording of harm to civilians, by all parties to the conflict, making its findings public as part of work to promote accountability and limit the impact of the war on civilians, the statement said.