A new UN report reveals that ongoing armed conflict in Afghanistan took an "unrelenting toll" on civilians in 2013, and that women and children faced an "alarming" increase in deadly violence.
Announcing the findings presented in the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan's (UNAMA) Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Ján Kubiš, the head of the body, said that if civilians were being deliberately targeted, "it might constitute a war crime and eventually justice will come sooner or later."
UNAMA documented 8,615 civilian casualties with 2,959 civilian deaths and 5,656 injured last year, which marks a 14 percent increase compared to 2012.
But 2013 was a particularly violent year for Afghan women and children, with the report calling it the worst year for them since 2009.
Women's causalities rose by 36 percent compared to 2012, and children's casualties rose by 34 percent.
"It is particularly alarming that the number of Afghan women and children killed and injured in the conflict increased again in 2013," said the Director of Human Rights for UNAMA, Georgette Gagnon. "It is the awful reality that most women and children were killed and injured in their daily lives – at home, on their way to school, working in the fields or traveling to a social event."
The report attributed the majority of civilian casualties to IEDs, and said that the majority of civilian deaths are from "anti-government elements," which includes, but is not limited to the Taliban.
But 2013 also saw an increase—59 percent—in civilian causalities by pro-Government forces compared to 2012.
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Air operations, including the use of drone strikes by international military forces, in 2013 caused 182 civilian casualties from 54 aerial operations, marking a 10 percent reduction in casualties caused by such operations in 2012.
Yet the report notes that "Women and children comprised 45 percent of civilian deaths from aerial operations."
In addition, it continues:
Within the total figures for civilian casualties from airstrikes, UNAMA recorded 59 civilian casualties (45 civilian deaths and 14 injured) from 19 incidents of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)/RPA 196 strikes in 2013, more than tripling such casualties recorded in 2012.
The US-led war also left a lethal legacy with its unexploded ordnance. UNAMA documents an increase in causalities from leftover explosive ordnance or abandoned "explosive remnants of war."
"As international forces leave they must be responsible to the Afghan civilians they’ve been living with for years and take all possible steps to clear firing ranges and other explosive remnants of war from their bases," stated Sahr Muhammedally, Senior Legal Advisor for the Center for Civilians in Conflict Muhammedally, reacting to the UN report.
"Behind every civilian casualty is a man, woman or child's life and immense suffering and hardship for an Afghan family and community," Gagnon added. "Reduced civilian suffering and fewer civilian casualties together with improvements in human rights protection should be the core benchmarks of improved stability and efforts toward peace in the security and political transition in 2014."