Afghanistan’s Suffering Civilians

KABUL – “The Taliban come to any house they please, by force. Then they fire from that house, and then ISAF and the Afghan National Army fire at the house. But if I tell the Taliban not to enter, the Taliban will kill me. So what is the answer? Either ISAF kills me or the Taliban kills me. The people cannot live like this.”

That experience, recounted by a resident of Afghanistan’s Marja district, is all too frequent in the country. For three decades, Afghan communities have been caught in the middle of war. It is long past time for civilians to stop bearing the brunt of it.

Every day, United Nations human-rights workers in Afghanistan meet community members in districts and villages on fact-finding missions into incidents of civilian casualties. Our recent mid-year report found that 1,462 Afghan civilians were killed in the first half of this year, the highest number since the UN started documenting deaths and injuries of civilians in 2007.

Fighting continues in Afghanistan, with the surge of the international military forces and Afghan government forces and the spring-summer offensive by the Taliban and other insurgents. While we are all working to assist in finding an Afghan-led political solution to this conflict, the fighting is not going to stop immediately. Therefore, it is essential that those fighting take very seriously their obligation not to target civilians – indeed, to do everything possible to protect them.