Thursday, January 28, 2010

Afghanistan: Human rights must be guaranteed during Taleban talks

Human rights, including women’s rights, must not be traded away or compromised during any reconciliation talks with the Taleban in Afghanistan, Amnesty International said on the eve of a London conference set to discuss deteriorating security conditions in the country.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, other leaders and foreign ministers are to discuss security arrangements in Afghanistan for the next two years, including reconciliation programmes to reintegrate so-called moderate elements of Taleban.
"Any discussions with the Taleban must include clear commitments that they will respect and promote the rights of the Afghan people," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director.
“The Taleban established a terrible record of violating human rights during their rule and they have done nothing since then to indicate they will act differently if they return to power.”
"The policymakers gathered in London this week have to show that they will not sacrifice the well-being of the Afghan people at the altar of political and military expediency."
Similar deals with the Taleban in neighbouring Pakistan led to increased human rights violations in areas under Taleban control and a significant escalation in conflict and insecurity.
The Afghan government and insurgent groups must both adhere to Afghanistan’s obligations under international human rights law and domestic law, Amnesty International said.
The Taleban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan have shown little regard for human rights and the laws of war, deliberately targeting civilians, launching indiscriminate suicide attacks in which civilians are killed and engaging in the wholesale destruction of girls’ education.
According to UN figures, the Taleban were responsible for two thirds of the more than 2400 civilian casualties in Afghanistan last year, the bloodiest year yet since the fall of the Taleban.
In areas under their control, the Taleban have severely curtailed the rights of girls and women, including the denial of education, employment, freedom of movement and political participation and representation.
Afghan civil society groups, in particular women's groups, have voiced serious alarms about the prospect of ceding any type of political control to the Taleban.
“Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict are a positive step forward,” said Sam Zarifi, “but the rights of the Afghan people must never be negotiated away.
“It is our experience that peace without justice or human rights is not real peace and could ultimately lead to further conflict.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

UNAMA calls for safety first, as civilian casualties rise by 14% in 2009

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), in conjunction with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), today called on all sides of Afghanistan’s conflict to uphold their obligations under international law and minimize the impact of fighting on civilians. New statistics released by the UN mission showed that 2009 proved to be the deadliest year yet for civilians since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
The UN mission recorded 2,412 civilian casualties during 2009, up by 14 per cent from 2008 when the mission recorded 2,118 civilian deaths.

Of the 2,412 deaths reported last year, 1,630 (67%) were attributed to anti-Government elements while 596 (25%) were attributed to pro-Government forces. The remaining 186 deaths (8%) could not be attributed to any of the conflicting parties as they died as a result of cross fire or by unexploded ordinance. Ms Norah Niland, Chief Human Rights Officer said: ”Anti-Government elements remain responsible for the largest proportion of civilian deaths, killing three times as many civilians as pro-Government forces.

It is vital that determined efforts are now made by the insurgency to put into effect the Taliban “Code of Conduct” that calls on them to protect the lives of civilians. “Civilian deaths caused by the armed opposition increased by 41 per cent between 2008 and 2009 from 1,160 to 1,630. Suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices caused more civilian casualties than any other tactic killing 1,054 civilians last year.

Civilians are also being deliberately assassinated, abducted and executed if they are perceived as being supportive of, or associated with, the Government or the international community. “At the same time during 2009 we saw a reduction in the number of civilian casualties caused by pro-Government forces by 28 per cent between 2008 and 2009. This decrease reflects measures taken by international military forces to reduce the risk posed by military operations on the civilian population.

“However despite positive trends, actions by pro-Government forces continued to take an adverse toll on civilians; we recorded 359 civilians killed during aerial attacks, which constitute 61 per cent of the number of civilian deaths attributed to pro-Government forces. International and Afghan security forces also conducted a large number of search and seizure operations. These often involved excessive use of force, destruction of property and cultural insensitivity, particularly towards women.”

The UN mission also expressed concern on the location of military bases that are situated within, or close to, areas where civilians are concentrated saying that such bases increased the risks faced by civilians. Ms Niland underlined that all parties to the conflict have an obligation to avoid locating military assets, including personnel, in areas that put civilians at risk.

Ms Niland continued to say: “2009 has proven to be the worst year since the fall of the Taliban regime for civilians caught up in the armed conflict. The conflict has intensified and spread into areas that were previously considered safe. “Ensuring the safety and welfare of the civilian population must come first.

Anti-Government elements must realize that they too have obligations under international law while pro-Government forces must step up efforts to ensure that every measure is taken to protect civilians during the conduct of military operations. The United Nations calls for international law to be respected to minimise the impact of the conflict on civilians as we begin 2010.” Notes to Editors

• The report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict in Afghanistan in 2009 is compiled in pursuance of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) mandate under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1868 (2009).

• UNAMA Human Rights undertakes a range of activities aimed at minimizing the impact of the conflict on civilians; this includes independent and impartial monitoring of incidents involving loss of life or injury to civilians and analysis of trends to identify the circumstances in which loss of life occurs.

• UNAMA Human Rights officers, deployed across Afghanistan, utilize a broad range of techniques to gather information on specific cases irrespective of location or who may be responsible. Such information is cross-checked and analyzed, with a range of diverse sources, for credibility and reliability to the satisfaction of the Human Rights officer conducting the investigation, before details are recorded in a dedicated database.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Embedded Canadian reporter becomes seventh woman journalist killed in 2009

Reporters Without Borders is shocked to learn that Canadian newspaper reporter Michelle Lang was killed yesterday in the southern province of Kandahar when a roadside bomb struck the Canadian military vehicle she was travelling in. Four Canadian soldiers were also killed.
“Lang’s death just two days before the New Year is a cruel reminder of the dangers that journalists face in war zones,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The growing number of cowardly, indiscriminate attacks by Islamist groups, not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and Somalia, has greatly increased the dangers for reporters who take the risk of covering events close up.”
“’We offer our sincerest condolences to Michelle Lang’s family and condolences,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard and François Bugingo, the president of the organisation’s Canadian section.
A total of 19 journalists, 11 of them foreign, have been killed in Afghanistan since 11 September 2001. Five of the victims, including Afghan journalist Zakia Zaki and French journalist Johanne Sutton, were women.
Lang, who worked for the Calgary Herald, was on her first assignment to Afghanistan and was embedded with the Canadian troops whose main base in is the extremely volatile province of Kandahar. She was riding in a Canadian military vehicle that was hit when a roadside bomb went off at around 4 p.m. yesterday.
She was the seventh woman journalist to be killed in 2009. Three of the others were Russian, including journalist and human rights investigator Natalia Estemirova, who was killed in Chechnya. The other three were among the 30 reporters who were killed in an election-related massacre in the southern Philippines on 23 November.
Radical Islamist groups have caused the death of at least 16 journalists worldwide. The Al-Shabaab militia in Somalia has stepped up its targeting killings and suicide bombings. At least nine journalists have been killed in Somalia, including four working for Radio Shabelle, a station that has tried to keep covering developments amid the chaos.
Reporters are also increasingly being targeted by the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan. And Faheem Siddiqi, a Pakistani reporter working for Geo TV, was badly injured in a suicide bombing on a procession marking the Shiite religious ceremony of Ashura in Karachi on 28 December.