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Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report 2020

Country: Afghanistan Sources: UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Please refer to the attached file. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY After decades of conflict, millions of Afghans saw 2020 as a year promising a real prospect of peace. In February,the United States and the Taliban reached a bilateral agreement and in September, the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations formally commenced. Fighting continued throughout the year, but two temporary ceasefires during successive Eid holidays largely held, and there was a drop in the number of civilian casualties documented in the first nine months.
In stark contrast, the last three months of the year marked an uncharacteristic rise in civilian casualties a critical indicator of the nature of the conflict. The year ended with increased focus on levels of violence and diminishing hopes for lasting peace. While reductions in the use of some tactics during the year ameliorated civilian harm significantly, this was contrasted by increases in civilian casualties from other tactics, resulting in continued high levels of civilian harm overall. Following the United States-Taliban agreement, UNAMA documented a reduction in civilian casualties from large scale attacks in urban centres by Anti-Government Elements, especially the Taliban, and from airstrikes by international military forces. However, this was partially offset by increases in civilian casualties from targeted killings by Anti-Government Elements, Taliban pressure-plate IEDs, and Afghan Air Force airstrikes, as well as a continuation of high levels of harm to civilians from ground engagements. From 1 January to 31 December 2020, UNAMA documented 8,820 civilian casualties (3,035 killed and 5,785 injured), a 15 per cent reduction from the number of civilian casualties recorded in 2019 and the lowest number of civilian casualties since 2013. Although UNAMA welcomes the overall decline in civilian casualties, the rise in the last quarter of 2020 is of particular concern, especially as this corresponds with the formal commencement of the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations on 12 September 2020. This was the first time since it began systematic documentation in 2009 that UNAMA documented an increase in the number of civilian casualties recorded in the fourth quarter compared with the prior quarter. In addition, the last three months of 2020 marked a 45 per cent increase in civilian casualties in comparison to the same period in 2019, especially from the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and targeted killings. Of further concern is the worrying increases in civilian harm from tactics which exacerbated the environment of fear and paralysed many parts of society. The harm caused to civilians in 2020 is a continuation of the pain and suffering from armed conflict that people of Afghanistan have endured for decades. The anguish caused by the armed conflict continued to be widespread and felt in cities and rural areas by people of all ages, genders, ethnicities and social-economic backgrounds. Beyond the physical harm, the armed conflict continued to cause psychological trauma and poverty and left many civilians reliant on humanitarian aid and with limited access to education and justice. In 2020, the ongoing fighting also interfered with the necessary healthcare response to the COVID-19 pandemic. UNAMA reiterates that the best way to end the accumulating harm to civilians in Afghanistan is through a cessation of hostilities and a negotiated political settlement. The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, called for a global humanitarian ceasefire to fight the common enemy of COVID-19, to enable humanitarian assistance, and to save lives. This was widely supported by people around the world, Member States, and the United Nations Security Council. The international community also called for all parties to the Afghanistan conflict to agree to a ceasefire in order to create a more conducive environment for peace talks to succeed. While the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan repeatedly voiced its support for a ceasefire the Taliban consistently rejected all such appeals. Throughout 2020, UNAMA documented fluctuations in the number of civilian casualties in parallel with evolving political events. The reduction in violence week prior to the signing of the United States-Taliban agreement in Doha on 29 February 2020, demonstrated that parties to the conflict have the power to prevent and limit harm to civilians when they decide to do so. Then, from March, concerns grew about rising levels of violence, as UNAMA documented an increasing number of civilian casualties and attacks on health care personnel and facilities early in the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. As the year continued, two temporary ceasefires during Eid al-Fitr (24-26 May) and Eid al-Adha (31 July-2 August) between Afghan national security forces and the Taliban greatly reduced the harm to civilians during those periods.


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