Claims from Afghanistan’s Taleban leadership that the movement is trying to minimise civilian casualties do not match the group’s actions, Amnesty International said today.In a message to mark the religious festival of Eid, the Taleban leader, Mullah Omar, issued a detailed list of steps his commanders should take to stem the rising number of civilian deaths, the vast majority of which are caused by the Taleban and other insurgent groups.Mullah Omar implied that the majority of those casualties were caused by Afghans being caught in the crossfire between the Taleban and international forces. He made no mention of Taleban attacks that have targeted civilians or have indiscriminately harmed large numbers of civilians.“The Afghan people would welcome any genuine effort to reduce civilian casualties,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director. “However, Mullah Omar’s message seems hypocritical, as it is more about propaganda and less about actually protecting civilians. He suggests that the majority of civilian casualties are accidental and could be avoided if Afghans kept away from foreign troops. “He doesn’t order his commanders to halt targeted assassinations, or stop using suicide bombers or improvised explosive devices in civilian areas.”
Although civilian casualties caused by NATO have dropped, aerial bombardment, particularly from unmanned drones, has caused public resentment.Recent UN figures show that insurgents are responsible for 80 per cent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Amnesty International has documented how the Taleban and other insurgent groups have regularly hid behind civilians, knowingly putting them in danger, and have increasingly attacked busy civilian areas, including hospitals, schools, and mosques. The Taleban killed a headmaster of a girl’s school in May this year, and insurgents have also attacked and killed female MPs. There are also reports that the Taleban, as well as other groups, are increasingly using children as fighters or even as suicide bombers. The insurgents have also stepped up the planting of IEDs. And they have targeted both Afghan civilians working for the government and their families. Their victims include the 11 year old son of a policeman who was hanged as a “spy”.In his Eid message, Mullah Omar ordered his fighters to stop threatening civilians, report civilian casualties to their superiors, investigate reported violations and punish those found guilty of abuses. However, Sam Zarifi says much more needs to be done. “The Taleban leader seems to suggest that certain categories of civilians are legitimate targets. This is simply not true.” he said.“International humanitarian law stipulates that nobody should target civilians, regardless of their political allegiance. The Taleban and other armed groups in Afghanistan are familiar with the laws of war and use them when they need to, but their current strategy seems to rely on systematically violating these laws by jeopardizing civilians.”Amnesty International has called on the International Criminal Court to investigate the conflict in Afghanistan.