Afghanistan: 'Violence reduction' must mean no attacks on civilians

The USA and the Afghan Taliban’s negotiations over a reduction in violence must include a commitment by both sides to abide by the laws of war and end all attacks on civilians, Amnesty International said today.

Over the past week, representatives of the USA and the Afghan Taliban have been engaged in closed-door negotiations in Doha, Qatar, apparently aimed at agreeing to levels of “violence reduction” in the conflict in Afghanistan.

“In a conflict marked by attacks on civilians, the term ‘violence reduction’ is an absurdity. There can be no acceptable level of violence. The USA and the Afghan Taliban must commit to abide by the laws of war and end all attacks on Afghan civilians,” said Omar Waraich, Deputy South Asia Director at Amnesty International.

Civilian casualties remain at near-record levels in Afghanistan. In the first nine months of 2019, at least 2,563 civilians were killed and 5,676 wounded, according to figures published by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

Since UNAMA began compiling records in 2009, there have been more than 100,000 Afghans killed or injured. Nearly 34,000 Afghan civilians have been killed during that period, many of them children. Afghanistan remains the deadliest conflict in the world for children.

There can be no acceptable level of violence. The United States and the Afghan Taliban must commit to abide by the laws of war and end all attacks on Afghan civilians
Omar Waraich

Civilians continue to be killed in large numbers in operations by both pro-government forces and international forces on the one hand, and the Taliban and other armed groups on the other.

The Taliban and other armed groups have deliberately attacked civilians in war crimes that included attacks on schools and mosques. The armed group calling itself the Islamic State in Khorasan has deployed its virulent sectarianism in attacks that deliberately targeted religious minorities, including the bombing of a Shi’a Hazara wedding last August, claiming the lives of nearly 100 people.

Pro-government and international forces have been responsible for civilian casualties in aerial attacks and night-time ‘search operations’ that have violated international humanitarian law.

In July 2019, as part of the ‘intra-Afghan dialogue’ in Doha, delegations from Afghan civil society and the Afghan Taliban agreed to a joint declaration that emphasized the need to bring civilian casualties "to zero".

July 2019 was the deadliest month on record, according to UNAMA.

“Claims of peace cannot be taken seriously as long as fighters continue to target civilians. They must commit to protecting civilians, and all attacks on civilians must be investigated and prosecuted. Peace talks must not, under any circumstances, become a licence for impunity,” said Omar Waraich.