The need for a ceasefire to save civilian casualties in Afghanistan

A soldier at sunset A soldier at sunset © Photo by Zabelin on iStock

This article is a brief presentation of the United Nations (UN) Report on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts in Afghanistan.

The report of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on the civil conflict in Afghanistan and the protection of civilians in this conflict area was carried out during the year 2020 to monitor the situation while also combining assistance to minimise the impact of the conflict with activities to achieve peace. The report was also written in collaboration and with the technical assistance of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The year 2020 had started well for the country, with the expectation of achieving peace and an apparent respite from the conflict that had seen fewer casualties for the first few months of the year. The positive premises of early 2020 had then brought renewed hope with the arrival of peace negotiations in September, however, problems occurred in the crucial final months. In fact, October saw the highest number of civilian casualties of that year and in November the number of victims was unprecedented since the beginning of UNAMA's monitoring in Afghanistan in 2009.

The last quarter of the year has been devastating for the country, leading to more than 3,000 civilians losing their lives as a result of the conflict in one year. This is the seventh year in a row that similar numbers have been recorded and the United Nations along with the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons is calling on the parties to reach a humanitarian ceasefire and a peace agreement.

Overall, during the year, an initial improvement was seen in the reduction of tactics to attack civilians by anti-government forces, particularly the Taliban, in urban centres. However, this reduction in large-scale attacks was offset by an increase in other tactics on civilians. Indeed, an increase in targeted killings of civilians and killings by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were documented by UNAMA.

The UN has called for a comprehensive humanitarian ceasefire several times to protect civilians and it has reconfirmed that attacks targeting citizens or civilian objects are serious violations of international humanitarian law that can be considered equivalent to war crimes. The effects of the conflict significantly affected Afghan women and children, who accounted for 43% of the country's victims in 2020. This particular year saw a devastating record for the number of women killed that had not been seen since the UNAMA mission began.

After almost a decade of conflict, Afghanistan has endured pain and suffering that, in addition to physical damage and poverty, also affects the mental health of its citizens. With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the constant fighting has left the population without the humanitarian aid needed to combat this global crisis. UNAMA reiterates that the best way to end the damage to civilians in Afghanistan is through the cessation of hostilities and peace. The partial reduction in violence that occurred in February 2020, thanks to the first agreements between the United States and the Taliban, have shown that it is possible to prevent civilian suffering and that political agreements could bring an end to this conflict. Another demonstration of the effects of the agreements was when the two temporary ceasefires during Eid al-Fitr (24-26 May) and Eid al-Adha (31 July-2 August) significantly reduced civilian casualties. The Report, therefore, concludes with a further call for the parties to the conflict to end this decade of suffering in Afghanistan.


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Autore: Carla Pintor; Editor: Shrabya Ghimire

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