The Peace Pavilion at the Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, has the word "peace" engraved in numerous languages.
Civilian deaths from insurgent attacks in Afghanistan have increased dramatically, Human Rights Watch said in a report released last week. The 116-page report "The Human Cost: The Consequences of Insurgent Attacks in Afghanistan," said the deaths are a result of insurgents' failure to respect laws of war.
The report describes how Afghan insurgent groups - primarily Taliban and Hezb-e Islami forces - sharply escalated bombing and other attacks in 2006 and early 2007. The report is based on interviews with civilian victims of attacks and their families, as well as a lengthy review of documents and records.
"Suicide bombings and other insurgent attacks have risen dramatically since 2005, with almost 700 civilians dying last year at the hands of the Taliban and other such groups," said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. "The insurgents are increasingly committing war crimes, often by directly targeting civilians. Even when they're aiming at military targets, insurgent attacks are often so indiscriminate that Afghan civilians end up as the main victims."
The report documents how - in violation of laws of war - insurgent forces have repeatedly and directly targeted civilians. Even attacks directed at Afghan and international military forces have been launched without regard for civilian life. Human Rights Watch has previously reported on numerous cases in which Afghan government and international forces in Afghanistan appear to have conducted indiscriminate attacks in violation of the laws of war.
The current report notes that 2006 was the deadliest year for civilians in Afghanistan since 2001. Overall, at least 669 Afghan civilians were killed in at least 350 armed attacks, most of which appear to have been intentionally launched at civilians or civilian objects. Fifty-two civilians were killed in insurgent attacks in the first two months of 2007.
Increasingly, the Taliban has targeted humanitarian aid workers, journalists, doctors, religious leaders and civilian government employees, condemning them as spies or collaborators. In 2006, at least 177 civilians were killed in assassinations. Similar ambushes and attacks are continuing. A recent horrific example was the Taliban's execution of Afghan journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi and his driver, Sayed Agha, in violation of war laws. "The Taliban's murders of Afghan journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi and driver Sayed Agha were war crimes," Mariner said.
The report contains accounts from Afghan civilian victims and their relatives about insurgent attacks and their consequences. For instance, nine-year-old Sherzad (not her real name) was severely injured in a suicide attack in the capital, Kabul, in March 2006. She told Human Rights Watch about how shrapnel tore open her stomach, spilling her intestines. "Sometimes I dream about that day: I have nightmares," Sherzad said. "I thought that I would not survive. I started saying the Kalimah [the martyrs' prayer] when I was hurt that day, because I thought I was going to die."
The report describes how insurgents regularly carry out bombings and suicide attacks on military targets in crowded, highly populated areas, killing combatants and civilians without distinction or causing excessive civilian harm disproportionate to expected military advantages. Many Afghans told Human Rights Watch they could not understand why insurgent forces choose to carry out attacks in civilian areas.
One man, burned in a July 2006 bombing near the Ministry of Justice in Kabul, told Human Rights Watch: "I didn't see any ISAF people [international forces] that day near the ministry, I just saw my people, Afghan people. What was the target, the people?"
The report documents how insurgent attacks are increasingly affecting the civilian population outside southern and southeastern Afghanistan, the Taliban's traditional stronghold. In 2006, nearly a third of recorded lethal bomb attacks which caused significant civilian casualties, took place in other areas, including Kabul, the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif and the western city of Herat.
Bombings in 2006 more than doubled compared to 2005. Human Rights Watch counted almost 200 bomb attacks in 2006, killing nearly 500 civilians. Many were illegal under international humanitarian law. Insurgents intentionally targeted civilian objects that served no military purpose, including schools, buses, or bazaars; carried out numerous bombings that killed combatants and civilians without distinction or caused excessive civilian casualties in relation to expected military advantages; and used attacks that appear to have been primarily intended to cause terror among the civilian population. All these methods are illegal under the laws of war.
Suicide attacks by insurgents have been especially deadly for civilians. In 2006 there were at least 136 suicide attacks in Afghanistan, a six-fold increase over 2005. At least 112 of the attacks were on military targets, yet most killed more civilians than combatants. Approximately 20 other attacks were intentionally aimed at civilians. Suicide attacks by insurgents in 2006 killed at least 272 Afghan civilians and 37 government or international forces. Suicide attacks killed eight times as many civilians as combatants.
While suicide attacks are not inherently illegal under the laws of war, those carried out in Afghanistan often are. Human Rights Watch found that suicide attackers frequently fail to pinpoint attacks on military targets, often setting off explosives in a manner likely to cause indiscriminate or excessive civilian casualties. Moreover, suicide attackers almost always disguise themselves as civilians, violating legal prohibitions against "perfidy" that are meant to uphold the distinction between civilians and combatants during war. Perfidious attacks further endanger civilians: numerous Afghan civilians have been mistakenly shot by international and Afghan government forces, who erroneously believed them to be suicide attackers.
The report details how attacks on Afghan teachers and schools, especially girls'schools, doubled from their already high levels in 2005. The continuing attacks have forced hundreds of thousands of students out of classrooms. Taliban and other insurgent forces target schools on ideological grounds, claiming they are un-Islamic, or because schools in rural areas are the only symbols of government.
Human Rights Watch noted that military operations by Afghan government and international forces have also caused numerous civilian casualties. At least 230 civilians were killed during coalition or NATO operations in 2006, some of which appear to have violated laws of war. While there is no evidence suggesting that coalition forces intentionally target civilians, in some cases international forces have conducted indiscriminate attacks or failed to take adequate precautions to prevent harm to civilians.
Human Rights Watch said that continuing insecurity and armed conflict in Afghanistan contributes to already low levels of government and development assistance and to high levels of continuing displacement. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans are displaced in southern and southeastern provinces and millions remain refugees in Iran and Pakistan, reluctant to return to Afghanistan because of poor security and developmental assistance. "Many Afghans are already struggling to survive," Mariner said. "The increased insurgent attacks on civilians, especially government and humanitarian workers, are making matters worse."
Human Rights Watch has called on the Taliban, Hezb-e Islami and associated groups to cease intentional attacks on civilians and avoid attacks which fail to distinguish between civilians and combatants or which cause disproportionate harm to civilians. Human Rights Watch also called on insurgents to refrain from using perfidious attacks and stop all acts intended to instill terror among civilians.
The organisation urged the Pakistani government to take more effective action against insurgent forces which use Pakistani territory to prepare or plan attacks that violate laws of war.
Human Rights Watch also called on Afghan and international forces to develop better rules of engagement to minimize civilian casualties during hostilities. HRW suggests locating military installations at greater distances from civilian areas, as well as avoiding sending convoys through crowded areas whenever feasible and improving how forces respond to real or perceived insurgent attacks to avoid mistakenly targeting civilians.