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(Washington, D.C.) — Claims from Afghanistan’s Taliban leadership that the movement is trying to minimize civilian casualties do not match the group’s actions, Amnesty International said today.
In a message to mark the religious festival of Eid, the Taliban 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 Taliban and other insurgent groups.
Mullah Omar implied that the majority of those casualties were caused by Afghans being caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and international forces. He made no mention of Taliban 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," said Zarifi.
Although civilian casualties caused by NATO have dropped, aerial bombardment, particularly from unmanned drones, has caused public resentment.
Recent U.N. figures show that insurgents are responsible for 80 percent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
Amnesty International has documented how the Taliban 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 Taliban 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 Taliban, 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.
"The Taliban leader seems to suggest that certain categories of civilians are legitimate targets. This is simply not true," said Zarifi. "International humanitarian law stipulates that nobody should target civilians, regardless of their political allegiance. The Taliban 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.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom and dignity are denied.
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