Statement by Mr. Nazifullah Salarzai
Deputy Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations
At the UN Security Council Open debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
May 22, 2018
(Check against delivery)
Let me first thank the Mission of Poland for convening this Ministerial Open Debate on the urgent issue of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts. I would like to extend my gratitude to H.E. Mr. Jacek Czaputowicz, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland and other distinguished speakers for their statements.
Today’s meeting is of crucial importance for Afghanistan – a country that has seen decades of imposed conflict, including terrorism and violent extremism, leading to a disproportionate number of civilian deaths and injuries. Recently, we have seen a significant increase in barbaric attacks on our civilians, where our schools, mosques, hospitals, and as of late, electoral registration sites and other safe spaces – purely of civilian nature – have come under attack. By systematically targeting our children, medical personnel, journalists, commuters, and ordinary men and women, the Taliban and other terrorist groups who have come from outside our borders, have sought to compensate losses on the battlefield with attacks on soft targets and sowing fear and discord in our society.
Based on our recent estimates, in last year alone, 2,903 civilian deaths and over 6,000 civilian injuries occurred as a result of enemy attacks nationwide, mainly on civilian targets.
The UNAMA 2017 Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict clearly depicts how the Taliban and other terrorist groups have used suicide attacks, including targeted and deliberate killings, bombs and other explosive devices, abductions, and other arbitrary and extrajudicial punishments against our civilian population. As we assemble here to discuss the crucial issue of protecting civilians in conflict, only a few hours ago there was another terrorist attack in Kandahar that reportedly killed 16 and wounded over 30 civilians. The utter disregard for human life, as demonstrated in these attacks, constitute a clear violation of international humanitarian law.
In this background, the Security Council’s landmark resolution 2286 (2016), reaffirms its determination to bring the behavior of parties to conflict and Member States alike, in line with international humanitarian law. It also highlights the obligation of parties to a conflict to protect and care for the wounded and sick, to respect and protect those providing impartial medical care, and to facilitate their mission. In the same light, prevention and mitigation of harm to civilian population, remains a key priority to the Government of Afghanistan.
While being at the forefront of fighting international terrorism, our brave defense and security forces have valiantly defended our territorial integrity and safety and security of civilian population. Further, we have also developed and improved a number of strategic, operational, and tactical measures to protect civilians during conflict.
- In October 2017, we endorsed the National Policy on Civilian Casualty Prevention and Mitigation and its implementation plan. This plan consists of specific guidelines for our security forces to prevent and mitigate civilian casualties and harm to properties.
- Further, the plan strictly prohibits any use of civilian facilities such as schools, hospitals, and clinics for military purposes.
- Additionally, our government agencies have continued to promptly and thoroughly investigate any possible violations of the provisions of the policy by any Government official or agency, and take appropriate corrective measures, as recommended in the 2017 UNAMA Annual report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.
- We have also ratified the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, including all amendments and protocols in August 2017, which will result in improved protections of civilians.
- Additionally, the Tawhid Center in the National Security Council has been established to maintain a database for tracking conflict related civilian casualties, among other responsibilities.
- We are strongly committed to ensuring that our security forces operate within national and international laws and regulations to protect civilians during military operations. Our Ministry of Defense has established an internal board for investigating allegations of human rights abuses, including civilian casualties and recruitment of children into armed forces.
- In 2010, we established an Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee on Children and Armed Conflict. The following year, the Committee developed a National Action Plan to end and prevent the recruitment of children in our defense and security forces.
- Among other reforms, we established 21 Child Protection Units with the Afghan National and Local Police recruitment centers that have prevented over one hundred underage voluntary enlistment.
- Moreover, NATO training sessions for senior ANDSF personnel in the area of civilian casualty tracking and mitigation is offered at strategic, operational, and tactical levels.
- Further, the Civilian Casualties Avoidance and Mitigation Board (CAMB), intended to identify areas to improve civilian casualty meets every three months, and have developed practical efforts undertaken by domestic and international military forces to mitigate casualties.
These measures are clear reflection of our firm commitment to the protection of civilian population. Our protection measures have had an impact on reducing the number of casualties that have been attributed to pro-government forces during combat operations against terrorists. We are pleased that this fact has been acknowledged in the UNAMA POC Report. Moving forward, we will remain fully committed to continue to streamline, improve, and increase our measures to bring rates of civilian harm due to ANDSF operations to as low as possible.
Needless to say, the absolute majority of civilian casualties are the result of barbaric attacks conducted by the Taliban and other terrorist groups who have no regard for human life and dignity . Regardless of what we do, as long as their deliberate tactics of attacking civilian spaces and targeted killings do not cease, our civilians will continue to suffer. The continuing attacks on hospitals, medical professionals, and humanitarian workers, among other civilians, as well as the recent despicable attack in Kabul, where an ambulance packed with explosives was used, show their complete disregard for international law, Geneva Convention, and UNSCR 2286. In fact, these attacks constitute and meet the definitions of war crimes on civilian population, and stringent action must be taken against the perpetrators, financiers, and planners of such ghastly action.
Terror, violence, and insecurity in our country are rooted in factors that lie outside Afghanistan, with regional and global dimensions. Hence the goal should be to address this particular issue and overcome the structural drivers of conflict and violence. This Council has a fundamental role to play in that regard, as the main UN body entrusted to maintain international peace and security. We expect the Council to respond appropriately to ensure the protection and well-being of Afghan civilians, who are being senselessly killed and maimed on a daily basis.
Thank you Mr. President.