Statement by H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin
Permanent Representative of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to
the United Nations at the Security Council Debate on
Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts
Mr. President, esteemed colleagues,
Allow me to congratulate you, Mr. President, for your assumption of the presidency for this first month of the new year. In addition, thank you for convening this debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, an issue which should never be far from our attention. Here at the beginning of a new year, let us renew our conviction that no civilian, anywhere, should bear the costs of war.
As we speak, our thoughts are with the thousands of men, women and children who have been killed, and who have suffered in Gaza in the last 19 days. Civilians have been disproportionately affected by this conflict, and the brutality continues. We call for an immediate ceasefire, as requested in Security Council Resolution 1860. This conflict must end now.
In Afghanistan as well, a new wave of violence is destroying the lives of innocent civilians. Over 2100 civilians died in 2008 alone. Women, men, students, teachers, aid workers, farmers, tribal leaders, and clergy are all victims. Civilian casualties are an issue that strikes at the heart of Afghanistan.
In the past few years, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terrorist elements have embraced tactics that target civilians with increasing deadliness. In 2008, terrorists accounted for the majority of civilian casualties. The numbers of victims of the terrorists are sobering: just this year alone, at least 270 civilians were executed, and an additional 725 or more were killed by suicide attacks or by IEDs. This targeting of civilians by the Taliban has accomplished several terrible objectives.
First, the terrorists have demonstrated their complete disregard for the sanctity of human life. Suicide bombs kill more civilians than military personnel. The Taliban regularly execute, abduct and torture civilians, particularly targeting Afghans and foreigners who are perceived to be cooperating with, or receiving services from, the government or international community. They behead doctors, teachers, clergy, and tribal leaders, recruit children as suicide bombers, and spray acid in the face of schoolgirls. Taliban harm to civilians and the creation of an environment of distrust and fear impede the Afghan government and the international community’s ability to deliver services to the people who need them most.
Second, the Taliban are using civilians as human shields, hiding in towns and villages and using men, women and children as cover for attacks on government and international forces. As a result, over 60% of civilian casualties have occurred in the South and East of the country, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda are most active.
Unfortunately, many civilians have also suffered and lost their lives during counter-terrorist operations. This is a matter of grave concern for the Government of Afghanistan. President Karzai has recently and repeatedly raised concerns and has asked the international forces to find ways to prevent civilian deaths. Our Government believes that we need to work together with the international community in a spirit of open dialogue and cooperation to find a workable framework to address this problem, and we are discussing the issue with our partners. NATO and American-led forces have already introduced new strategies aimed at minimizing civilian casualties, and we have seen some positive results. However, any life is precious, and as a Government we have a particular responsibility to safeguard the lives of our citizens and not rest until every Afghan is safe.
To decrease the harm to the Afghan people, there are three measures for us to consider. First, avoid tactics which cause significant unintentional civilian deaths. Airstrikes, in particular, result in enormous casualties among innocent people. We must minimize reliance on these methods of warfare. Second, work more in cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan and law enforcement on the ground. Home searches and detaining practices should operate within the guidelines set forth in the Afghan Constitution. Afghan National Army and Police should assume responsibility for home searches. Third, we encourage the international forces to operate with greater cultural sensitivity. In conducting searches and arrests, avoid heavy-handed tactics and operate with respect and minimal force. And where civilian casualties do occur, there should be apologies and accountability.
With the increasing violence of the Taliban, it has become even more imperative that the Afghan government and the international community work together to effectively eliminate terrorism. The terrorists are responsible for the large majority of civilian casualties, but the Government of Afghanistan and the International Forces bear a heavier burden: we must provide security and protection to the people who need it. Our energies must be channeled collectively to prove to the Afghan people that we consider their welfare to be central to the endeavor for peace and stability in the country.
Thank you, Mr. President.