Statement of H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN
At the Security Council
On the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
At the outset, let me congratulate you for assuming the Presidency of this Council for the month of November. I would also like to thank you for convening and chairing this meeting. In particular, I would like to thank Foreign Minister Spindelegger, for making this issue such a priority and for his presence here today. I would also like to thank His Excellency the Secretary-General and Under Secretary-General Mr. Holmes for their statements.
This week Europe and America remember the ends of two World Wars, which were international conflicts conducted between states and empires. Since then, the nature of conflict has evolved. Where sixty years ago state actors were the central players in international war, today asymmetric warfare with non-state actors is increasingly common.
Now, children walk into markets with bombs strapped to their chests. Girls become targets just for trying to go to school. Aid workers are threatened specifically because they do so much good. The protection of civilians is an issue of growing importance for us all.
The Geneva Conventions, signed sixty years ago, remain central to our understanding of our responsibilities in conflict, but in Afghanistan, our enemies do not respect even these most basic rules of war. The Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups show complete disregard for human life. More, they deliberately target anyone, civilian or military, who does not embrace their extremist philosophy. They target those with no conceivable military connection: teachers, healthcare workers, students on the way to school. It is estimated that more than five thousand people were killed, injured or kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2008 alone as a result of terrorist activity.
These groups cannot hope to defeat the world’s greatest armies with their military strength. Rather, their strength lies in their brutality and viciousness, which they use to lend an atmosphere of control and inevitability to their fight. The Taliban will never be able to provide security, governance or development. Their goal is not to build an alternative state; their goal is to prevent any state from being built.
Civilian casualties, in this fight, are both a human and a political tragedy.
The human tragedy is obvious.
From January to August 2009, UNAMA recorded 1500 civilians deaths in Afghanistan, an increase of 24% over the same period in 2008. 68% of these attacks can be attributed to the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. This percentage has been increasing steadily as the terrorists rely increasingly on bombs and indiscriminate attacks. And although the proportion of deaths attributed to the international and to some extent Afghan military forces has decreased over previous years, they still account for 23% of civilian deaths. 300 died as a result of airstrikes.
The political cost is more subtle, though equally damaging.
The Taliban’s main tactic is to encourage the alienation of the international community from the Afghan people. The people of Afghanistan know from past experience exactly how brutal and repressive the Taliban are, and show consistent resistance to them. However, they have higher expectations from the international community.
Afghans want to see their government and our international partners be their protectors. When we fail to protect and respect the Afghans, the Taliban and their allies use the people’s disappointed expectations to strain the partnerships that are so central to this fight, and damage our ability to earn the trust and engagement we need to succeed.
Concern for the lives of civilians is therefore not only an important moral and humanitarian issue. It is also crucial to our political, military and economic goals in Afghanistan, and the region.
We should adopt a strategy that values the protection of people, respects their lives, rights and property, and enables positive and constructive interactions with local communities. We fully support the new NATO strategy which emphasizes the protection of civilians and introduces important follow-up mechanisms to ensure accountability. We appreciate the increased sensitivity that has been shown in response to concerns about the conduct of searches and arrests. And we support other strategic changes that have been proposed to improve the protection of civilians.
Further, we stress the need for increased emphasis on training the Afghan National Security Forces. Afghans are eager to take increasing responsibility for the security of their country and the protection of their people. Unfortunately, lack of capacity and resources continues to hobble our progress, and we hope to address this with the international community in the coming years.
We appreciate the steadfast condemnation voiced by the Security Council in response to terrorist attacks across the world, and in particular your strong and unwavering support for UNAMA following the appalling attacks in Kabul on the 28th of October. Groups that deliberately target civilian populations should continue to be strongly condemned in these halls, and their unwillingness to obey even the most basic rules of combat should strip them of any legitimacy in our eyes.
The blood of Afghans has been continuously spilled amidst thirty years of local, regional, and global power struggles. In 2001, we undertook to rebuild this shattered country and ensure that it could never again be used as a launch-pad for regional or international terror. As I mentioned Monday in the General Assembly, eight years ago we were debating how to build what did not exist; today we are debating how to take what we have built and make it better. This is a substantial achievement. Nevertheless, violence still threatens the lives of Afghan civilians. International military forces should take all necessary measures to ensure protection of civilians. And we have a shared responsibility to condemn with the utmost severity any attacks by the Taliban, al-Qaeda and their allies that target civilians or result in civilian death. We must enforce the rules of war that bind us all, and make it clear to our enemies that targeting civilians will only alienate them further from the international community and from the populations they seek to control.
I thank you, Mr. President.