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August 11, 2014

Rights Group Calls for Probes into Afghan Civilian Deaths

by Ayaz Gul

At a time in Afghanistan when the U.N. says the number of civilian deaths is increasing, human rights monitor Amnesty International is calling on the United States and allied forces to do more to investigate civilian killings by their forces. The NATO-led military coalition says it investigates all reports of civilian deaths when circumstances allow. It says ISAF-related civilian casualties are down 77 percent in the last year and that anti-government forces have caused more than 90 percent of civilian casualties this year.

In a new report released Monday, Amnesty International alleges the U.S. and allied forces have killed or injured thousands of Afghan civilians since the invasion in 2001, and left the victim families without justice.

The London-based defender of human rights says the report, titled "Left in the Dark," primarily focuses on how the United States responded when civilian casualties were reported from air strikes and night raids carried out by U.S. forces.

David Griffiths, Amnesty's deputy Asia director, says the military practically makes no effort to reach out to victims’ families.

"There are thousands of civilians who have been killed or injured since 2001 and [their families] have nowhere to turn to justice. In nine out of the ten cases that Amnesty International investigated our interviewees said that none of them had been met by military investigators who were looking into those cases," says Griffiths.

Amnesty International says the U.S. military justice system “almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses.” The group says it is aware of just six cases since 2009 where U.S. military personnel have faced trials for the killings of civilians in Afghanistan. The rights group says that international humanitarian law does not consider that every civilian death is a legal breach, but such incidents require a prompt and thorough inquiry.

The U.N. estimates that more than 12,000 Afghan civilians have died since 2009. The U.N. says about three percent of those were killed by international forces, the rest by Afghan troops or anti-government fighters such as the Taliban.

Griffiths says the report calls on the Afghan government to ensure that accountability for unlawful civilian killings is guaranteed in any future bilateral security agreements it signs with NATO and the United States.

"The government of Afghanistan also has to take responsibility in this area and we have made a recommendation to the government of Afghanistan to create a credible, independent mechanism of its own to monitor, investigate and report publicly on civilian deaths and injuries caused by Afghan forces moving forward," says Griffiths.

Amnesty says that although the United States and NATO forces in some cases have admitted civilian casualties, apologized and reportedly launched investigations, they have not provided any details on results to date.

The organization has urged the U.S. military to immediately investigate all the cases it has documented in the report along with other such incidents in which civilians have been killed.