UN trying to verify civilian casualties with limited resources

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on 19 September rejected alleged implications in an IRIN report dated 5 September 2007 that it was seeking to be a “body-counting” authority in Afghanistan.

“It’s very misleading,” said UNAMA spokesman Adrian Edwards. “We certainly do our best to verify civilian casualty incidents to the best extent we can, but investigating and establishing the cause of every death in Afghanistan is well beyond even our capacity.”

On 4 September Afghanistan’s human rights watchdog, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), said civilian casualties in the country peaked in August with the reported deaths of 168 civilians in armed conflicts, suicide attacks, explosions and aerial bombardments. The AIHRC put the number of such casualties in July at 144.

Edwards, however, said UNAMA was not in a position to issue definitive numbers of civilian deaths. Part of the problem was that researchers could not get easy access in areas of conflict. “These are insecure areas and it is difficult to access them. We all have to do our best with limits on information,” he said.

The UNAMA spokesman also mentioned lack of adequate resources as a factor. He said UNAMA’s Human Rights Unit had around six people in each of the mission’s eight regional offices. The unit collects data on civilian casualties from various available sources and tries to verify the data. Based on that, Edwards said, UNAMA can give a general indication of the trend in civilian casualties but not an exact figure.

“However, even if we had exhaustive information [on civilian casualties] it would ideally be something for the national authorities to release, not us,” he said.

ar/cb