Amnesty flays NATO troops' immunity in Afghan civilian deaths

Posted By: IANS
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Amnesty flays NATO troops' immunity in Afghan civilian deaths
Kabul, Aug 11 : Human rights organisation Amnesty International (AI) Monday denounced the immunity of troops of the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) involved in the deaths of "thousands" of Afghan civilians.

In an 82-page report titled "Left In the dark: Failures Of Accountability For Civilian Casualties Caused By International Military Operations In Afghanistan", the organisation analyses the immunity enjoyed by US troops, which form the bulk of international forces in Afghanistan.

"Thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by US forces since the invasion, but the victims and their families have little chance of redress. The US military justice system almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses," said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International's Asia Pacific director.

The report, presented Monday in Kabul, mentioned in depth 10 cases in which 140 civilians died -- 50 of them children -- in US troop operations within the NATO mission.

In "none" of the cases has there been judicial proceedings against the attackers.

The head of ISAF, the US's Gen. Joseph Dunford, told AI the international forces are taking "very seriously all allegations of misconduct".

ISAF spokesperson Chris Belcher told Efe news agency that although NATO has not been able to read the report it "is taking very seriously all allegations of civilian casualties, which are being investigated in depth".

In September 2012, in the eastern province of Laghman, a group of women were collecting firewood in a mountainous area when a US aircraft fired two missiles at them, killing seven and injuring many others, four of them seriously.

Ghulam Noor, a farmer, lost his 16-year-old daughter Bibi Halimi in the attack, although the international troops claimed that they only killed Taliban insurgents.

The allegations led the victims' relatives to take the bodies to the district's headquarter, Mihtarlam, in a bid to reveal the truth.

"We wanted to show them that they had only killed women", Noor told AI.

He said he had also reported the incident to the Afghan administration, although he knew it had no power to do anything due to the immunity NATO enjoys in the country.

Formal criminal investigations into the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan are extremely rare and AI only knows of six cases since 2009 in which American soldiers have faced charges, said the report.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has documented in detail civilian deaths in Afghanistan over recent years and has said that international forces have killed at least 1,800 civilians since 2009.

According to AI, the number of victims now is much lower than in previous years, mostly because of ISAF's shrinking presence in Afghanistan, where the Afghan armed forces have taken over security responsibilities.

Despite the full withdrawal of NATO which is to be completed in December this year, Washington has said it would keep some 9,800 troops on Afghan territory until the end of 2016.


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