UN human rights chief urges all parties to ensure protection of civilians in Kunduz, Afghanistan

29 September 2015
GENEVA (Issued as received) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein today expressed deep concern about the human rights situation in Afghanistan's northeastern city of Kunduz following a major Taliban attack yesterday. He urged both parties to the conflict to take all measures to protect civilians from harm.

“The civilian population in Kunduz has already suffered months of fighting and is now in grave danger – with very worrying signs that the violence may intensify,” the High Commissioner said. “I urge all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to protect civilians and to take all feasible steps to prevent the loss of life and injuries to civilians.” 
“The situation in Kunduz threatens to severely undermine the progress Afghanistan has made in restoring peace, stability and the rule of law, which is what all Afghans deserve,” he added.

The Taliban attack sparked ground engagements throughout the city between Taliban and Afghan National Security Forces. Pro-Government Forces also carried out airstrikes in certain parts of the city. The UN presence in Afghanistan received additional reports of fighting in the districts of Takhar province, which borders Kunduz province.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the UN Human Rights Office are seeking to verify reports that at least 110 civilians were killed and injured as a result of the fighting.

“We fear that many more civilians may be harmed if fighting continues over the next few days,” Zeid said.

Intense fighting around Kunduz between April and June this year caused 176 civilian casualties (36 deaths and 140 injured), of which 64 per cent resulted from the operations of pro-Government forces countering the Taliban advance.

A Taliban statement released yesterday informed Kunduz residents to continue normal life and reassured the population that “lives, property and honour will be safeguarded”. However, the freedom of movement of the civilian population has been restricted due to the ongoing fighting, preventing civilians from leaving the city. Previously, the Taliban had imposed restrictions on freedom of movement and access to education for women and girls in other areas of Kunduz province under their de facto control.

The Taliban have reportedly taken control of the city’s main hospital, some government facilities and UN premises. In addition, the Taliban have also reportedly freed approximately 700 inmates from the provincial prison, including up to 350 conflict-related detainees. Fifty-six juveniles, including 10 girls and 10 conflict-related child detainees, reportedly fled the juvenile detention facility following the Taliban occupation of the city.

“We are aware the Taliban leadership has directed its forces to protect civilian lives and property, but there are disturbing signs that these commitments are being breached,” Zeid said. “International law upholds the protected status of healthcare facilities and personnel, preserves humanitarian space, and requires that those who have laid down their arms, are injured, detained or otherwise hors de combat, must be treated humanely.”

For use of the information media; not an official record