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General Petraeus must focus on civilian protection in Afghanistan

General David Petraeus, the US commander set to take charge of NATO operations in Afghanistan, must redouble efforts to minimise civilian casualties during military operations there, Amnesty International said today.

Amnesty is also calling on Gen Petraeus, who is currently attending nomination hearings in the US Senate to replace General Stanley McChrystal as commander of international forces in Afghanistan, to ensure soldiers are held accountable for their actions.

Amnesty International Asia Pacific Director Sam Zarifi said:

“General David Petraeus has to prioritise the protection of Afghans and ensure that any troops who violate Afghan civilians’ human rights are held accountable.

“Change in command should not change the US and NATO’s commitment to protect civilians.”

In July last year Gen McChrystal introduced a “tactical directive” intended to minimise civilian casualties and the United Nations found a 28% reduction in civilian deaths caused by NATO and US forces in the second half of 2009 compared with 2008. However, Amnesty has received credible reports of an increase in night raids conducted by the international military forces in the first half of 2010.

Sam Zarifi added:

“There have been some limited improvements.  General Petraeus needs to take the next step and set up a unified mechanism for providing accountability and compensation to civilians for deaths and damages caused by NATO and US troops.

“Transparent chains of command and rules of engagement that abide by international law must be established for all forces, so that victims and their families can make complaints, inquire about investigations, and ultimately, receive justice.

“General McChrystal’s efforts to minimise civilian casualties have been criticised by some as restricting the military’s ability to act. But these critics ignore the fact that respect for international law, including human rights law and international humanitarian law, by all parties involved, is a prerequisite for bringing security to Afghanistan.”

The Taleban and other insurgent groups cause more than two-thirds of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, said Amnesty. However, this does not diminish the responsibility of Afghan, NATO and US forces to abide by international humanitarian law.

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