A spokesman of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has dismissed recommendations to the UN and other international actors by the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM), a new Kabul-based rights watchdog, as "superficial and deeply uninformed".
The ARM report criticises the UN and international aid agencies for their alleged inability to reach and assist needy communities, particularly in insecure areas.
"Whilst millions of people desperately needed humanitarian assistance… the UN and other aid agencies were entrenched in diminishing security zones in Kabul and a few other cities," ARM said.
ARM called on the UN to maintain its neutrality, reach and assist people in volatile areas, and improve accountability and transparency in the disbursement of international funds.
However, Dan McNorton, a UNAMA spokesman, strongly rejected the criticisms of UN agencies.
"The report has overlooked our regional and provincial presence; the thousands of road missions conducted every year; the immunisation programmes for millions of people; the assistance to millions of returnees; the winter pre-positioning of 34,000 tonnes of food; the disaster relief operations; and major work with communities across the country," he said, adding that the UN had a country-wide footprint.
Civilian deaths underestimated?
The ARM report also said that in 2008 the number of civilians killed or displaced was higher than reported by the media or international organisations.
"About 3,917 civilians were killed, over 6,800 were wounded and around 120,000 were forced out of their homes in 2008," said the report, The Plight of Afghan Civilians in 2008.
ARM figures on civilian deaths are higher than those from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which also track the impact of conflict on civilians.
Insurgents loyal to the Taliban killed over 2,300 civilians, mostly in indiscriminate and disproportionate armed attacks, and over 1,500 civilians were also killed in counter-insurgency operations by Afghan and international forces, the report said.
The AIHRC puts the number of civilian deaths as a result of armed hostilities in 2008 at around 1,800. "About 1,000 civilians were killed by the Taliban and the rest were killed by Afghan and international forces," AIHRC spokesman Nader Nadery told IRIN on 21 January.
In September UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported about 1,300 conflict-related civilian deaths between January and the end of July 2008.
ARM accused all sides of "repeated and systematic" violations of international humanitarian law, the Geneva Conventions and Afghanistan's laws applicable to war situations.
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