UNITED NATIONS - The Afghan conflict continued to exact a heavy toll on Afghan civilians in the first six months of 2015, with a spike in women and children casualties, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said Wednesday.

UNAMA and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have documented 4,921 civilian casualties (1,592 deaths and 3,329 injured) in the first half of 2015 that are projected to equal or exceed the record high numbers documented in 2014. This is a one per cent increase in total civilian casualties compared to the same period in 2014.

The vast majority – or 90 per cent – of civilian casualties resulted from ground engagements, improvised explosive devices, complex and suicide attacks and targeted killings, according to the 2015 Mid-year Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, which was released on Wednesday.

In the first six months of 2015, UNAMA documented a 23 per cent increase in casualties among women and a 13 per cent increase in casualties among children. “The rise in the numbers of women and children killed and maimed from conflict-related violence is particularly disturbing,” Danielle Bell, Director of Human Rights at UNAMA, said.

“This year, UNAMA recorded the highest number of children and women casualties compared to the same period in previous years. All parties to the conflict must undertake stronger measures to protect civilians from harm. When the conflict kills or maims a mother, child, sister or brother, the repercussions for families and communities are devastating and long-lasting.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said, “This report lays bare the heart-rending, prolonged suffering of civilians in Afghanistan, who continue to bear the brunt of the armed conflict and live in insecurity and uncertainty over whether a trip to a bank, a tailoring class, to a court room or a wedding party, may be their last.

“Impunity for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law has been reigning for too long in Afghanistan, and fuelling the cycle of violence. There need to be urgent, concrete steps towards accountability to break this venomous cycle.”

The report finds that 70 per cent of civilian casualties are due to the activities of anti-Government elements, who continued to cause the most harm despite a slight reduction in total civilian casualties.

Civilian deaths and injuries caused by pro-Government forces caused 16 per cent of civilian casualties (15 per cent from Afghan National Security Forces and pro-Government militia and one per cent from international military forces).