Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Last year Afghanistan saw the lowest number of civilian casualties since 2013 -- but targeted killings increased sharply, says a United Nations report released Tuesday.
According to the annual Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented 3,035 deaths and 5,785 injuries in the country in 2020, for a total of 8,820 civilian casualties.
That number is 15 percent lower than the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and 2020 also marked the first time since 2013 that the figure fell below 10,000.
Officials said the number of casualties attributed to international military forces dropped, as did casualties from suicide attacks by anti-government elements in populated areas.
But researchers also found a "worrying rise" in targeted killings by the same anti-government elements.
"I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September," said Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
According to the UN, those killings have created a chilling effect, with professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs and even leaving their homes or the country.
Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, said the best way to protect civilians would be to establish a humanitarian ceasefire -- echoing a call consistently made by Secretary-General António Guterres and the Security Council.
Last week NATO defense ministers announced they would make a decision about the alliance's presence in Afghanistan by May 1.