Arbour blames both sides for high Afghan civilian casualties

The Canadian head of the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday criticized both Taliban insurgents and international forces for the "alarming levels" of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

UN's top human rights officer says ISAF commanders willing to address issue

The Canadian head of the UN Human Rights Council onTuesday criticized both Taliban insurgents and international forces for the "alarming levels" of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Canadian Louise Arbour, UN high commissioner for human rights, says the high rate of civilian casualties in Afghanistan is undermining ordinary Afghans' support for the government and international forces supporting it. ((Keystone/ Laurent Gillieron/Associated Press))

Louise Arbour, a former Supreme Court of Canada judge, stressed the international forces need to pay particular attention to the casualties.

"These not only breach international law, but are eroding support among the Afghan community for the government and international military presence, as well as public support in contributing states for continued engagement in Afghanistan," Arbour told reporters Tuesday at a press conference in Kabul.

Arbour, who is wrapping up a six-day trip to Afghanistan, met privately with top commanders of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and said she believes they are aware of the significance of the issue.

"I am reassured that there has been a sober realization by ISAF commanders of this concern and a willingness to address the issue in a constructive way," she said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly pleaded with international forces to do all they can to prevent civilian casualties.

Arbouralso strongly condemnedthe Taliban's frequentdeliberate targeting ofcivilians, including teachers and humanitarian workers, aswell asits use ofordinary Afghans as human shields by taking shelter in civilians' homes after firing on ISAF soldiers.

"These tactics are in breach of the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, and those responsible should be held to account for such crimes," Arbour said.

An Associated Press count of such casualties this year found that militants had caused 346 deaths, while international troops had caused 337 deaths through the end of October.

Prisoner transfers questioned

Arbour said sheurged Karzaito ensure greater transparency, access and accountabilityinthetransfer of detainees by international forces to Afghan security officials.

Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier confirmedCanadian officials are now looking at seven cases in which prisoners handed over by Canadian soldiers may have been mistreated by Afghan security. He also said he has spoken with his Afghan counterpart, who has promised a full investigation.

Arbour also decried the state of women's rights inAfghanistan, which she said hasstalled "despite the promise of the post-Taliban era."

The Montreal-born Arbour was appointed asUNhuman rights commissioner in 2004 and previously served as chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda.

In 2006, during the 34-day conflict betweenIsraeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillasin southernLebanon,Arbour sparked controversy by saying war crimes chargesmaybe warranted againstboth sidesif measures weren't taken to protect civilians.

With files from the Associated Press