By Jonathon Burch
KABUL, May 15 (Reuters) - Afghan forces, international troops and Taliban insurgents need to do more to avoid civilian casualties or many more innocents will be killed in the ongoing conflict, a U.N. rights expert said on Thursday.
U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston said the level of complacency over civilian killings was "staggeringly" high and a great many deaths could be avoided.
"The bottom line of my report is that there are many killings which are avoidable," he told a news conference at the end of a 12-day visit to Afghanistan.
Some 200 civilians have been killed by international and Afghan forces so far this year, he said, while Taliban insurgents have killed around 300 in the same period.
Alston called for more accountability from the more than 50,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, who together with Afghan government troops are engaged in daily battles with a resurgent Taliban mainly in the south and east of the country.
While he said he had found no evidence of intentional killing by foreign troops and particular cases were investigated at considerable length, no international force was able or willing to provide information on numbers of civilians killed, the results of investigations or whether anyone had been punished.
"At the very least what the international forces have on their hands is a public relations disaster," he said.
"They have not taken the steps which are necessary at the political level to ensure a degree of transparency and accountability in relation to the casualties."
"This is a very major political issue because the support of both the people of Afghanistan and the international community is dependant upon a sense that the international forces are doing what they think the people of Afghanistan should be doing; being held to account," Alston said.
ENGAGE THE TALIBAN?
The problem of accountability, he said, was exacerbated by the operations of forces who were not accountable to any military but appeared to be controlled by foreign intelligence services.
Alston said the Afghan police should be better trained, equipped, and monitored and called for an end to corruption within the force and the impunity that the police generally enjoy after they have been accused of killing civilians.
The police force is often the only arm of the Afghan state in many isolated outposts strung out across the rugged mountainous country, but is renowned for fleeing in the face of Taliban attacks and fleecing the populace for bribes.
"In many provinces the only face of the government is the police. If they are corrupt and thugs, the people think the government is terrible. If they are efficient and do what they should do, in terms of providing security, the people see the benefits of a functioning government," he said.
Corruption was also rife in the judicial process, Alston said, calling for a moratorium on the death penalty: "The judicial process is not of a sufficient standard to ensure that any of those executed have been afforded due process."
Some 95 percent of those killed by the Taliban were innocent civilians, Alston said, but while this was a "disaster", rights activists should seek to engage the insurgents.
He said he had wanted to talk to representatives of the Taliban but the Afghan government had said there should be no dialogue with the rebels over human rights issues.
"I consider this to be a mistake," he said. "I reject the claim that such discussions legitimise the Taliban. The Taliban exist, they are engaged in widespread killing and we have an obligation ... to seek to diminish the civilian casualties and killings," he said. (Editing by Alex Richardson)