"We think it is really important to engage all  parties to the conflict on the question of civilian casualties," Nicholas  Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United  Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said at a news conference  here .

"We have more recently engaged with the Taliban." The UNAMA shared reports and asked the Taliban for  comments in its outreach effort to the organisation, he said.

At the meetings with the Taliban that took place in  Doha, he said, "We have also necessarily engaged with them on what the international human rights law framework is and what it expects from  combatants."

The UN outreach to save civilians appears to be  taking place despite a UN report has said that the Taliban leadership seems  unwilling to enter into political negotiation "in a meaningful  way".

Although the "situation has not measurably  improved" and the Taliban was responsible for the majority of the civilian  casualties, according to Georgette Gagnon, UNAMA's Director of Human Rights, the  message may bemaking a dent.

 "We have recently seen a change in their method of targeting," she said. They are "targeting more military targets, which  they consider lawful, but still using tactics or means which are  disproportionate or indiscriminate or killing or injuring civilians," she added.

Where there are civilian casualties, the Taliban  tries to explain them as collateral damage. There has also been another shift. "With the Taliban, what we have seen is a change in  their messaging," she said. "They now talk a lot more about their efforts to  protect civilians. They have improved their so-called 'code of  conduct.”

Gagnon said that the UNAMA has not seen an increase  in attacks on schools or schools for girls. "There have been some isolated incidents which we  and UNICEF track very closely and bring to the attention of those involved  in them.”

Significantly, the Afghan Taliban, which has  affiliations with its Pakistani counterpart, condemned the killing of school  children in Peshawar this week. "The intentional killing of innocent people, women  and children goes against the principles of Islam and every Islamic government  and movement must adhere to this fundamental essence," the group said in a  statement.

As a result of the UN efforts, Haysom said that the  insurgents seemed to be developing "sensitivity" to accusations of targeting  civilians, especially children.

"When there is extensive impact (from an  attack) on civilians they refuse, decline, to acknowledge ownership." "That indicates that the message we are putting out  has an impact, those who attack civilians will pay a political  price."

Explaining how they built up their interaction with  the Taliban, Haysom said they shared reports of incidents with them and asked  for their comments.

"Their initial response had been largely to reject  the report and to claim that it was inaccurate," he said. But the UNAMA shared with the Taliban their  methodology and asked them about incidents which they feel have not been reported and show them their concerns were being accommodated. "We have also necessarily engaged with them on what  the international human rights law framework is and what it expects from combatants," Haysom added.


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