Expected Council Action
In March, the Council is expected to adopt a resolution on the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). UNAMA’s current mandate expires on 17 March.
The Council will also receive a briefing on the situation in Afghanistan and the work of UNAMA from Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative and head of UNAMA, as well as a briefing from a representative of Afghan civil society. The briefing will be followed by closed consultations.
Key Recent Developments
Between 23 and 25 January, members of the Taliban met in Oslo with officials from the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, the UK, and the US, as well as individuals from different sectors of Afghan civil society. According to media reports, diplomats who attended these meetings told the Taliban that future humanitarian aid to Afghanistan would be linked to improvements in the human rights situation in the country. In a 27 January statement, special representatives and special envoys from Europe and the US who attended the meetings said they had urged the Taliban to do more to stop human rights violations and reaffirmed their expectation that the Taliban will uphold their commitments on counter-terrorism and drug trafficking. The statement also expressed concern regarding limitations on access to secondary schools for girls and underscored the importance of higher education and job opportunities for women.
From 7 to 11 February, members of the Taliban attended meetings with Swiss officials, humanitarian organisations, and the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in Geneva. The Taliban attendees subsequently signed a statement in which they pledged to facilitate humanitarian action; protect humanitarian staff, including female workers; cooperate with mine-clearing activities; and protect all Afghans, among other matters.
Representatives of the EU and the US also met with Taliban officials on 15 and 16 February in Doha. According to media reports, the Taliban issued a statement after these meetings which noted that “all participants pledged to make all possible efforts for the overall wellbeing of the Afghan people”.
The humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan have worsened. A survey conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) in December 2021 found that 98 percent of Afghans are not eating enough food, a 17 percent increase since the Taliban seized power. Essential services in the country are on the brink of collapse, with the health system under particular strain from a new wave of COVID-19. According to a 15 February World Bank report, prices for basic household goods have continued to rise, and increasing numbers of Afghans are unable to withdraw funds from their bank accounts.
Both the UN and the US are attempting to address these crises. The UN is reportedly exploring the establishment of a swap facility that would allow the UN and humanitarian organisations to bypass the Taliban; through this process, they would access Afghan currency from private companies, whose foreign creditors would be paid in dollars abroad. According to media reports, UN agencies will also be involved in a World Bank plan to disburse approximately $1 billion from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). Under the reported terms of the plan, these agencies would be responsible for distributing the funds disbursed by the ARTF directly to Afghans without involving the Taliban. The ARTF is administered by the World Bank. On 2 February, the US published guidance on its sanctions exemptions that specifically authorises cash shipments into Afghanistan and the processing of transactions related to humanitarian activities in the country by financial institutions.
On 11 February, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order blocking $7 billion in assets held by the Afghan central bank in the US. These assets were initially frozen by the US Federal Reserve immediately following the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021. On the same day, the Biden administration announced that it “will seek to facilitate access to $3.5 billion of those assets for the benefit of the Afghan people and for Afghanistan’s future” and said that the remaining $3.5 billion would remain in the US and “be subject to ongoing litigation by US victims of terrorism”. The Taliban, who have been seeking access to the assets, warned that they will reconsider their policy towards the US if the administration’s decision is not reversed, while former Afghan president Hamid Karzai reportedly described the announcement as “unjust and unfair and an atrocity against Afghan people”.
The human rights situation in Afghanistan has also worsened, particularly for women and girls. The Secretary-General’s 28 January report on UNAMA’s mandate, which focused on the period from September 2021 to January 2022, notes that UNAMA received more than 100 credible allegations of extrajudicial killings of members of the former government, its security forces and those who worked with international military forces. The report also indicates that the education of girls “continues to be severely curtailed”, while four women’s rights activists and their families went missing after attending protests calling for the Taliban to respect women’s rights. Although the Taliban repeatedly denied having knowledge of their whereabouts, on 13 February, UNAMA announced that the activists had been released by the de facto authorities.
Human Rights Related Developments
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet will present her latest report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan during the Human Rights Council’s 49th session, which will run from 28 February to 1 April. Among other matters, the report will focus on the accountability of perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses. The Human Rights Council will also consider Bachelet’s report on technical assistance achievements in the field of human rights during this session.
Women, Peace and Security
On 7 December 2021, UN Women issued a “gender alert” analysing the impact of the evolving situation in Afghanistan on gender equality and women’s rights. The alert found that there has been “a concerning and rapid shift to normalising discriminatory gender norms and a general curtailment of Afghan women and girls’ fundamental rights and freedoms” since the Taliban’s takeover. According to the alert, women in Afghanistan have reported “increased levels of restrictive gender norms and practices” affecting their right to education, freedom of expression and movement, and access to life-saving services. Furthermore, the operation of women’s civil society organisations has been considerably curtailed, and many women have reported losing their jobs due to newly introduced restrictions. UN Women noted that the Taliban have agreed to allow female humanitarian workers to continue to operate; however, it also said that these agreements have mainly been verbal, leading to inconsistent implementation across the Afghan provinces, and that they are often conditioned on restrictive requirements, such as being escorted by a male relative. The alert recommends strengthening UNAMA’s human rights mandate “with a particular focus on monitoring of human rights, especially women’s rights”.
Key Issues and Options
The main issue for the Council is determining the role that UNAMA will play in the country following the Taliban’s takeover. The Secretary-General’s report on strategic and operational recommendations for UNAMA’s mandate outlined several strategic objectives for the mission, including working to promote responsible and inclusive Afghan governance and society; strengthening respect for and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of all Afghans; and contributing to creating economic and social conditions that can lead to self-reliance and stability.
The report also recommended several priorities for UNAMA, such as providing outreach and political good offices, continuing to coordinate essential humanitarian assistance, facilitating structured policy dialogue with the de facto authorities, monitoring and reporting of human rights violations, coordinating international donors and organisations in relation to basic human needs, and advocating for the provision of essential public services, due process, and justice.
The report further recommended that a human rights service under the office of the SRSG be included in UNAMA’s structure. Among other matters, it would monitor, report and advocate on the situation for civilians, including children, and advocate for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Afghans, the protection of women’s and girls’ rights, and the prevention and elimination of gender-based violence. It would also monitor and report on civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights, with a view to assisting efforts to reduce poverty and support social cohesion, victims’ rights, and civic engagement.
The primary question for the Council to consider is whether and how to incorporate the recommendations made in the report into UNAMA’s mandate. In dealing with this issue, the Council could draw on the text in UNAMA’s current mandate and reframe it to reflect the Secretary-General’s recommendations and the situation on the ground. The Council could also choose to retain priorities in the current mandate that are not explicitly referred to in the recommendations, such as supporting the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all levels of decision-making. The Council may further wish to consider outlining priorities that are not referred to in either the current mandate or the Secretary-General’s report. The Council could, for example, choose to include a reporting requirement that relates to counter-terrorism.
Council members seem to hold differing views on UNAMA’s mandate and the Secretary-General’s recommendations concerning its strategic objectives and priorities.
While some members are strongly in favour of a robust role for UNAMA in relation to human rights, others appear less supportive and may oppose including certain aspects of the Secretary-General’s recommendations regarding this issue in the mandate, including the human rights monitoring and reporting requirement.
The political aspects of UNAMA’s mandate are also likely to be contentious. Some Council members are particularly concerned about implicitly conferring legitimacy on the Taliban, either through the language that is used to describe their administration or the nature of the interaction between UNAMA and Taliban officials. Several of these members also seem to prefer a strong UN presence in Afghanistan that acts as a focal point for engagement between the international community and the Taliban. Other members appear less concerned about tacit recognition of the de facto authorities and may favour bilateral engagement with the Taliban over a leading role for the UN.
UNAMA’s proposed role in coordinating international donors and organisations in relation to basic human needs is another potential area of disagreement. Council members appear to have different ideas about how this should work in practice, and some members are especially concerned about the oversight of aid and its potential diversion to the Taliban.
Certain Council members take the view that UNAMA’s mandate should be particularly strong in relation to the situation of women and girls. These members are likely to push for some of the text regarding women, girls and gender equality that is in the existing mandate to be retained. Similarly, some members may argue that language on counter-narcotics and the security situation, two issues that are included in the current mandate but not directly mentioned in the Secretary-General’s recommendations, should also be incorporated in the new mandate.
UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN
|Security Council Resolution|
|17 September 2021S/RES/2596||This resolution extended the mandate of UNAMA until 17 March 2022.|
|28 January 2022S/2022/64||This was the Secretary-General’s report on strategic and operational recommendations for the mandate of UNAMA in light of recent political, security and social developments.|