Expected Council Action
In June, the Security Council will hold its quarterly meeting on Afghanistan. An official from the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) and a representative of Afghan civil society are expected to brief. The Council is also scheduled to receive a briefing from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths. This briefing will cover the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.
Key Recent Developments
On 7 May, Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s supreme leader, issued a decree requiring Afghan women to cover their faces in public. According to media reports, the decree, which was announced by an official from the Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice at a news conference, said that “women, unless they are very young or very old, must cover their faces except for their eyes” whenever they meet a man to whom they are not related. The decree also said that “they should wear a chadori [head-to-toe burqa], as it is traditional and respectful” and encouraged women to stay home, advising that “the best way to observe hijab is to not go out unless it’s necessary”. Several punishments for male relatives of women who fail to comply are outlined in the decree, including possible jail time and termination or suspension of employment for those who work for the Taliban’s administration.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) expressed deep concern about the decree in a 7 May statement, which said that “this decision contradicts numerous assurances regarding respect for and protection of all Afghans’ human rights, including those of women and girls, that had been provided to the international community by Taliban representatives during discussions and negotiations over the past decade”. UNAMA’s information suggests that the decree is a formal directive that will be enforced, the mission said.
The decree is one of several measures introduced by the Taliban directed at women and girls. On 23 March, the Taliban announced that girls’ high schools would be closed, thereby preventing girls above the sixth grade from attending school. The announcement was an abrupt reversal of the Taliban’s 21 March decision to reopen all schools at the beginning of the spring semester, and reportedly came hours after high schools for girls had reopened for the first time in months. On 27 March, Council members issued a press statement that expressed deep concern regarding this decision and called on the Taliban to “respect the right to education and adhere to their commitments to reopen schools for all female students without further delay”, among other matters. On 19 May, the Taliban announced that it had asked television broadcasters to ensure that female presenters on local stations cover their faces when on air.
In guidance issued on 26 December 2021, the Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice prohibited women from travelling more than 72 kilometres from their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative. A similar restriction was introduced on 27 March, when the Taliban sent airlines in Afghanistan a letter directing them to prevent women from boarding without a male chaperone. According to media reports, the Taliban have also prevented women in some parts of the country from receiving medical treatment unless accompanied by a male guardian.
On 12 May, Council members convened for closed consultations to discuss the increased restrictions on the human rights and freedoms of girls and women in Afghanistan that have been imposed by the Taliban. Lyons briefed, and it appears that she provided an update regarding her recent engagement with the Taliban, including the meeting that took place in the week commencing 9 May. In a 10 May tweet, UNAMA noted that Lyons had met with the Taliban and “called for women’s rights to be expanded not curtailed, for secondary schools to reopen to girls and for women to be able to fully participate in work and public life”.
On 24 May, Council members issued a press statement which expressed deep concern regarding the erosion of respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls in Afghanistan by the Taliban and emphasised that the restrictions imposed contradict the expectations of the international community and the Taliban’s commitments. The press statement also called on the Taliban to swiftly reverse these policies and practices and addressed other issues, including terrorism, drug trafficking, and the humanitarian and economic situation in the country.
The Taliban’s decision to prevent girls from returning to high school prompted the World Bank to announce that it was suspending four projects worth $600 million focusing on agriculture, education, health, and livelihoods. On 19 April, the World Bank said that it had resumed work on the projects concentrating on health, agriculture, and livelihoods but that it would continue to withhold $150 million from education projects.
Afghanistan continues to face an ongoing humanitarian crisis. According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report on Afghanistan, which was issued on 9 May, 19.7 million Afghans, or 47 percent of the population, are currently facing high levels of acute food insecurity. In a 9 May statement, the international NGO Save the Children said that approximately 9.6 million children in Afghanistan “are going hungry every day due to a dire combination of economic collapse, the impacts of the war in Ukraine and the ongoing drought”. On 31 March, the Secretary-General convened a high-level pledging conference to help fund the Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan 2022, which calls for $4.4 billion in aid to allow humanitarian organisations “to reach 22.1 million people with life-saving multi-sectoral assistance”. According to media reports, donor countries pledged $2.44 billion during this conference. In his opening remarks, the Secretary-General appealed to donors to “provide unconditional and flexible funding as soon as possible”.
The economic situation in Afghanistan remains dire. In its April development update on Afghanistan, the World Bank said that there had been a 34 percent decline in per capita income in Afghanistan between the last four months of 2020 and the last four months of 2021. The update also noted that growth will remain stagnant under current conditions and suggested that “widespread poverty will pose important displacement, extremism, and fragility risks”. On 14 May, the Taliban’s Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi announced that Afghanistan faces a $501 million budget deficit for this financial year.
In a 16 May announcement, the Taliban said that it had dissolved five entities established by the former government, including the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Independent Commission for Overseeing the Implementation of the Constitution of Afghanistan, and the High Council for National Reconciliation.
The security situation in Afghanistan appears to be worsening. A spate of terrorist attacks has taken place in different parts of the country in recent weeks, including the 29 April bombing of a mosque in Kabul that killed more than 50 people. The Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, claimed responsibility for several of these attacks. Council members issued four press statements between 20 April and 30 April condemning a number of the attacks.
On 16 April, at least 47 people were reportedly killed by air strikes in the eastern provinces of Khost and Kunar, near the border with Pakistan. On the same day, a Taliban official claimed that the strikes were carried out by Pakistan, a claim that Islamabad denies. In a 17 April statement, Pakistani authorities said that Pakistan’s security forces were increasingly being targeted in cross-border attacks from Afghanistan and called on the Taliban to prevent the attacks. On 18 May, the Taliban announced that it had mediated a temporary ceasefire between Pakistan and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a Pakistani militant group allied with the Taliban that is seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate in Pakistan under sharia law.
On 7 May, a spokesperson for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF), an insurgency against the Taliban based in Panjshir province in northern Afghanistan, said it had “liberated” three districts in Panjshir. The Taliban subsequently denied this claim.
Human Rights Related Developments
The special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, undertook his first visit to the country from 15 to 26 May. He engaged with the de facto authorities and a broad range of stakeholders to assess the situation of human rights, including with regard to the implementation of obligations under international human rights instruments ratified by Afghanistan, and to offer assistance to address and prevent violations and abuses. The special rapporteur will deliver his findings in a report to the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the General Assembly later this year. In a 26 May statement, Bennett said that Afghanistan faces serious human rights challenges and urged the Taliban to take the path that brings stability and freedom to all Afghans, especially women.
In a 25 April statement, a group of experts from the special procedures of the HRC called on the US to unfreeze more than $7 billion of assets belonging to the Afghan central bank currently held in the US. The statement noted that states have an obligation under international human rights law to guarantee that activity in their jurisdiction or under their control does not result in human rights violations, and urged the US, in line with this obligation, “to reverse this unilateral measure and decisively contribute to” international efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Key Issues and Options
The situation of women and girls in Afghanistan is an important issue for the Council. Council members could hold an informal meeting with an official from UN Women and women from Afghan and international civil society to discuss what the Council can do to help women and girls in Afghanistan.
The humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan are another issue for the Council to consider. An informal, closed meeting with humanitarian organisations working in Afghanistan could enable Council members to engage in dialogue with these organisations and learn more about the challenges facing those working to deliver aid in the country.
The rising incidence of terrorism in Afghanistan is also a major concern for the Council. The Council could request a briefing from a counter-terrorism expert, which would provide an opportunity for Council members to discuss the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and help generate ideas for bolstering the Council’s work in this area.
Council members appear to be divided regarding Afghanistan. During the negotiations concerning UNAMA’s mandate, which took place in March, China and Russia apparently contended that UNAMA should focus primarily on assisting with efforts to address the humanitarian and economic crises in the country. A majority of other Council members strongly supported a more robust mandate for UNAMA spanning several additional areas, including the protection of human rights and the promotion of inclusive governance and gender equality; these components were ultimately included in UNAMA’s mandate.
Another key difference that emerged in the negotiation related to the language used to describe the Taliban. It seems that China and Russia preferred referring to the Taliban as the “de facto authorities”, with both members suggesting that this term accurately reflects the situation on the ground. It appears that other members, including the US, were not comfortable with this language and argued that it may imply de facto recognition of the Taliban regime. As a compromise, the resolution refers to “all relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders”, “all relevant Afghan political actors”, and “all relevant Afghan stakeholders”. China objected to these formulations but nonetheless voted in favour of the resolution.
Council members also differed over risk management and the oversight of aid. It seems that some Council members, including France, India, the UK, and the US, favoured a strong risk management role for UNAMA and argued that its activities in this area should consider the potential diversion of aid. China and Russia, however, apparently expressed concerns regarding this aspect of UNAMA’s mandate and questioned whether there is a need to closely monitor the provision of UN assistance in Afghanistan. The final resolution directs UNAMA to coordinate the overall risk management approach of the UN in Afghanistan and monitor risks related to the assistance coordinated by the UN in Afghanistan, including the risk of aid diversion.
China and Russia also sought to include language that attributed the economic crisis in Afghanistan to sanctions, the cessation of development aid, restrictions on the financial system and the freezing of assets belonging to the Afghan central bank. This proposal was rejected by other Council members, some of whom argued that the Taliban’s takeover is the real cause of the country’s economic woes, and it was not incorporated into the resolution.
The negotiations on the 24 May press statement were also difficult. Norway, the penholder on the file, initially circulated a draft presidential statement ahead of the closed consultations on 12 May. Despite general support for this draft from other Council members, it seems that China and Russia took issue with the text proposed by Norway, with both states arguing that it was unbalanced and focused too heavily on human rights and the situation of women and girls. Both members apparently suggested adding language on other issues to the draft, including the humanitarian and economic crises, the security situation, terrorism, and the effect of asset freezes and sanctions, and also resisted the inclusion of previously agreed language, such as text relating to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It appears that China and Russia repeatedly broke silence over multiple revised drafts of the presidential statement because of these issues. Ultimately, consensus could not be reached, and a press statement was pursued instead.
China and Russia have also demonstrated a greater willingness to work with the Taliban without preconditions. On 24 March, the day after the Taliban prevented girls from returning to high school, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in Kabul to discuss political and economic ties. On 31 March, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia had accredited a Taliban diplomat in Moscow. Conversely, in a 9 May statement, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the US will increase its pressure on the Taliban if the group fails to unwind its decisions concerning women and girls.
UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN
|Security Council Resolution|
|17 March 2022S/RES/2626||This resolution extended the mandate of UNAMA until 17 March 2023.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|27 March 2022SC/14842||In this press statement, Council members expressed deep concern regarding the reported decision by the Taliban to deny girls above the sixth grade access to education in Afghanistan.|