Expected Council Action
In December, the Security Council will convene for its quarterly meeting on Afghanistan. Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Roza Otunbayeva and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths are expected to brief. The Council will also be briefed by Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj (India) in her capacity as chair of the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee. Closed consultations are scheduled to follow the open briefing.
Additionally, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the Monitoring Team assisting the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee. The Council will also review the implementation of paragraph 1 of resolution 2615 of 22 December 2021, which established a humanitarian exception to the 1988 sanctions regime.
UNAMA’s mandate expires on 17 March 2023.
Key Recent Developments
Over 15 months after the Taliban seized power, Afghanistan continues to face a series of interlocking crises. According to OCHA, an estimated 24.4 million Afghans—approximately 60 percent of Afghanistan’s population—required humanitarian assistance in 2022. In a briefing delivered during a 17 November Arria-formula meeting titled “Preventing Economic Collapse and Exploring Prospects for Recovery and Development in Afghanistan”, which was organised by Russia, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said that the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan is projected to rise to 28.3 million in 2023, a 16 percent increase. Alakbarov also noted that humanitarian needs in Afghanistan are likely to remain among the highest in the world. Despite the scale of the crisis, the 2022 Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan remains underfunded. At the time of writing, 54.5 percent of the required $4.44 billion has been received.
Reports of Taliban interference with efforts to provide humanitarian aid have continued to emerge. OCHA’s humanitarian access snapshot report for September 2022 says that humanitarian organisations working in Afghanistan “are concerned with the [Taliban’s] operational guideline that aims to effectively regulate and monitor aid organisations, and thus, [shrinking] the humanitarian space through attempts to influence bureaucracy selection, program design and staff recruitment, and adding bureaucratic hurdles to the project implementations”. The report also notes that humanitarian organisations’ work with Afghanistan’s female population has been affected by the restrictions imposed on female aid workers by the Taliban.
The economic paralysis plaguing Afghanistan has been a major driver of the humanitarian crisis in the country. A 5 October UNDP report titled “One Year in Review: Afghanistan Since August 2021” indicates that the Taliban’s seizure of power precipitated a sharp contraction in Afghanistan’s licit economy, leading to a loss of $5 billion of Afghanistan’s $20 billion GDP in 12 months. The report also says that the existing freeze on $9 billion in foreign assets belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank and international sanctions have caused a severe liquidity crisis in the country, and notes that the price of a food basket has increased by almost 35 percent on average, which is likely to deepen hunger, food insecurity and poverty. According to the report, nearly 20 million Afghans are classified as experiencing high or critical levels of food insecurity, almost twice the average in the preceding three years.
On 21 November, the board of trustees of the Swiss-based trust fund established to disburse $3.5 billion of the Afghan central bank’s frozen assets to the Afghan people met for the first time in Geneva. Among other matters, the board reportedly considered various proposals for transferring the assets to Afghanistan. Shah Mohammad Mehrabi, an Afghan-American economist who is one of the fund’s four trustees, told reporters that “for any purpose other than bringing price stability and reducing volatility in the exchange rate, the board will consult the Taliban. Likewise, the Taliban can propose to us if they would like to use the funds elsewhere”.
The human rights situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated further since the Council’s last quarterly briefing on UNAMA, particularly for women and girls. On 10 November, a spokesperson from the Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice announced that women and girls are no longer allowed to use gyms and parks because gender segregation rules were not being followed and women were not observing a Taliban edict requiring them to wear a hijab. The Taliban also arrested several women’s rights activists, including Zarifa Yaqoobi, Farhat Popalzi and Humaira Yusuf, in early November.
In a 13 November tweet, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that the Taliban’s supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada had ordered judges to “carefully examine the files of thieves, kidnappers and seditionists” and “implement hadad and qisas” in “those files in which all the Sharia conditions of hadad and qisas have been fulfilled”. According to Islamic legal scholars, implementing hadad and qisas can involve public executions, floggings and amputation of limbs. Taliban supreme court officials subsequently reported on 21 November that 19 people, including nine women, had been publicly lashed in north-eastern Afghanistan on 11 November.
On 10 November, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which expressed deep concern about the volatility in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s takeover and the human rights abuses in the country. Among other matters, the resolution called on the Taliban to reverse its policies that restrict the human rights of women and girls. Among Council members, China and Russia abstained, while Gabon and Kenya did not vote on the resolution.
Terrorist attacks continue to occur throughout Afghanistan. On 30 September, a suicide bomb attack on a Kabul education centre in a predominantly Hazara neighbourhood killed at least 53 people and wounded more than 110 others. On the same day, Council members issued a press statement that condemned the attack in the strongest terms and reaffirmed the right to education for all Afghans and its contribution to the achievement of international peace and security.
Illicit drug trafficking and the production of opium remain major concerns. In its first report on the illicit opium economy since August 2021, which was published in November, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that opium cultivation increased by 32 percent over the previous year. The report also noted that the 2022 opium harvest was the most profitable for Afghan farmers since 2016.
On 16 November, Russia hosted the fourth meeting of the “Moscow Format”, which was attended by officials from China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. According to media reports, a joint statement issued following the meeting stressed the need to provide humanitarian and economic assistance to Afghanistan and emphasised the importance of forming a truly inclusive government. The joint statement also reportedly expressed support for the fundamental rights of all ethnic groups and requested that Afghanistan fulfil its commitments to eradicate terrorism and drug trafficking, among other matters.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 12 September, during its 51st session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, and considered his report (A/HRC/51/6), followed by an enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. In his briefing, Bennett underscored that Afghans are “trapped in a human rights crisis” that the world seems “powerless to address”.
On 7 October, the HRC voted on resolution 51/20, which extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for another year. The resolution added new tasks to the mandate, including considering the situation from a child’s rights perspective and documenting and preserving information relating to human rights violations and abuses. Resolution 51/20 also requests the Special Rapporteur to present a report to the HRC at its 52nd session, an oral update at its 54th session, and a report to the General Assembly at its 78th session. China voted against the resolution, which passed with 29 votes in favour, three against, and 15 abstentions.
Key Issues and Options
The humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan are major issues for the Council. An informal meeting with humanitarian organisations working in Afghanistan and economic experts could allow Council members to learn more about the challenges facing those working to deliver aid in the country and the relationship between Afghanistan’s economic difficulties and the humanitarian emergency. The discussion could focus on exploring whether the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime is playing a significant role in these crises and could also consider the impact of the humanitarian exception formulated in resolution 2615.
Paragraph 1 of resolution 2615 decided that “humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs in Afghanistan” are not a violation of the asset freeze in the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime, and that the “processing and payment of funds, other financial assets or economic resources, and the provision of goods and services necessary to ensure the timely delivery of such assistance or to support such activities” are permitted. In the resolution, the Council decided to review the implementation of this paragraph after one year. Determining how to conduct this review is an issue for the Council.
The human rights situation in Afghanistan, particularly for women and girls, is another major issue for the Council. Council members could hold an informal meeting with representatives of UN Women, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and civil society to discuss ways for the Council to exert pressure on the Taliban regarding its practices and policies that restrict human rights.
The rising incidence of terrorism in Afghanistan remains a key concern. 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.
While Council members are united in their desire to see a prosperous, peaceful Afghanistan free from terrorism and drug trafficking and ruled by an inclusive government, they are divided over how best to achieve this goal. Some members, including the P3 (France, the UK and the US) and other likeminded states, take the view that the Taliban must adhere to international standards if it wants to obtain international recognition and receive economic and development aid from the international community. China and Russia, on the other hand, have both argued that the international community should provide assistance to Afghanistan without linking that assistance to other issues, such as the rights of women and girls.
China and Russia have also called for Afghanistan’s frozen assets to be returned to the country, while some of the likeminded members have contended that these assets cannot be transferred to Afghanistan until a properly functioning central bank with adequate financial controls has been established. These members often express concerns that the frozen funds could be used for terrorist purposes.
China and Russia also seek to blame the US and NATO for the problems facing Afghanistan, while the US and others contend that the Taliban bears the primary responsibility for the issues plaguing the country.
UN DOCUMENTS ON AFGHANISTAN
|Security Council Resolutions|
|17 March 2022S/RES/2626||This resolution extended the mandate of UNAMA until 17 March 2023.|
|22 December 2021S/RES/2615||This resolution was on the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime and addressed the provision of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.|