September 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 August 2023
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Expected Council Action

In September, the Security Council will convene for its quarterly meeting on Afghanistan. The anticipated briefers are: Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Roza Otunbayeva, UN Women Executive Director Sima Sami Bahous, and a representative of civil society.

UNAMA’s mandate expires on 17 March 2024.

Key Recent Developments

Afghanistan continues to face multiple crises, with the humanitarian situation in the country remaining particularly dire. According to OCHA’s July humanitarian update on Afghanistan, which was published on 13 August, 29.2 million Afghans—over 70 percent of the country’s population—are in need of humanitarian assistance, a significant increase from the 18.4 million people who required such assistance prior to August 2021, when the Taliban seized power. Despite the scale of the crisis, the 2023 Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan remains underfunded. At the time of writing, only 26.8 percent of the $3.2 billion required by the plan—an amount which was revised down from $4.6 billion in early June—has been received.

This lack of funding has begun to negatively affect the humanitarian response in Afghanistan. OCHA’s July humanitarian update notes that “severe underfunding has already led to a massive reduction in the number of people targeted for food assistance each month—down from 13 million at the beginning of the year to nine million between March and April, and five million people in May”. The World Food Programme (WFP) has also said that food assistance in Afghanistan could cease entirely by the end of October due to funding constraints. Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Afghanistan’s healthcare system is experiencing a significant funding deficiency, with eight million people at risk of losing access to essential health assistance if underfunding of the health sector continues.

The Taliban’s policies and practices have also complicated efforts to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. According to OCHA’s humanitarian access snapshot for July, “the barring of women humanitarian staff continues to affect the reach of humanitarian assistance to women and children beneficiaries, with additional bureaucratic challenges reported by partners”. The snapshot also reports that 56 programmes were temporarily suspended in July due to humanitarian access incidents, including incidents involving interference with the implementation of humanitarian activities, restriction of movement, and violence against humanitarian personnel and facilities.

The human rights situation in Afghanistan has continued to worsen, particularly for women and girls. UNAMA’s latest update on human rights in Afghanistan, which covered May and June and was published on 17 July, notes that the Taliban has continued to restrict the rights of women and girls and describes several examples of steps taken by Taliban officials to enforce previously announced edicts limiting women’s freedom of movement and participation in employment. On 4 July, a spokesperson for the Taliban’s Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice announced that all beauty salons, which had previously provided a source of employment for tens of thousands of Afghan women, would be closed and have their licences revoked. The announcement sparked public protests by Afghan women that were forcibly suppressed by Taliban authorities.

According to media reports, in recent weeks the Taliban has also prevented a group of Afghan women from travelling to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to attend university and banned women from entering a national park outside Kabul. In a 15 August statement marking the two-year anniversary of the Taliban’s seizure of power, UN Women Executive Director Sima Sami Bahous said that the Taliban has “imposed the most comprehensive, systematic, and unparalleled assault on the rights of women and girls” and “created a system founded on the mass oppression of women that is rightly and widely considered gender apartheid”.

On 22 August, UNAMA released a report titled “A barrier to securing peace: Human rights violations against former government officials and former armed force members in Afghanistan”. The report, which covers the period spanning 15 August 2021 to 30 June 2023, says that UNAMA has documented at least 800 instances of human rights violations against former government officials and ex-members of Afghanistan’s armed forces, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and torture and ill-treatment. It also notes that these violations were committed despite the Taliban’s announcement of a “general amnesty” for these individuals in August 2021 and concludes that the Taliban’s failure to respect the amnesty and hold perpetrators accountable “may have serious implications for the future stability of Afghanistan”.

The threat of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan remains an ongoing concern. On 31 July, ISIL-K, ISIL’s Afghan affiliate, reportedly claimed responsibility for a 30 July suicide bombing at a political rally in northwest Pakistan that killed at least 44 people and injured over 100 more. (Council members condemned the attack in a 31 July press statement.) The latest report of the Monitoring Team assisting the 1267/1989/2253 Sanctions Committee, which was issued on 25 July, notes that member states “reported that Afghanistan remained a place of global significance for terrorism, with approximately 20 terrorist groups operating in the country”. The report also indicates that members of Al-Qaeda have infiltrated Afghan law enforcement agencies and public administration bodies and says that member states have assessed ISIL-K as the most serious terror threat in the region, with the group “benefiting from increased operational capabilities” inside Afghanistan.

On 30 and 31 July, a US delegation attended an official meeting with representatives of the Taliban in Doha. Among other matters, the US delegation “voiced openness” to technical dialogue on economic stabilisation and ongoing discussion on counternarcotics, while Taliban officials reportedly mentioned lifting sanctions on Taliban leaders and the return of frozen assets belonging to Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), Afghanistan’s central bank. According to a 21 July Reuters article, a recent US-funded audit of DAB has not changed the US Treasury Department’s view that the central bank must be reformed before its frozen assets, which were seized by the US and other member states following the Taliban’s takeover, can be returned.

On 3 July, the UN Country Team in Afghanistan (UNCT) published the UN Strategic Framework for Afghanistan 2023 – 2025, which articulates the UN’s approach to addressing basic human needs in Afghanistan.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 14 August, a group of UN human rights experts released a joint statement marking two years since the Taliban’s takeover. It highlighted that the policies of the Taliban have “resulted in a continuous, systematic and shocking rescinding of a multitude of human rights, including the rights to education, work, and freedoms of expression, assembly and association” along with “consistent credible reports of summary executions and acts tantamount to enforced disappearances, widespread arbitrary detention, torture, and ill treatment, as well as arbitrary displacement”. The statement also emphasised the “system of discrimination with the intention to subject women and girls to total domination so egregious, that the collective practices constitute gender persecution, a crime against humanity”.

On 11 September, during its 54th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) is expected to hold an interactive dialogue on the oral update of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett. On 12 September, the HRC is expected to hold an interactive dialogue on OHCHR’s upcoming report on Afghanistan, which was not yet available at the time of writing (A/HRC/54/21).

Key Issues and Options

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is a significant issue for the Council. An informal meeting with humanitarian organisations working in Afghanistan could allow Council members to learn more about the problems facing those working to deliver aid in the country, particularly after the Taliban banned women from working for the UN, while also providing an opportunity to consider whether there is anything the Council can do to help manage these challenges.

The human rights situation in Afghanistan, particularly for women and girls, is another major issue. 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 how the Council can exert pressure on the Taliban regarding its practices and policies that restrict human rights.

The Council could also consider reviewing the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime, which, apart from the humanitarian exception established by resolution 2615, has not been updated since the Taliban seized power in August 2021. Such a review could analyse whether the regime is fit for purpose and whether it should be updated in light of current circumstances.

The terrorist threat in Afghanistan is another key concern. The Council could meet with a counter-terrorism expert, which would give members a chance to discuss possible options for bolstering the Council’s effort to manage the threat posed by terrorism in Afghanistan.

Council Dynamics

Although Council members are generally united in their desire to see a prosperous, peaceful Afghanistan free from terrorism and ruled by an inclusive government that respects the rights of women and girls, they are divided over how to achieve this goal. Some members, including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded states, argue that the Taliban must adhere to international norms if it wants to obtain international recognition and receive economic and development aid from the international community. Several of these members tend to favour maintaining pressure on the Taliban, particularly regarding its policies and practices that violate the rights of women and girls.

China and Russia, on the other hand, have contended that the international community should provide assistance to Afghanistan without linking that assistance to other issues, such as human rights, and appear to prefer dialogue and engagement with the Taliban over increased pressure.

China and Russia have also called for Afghanistan’s frozen assets to be returned to the country, while other members have said that these assets cannot be transferred to Afghanistan until a properly functioning central bank has been established. These members often express concern that the funds could be used for terrorist purposes. Moreover, China and Russia regularly blame the US and NATO for the problems confronting Afghanistan, while the US and others contend that the Taliban bears primary responsibility for the issues facing the country.

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Security Council Resolutions
16 March 2023S/RES/2678 This resolution extended UNAMA’s mandate until 17 March 2024.
16 March 2023S/RES/2679 This resolution requested that the Secretary-General conduct and provide an independent assessment on Afghanistan.
27 April 2023S/RES/2681 This resolution condemned the ban on Afghan women working for the UN and called on the Taliban to swiftly reverse the policies and practices that restrict the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls, among other matters.

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