What's In Blue

Afghanistan: Vote on Draft Resolution on UNAMA’s Mandate*

This morning (17 March), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for one year, until 17 March 2023. Norway, the penholder on Afghanistan, circulated the first draft of the resolution to Council members on 28 February. Several rounds of negotiations were held, and members submitted written comments. After circulating two revised drafts, the penholder put a third draft under silence until 3 pm on Tuesday (15 March). Silence was broken by Brazil, China, France, India, and Russia. Norway then placed a revised draft under silence until 12 pm yesterday (16 March). This silence period was extended until 2 pm, before being broken by Russia. An amended draft was then placed in blue by the penholder in the afternoon.

The draft resolution in blue outlines several priorities for UNAMA, including providing outreach and good offices to facilitate dialogue between all relevant Afghan stakeholders and the international community; promoting responsible governance and the rule of law; human rights monitoring and reporting; and supporting gender equality and the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in all levels of decision-making.

It seems that the negotiations on the draft resolution were difficult, reflecting sharp divisions among Council members in relation to several issues, such as human rights, climate change and women, peace, and security. During the negotiations, Council members apparently disagreed about the prioritisation of the different components of UNAMA’s mandate. It appears that China and Russia contended that UNAMA’s primary focus should be assisting with efforts to address the humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan. However, many 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. China and Russia, for their part, apparently argued that the initial draft of the resolution was unrealistic and placed too much emphasis on these issues.

It seems that China and Russia proposed significant changes to the initial draft text because of their concerns, including by requesting the removal of previously agreed language regarding the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all stages of decision-making and the implementation of instruments concerning human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). In addition, these members apparently sought to remove proposed text on integrating gender mainstreaming as a cross-cutting issue throughout UNAMA’s mandate, as well as on children and armed conflict, and language calling for inclusive, representative, and participatory governance, among other matters. These amendments were resisted by most other Council members and the relevant text was ultimately retained in the draft resolution in blue.

The language used to describe the Taliban and its administration was also a sensitive issue during the negotiations. In certain paragraphs of the initial draft text, the Taliban were referred to as the “de facto authorities”, a formulation which was also used in the Secretary-General’s 28 January report on recommendations for UNAMA’s mandate. However, it appears that some Council members, including the US, were not comfortable with using this term. Some of these members expressed concern that this phrase could confer legitimacy on the Taliban and might imply de facto recognition of their regime. China and Russia apparently rejected this argument and contended that describing the Taliban as the “de facto authorities” accurately reflects the situation in Afghanistan. As a compromise, subsequent drafts were amended to refer to “all relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders”, “all relevant Afghan political actors”, or “all relevant Afghan stakeholders”. It seems that China was not satisfied with these changes, leading it to break silence over this issue. However, this language was retained in the draft resolution in blue despite China’s objection.

The nature of the interaction between UNAMA and the Taliban was another contentious issue. Although initial versions of the draft text decided that UNAMA would carry out its mandate in support of the Afghan people, this language was opposed by China and Russia, who argued that the text should specify that UNAMA requires the Taliban’s consent in order to do its work. It appears that language noting that UNAMA will carry out its mandate in close consultation with all relevant Afghan political actors, including relevant authorities, was added to subsequent drafts to address these concerns. It seems that Russia broke silence in relation to this issue, which led to the inclusion of additional language calling on all relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders, including relevant authorities, to coordinate with UNAMA in the implementation of its mandate.

The draft resolution contains separate paragraphs that outline tasks for UNAMA regarding humanitarian aid and basic human needs. The paragraph on humanitarian aid, for example, instructs UNAMA to coordinate and facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance, while the paragraph concerning basic human needs directs the mission to “coordinate international donors and organisations in relation to basic human needs”. It appears that some members suggested that these tasks should be combined in a single paragraph. Other members apparently took the opposite view, however, and argued that the paragraphs should remain separate to reflect that principled humanitarian aid must be unconditional, whereas conditions can be attached to assistance with meeting certain basic human needs. It seems that some Council members also had reservations over including references to development aid in the text, while others suggested that it should be a priority for UNAMA.

It appears that differences between Council members also emerged in relation to risk management and the oversight of aid. Early drafts of the resolution apparently contained language directing UNAMA to monitor UN assistance to Afghanistan, with a view to minimising the risk of aid diversion and the provision of incidental benefits to individuals and entities subject to UN sanctions. 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 risk management activities 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. It seems that the penholder removed language relating to aid diversion and incidental benefits from a subsequent draft of the resolution at these members’ request—a change which apparently led France and India to break silence. The draft text in blue includes language that 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.

The first draft of the resolution apparently included a provision instructing UNAMA to report on climate-related security risks, which proved to be a divisive issue. Although this language was supported by several Council members, others objected to it strongly, and subsequent iterations of the draft instead tasked UNAMA with reporting on the adverse impacts of climate change. It appears that this language was still not acceptable to those members who raised concerns, including Brazil and India, who ultimately broke silence over the issue. In an apparent compromise, the draft in blue asks UNAMA to report on the adverse impacts of the current drought in Afghanistan.

The economic crisis in Afghanistan was also discussed during the negotiations. It seems that China and Russia sought to include language that attributed this crisis 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 apparently argued that the Taliban’s takeover is the real cause of the economic crisis facing the country. The draft resolution in blue includes language recognising the need to address the economic challenges facing Afghanistan, as well as text directing UNAMA to support efforts to facilitate access to assets belonging to the Afghan central bank for the benefit of the Afghan people.

The description of the situation on the ground was another point of contention for Council members. While the draft in blue expresses deep concern about the security situation in Afghanistan, earlier drafts also expressed concern about the continuing high level of violence in the country. This language was removed at the request of China, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates, who contended that it did not reflect the reality of the current situation.

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*Post-script: On 17 March, the Council adopted resolution 2626, extending UNAMA’s mandate until 17 March 2023. 14 members voted in favour, with Russia abstaining.

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