What's In Blue

Posted Mon 19 Dec 2022

Afghanistan: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (20 December), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Afghanistan. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Roza Otunbayeva, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths, and a civil society representative are expected to brief. Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj (India), the chair of the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee, is also expected to deliver the annual briefing on the committee’s work.

Griffiths will deliver his briefing pursuant to resolution 2615 of 22 December 2021, which established a humanitarian carve-out (also known as a humanitarian exception or exemption) to the 1988 sanctions regime. Resolution 2615 requested a briefing from the Emergency Relief Coordinator every six months “on the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, including on any available information regarding payments of funds to, or for the benefit of, designated individuals or entities, any diversion of funds by the same, risk management and due diligence processes in place”. In the resolution, the Council also decided to review the implementation of the carve-out “after a period of one year”. This review will apparently be conducted during tomorrow’s closed consultations. It seems that the US, the penholder on Afghanistan sanctions issues, has circulated a draft press statement concerning the review. At the time of writing, the press statement was still under negotiation.

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan remains dire. The Secretary-General’s latest report on UNAMA, which was issued on 7 December, notes that 28.3 million Afghans will require humanitarian and protection assistance in 2023, up from 24.4 million in 2022 and 18.4 million at the beginning of 2021. The report also notes that the number of people facing crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity is expected to rise to 20 million, a nearly six percent increase compared to the 18.9 million people who were projected to experience these levels of food insecurity in the lead up to November.

Despite the scale of the humanitarian crisis, reports of interference with the provision of humanitarian aid have continued to emerge. On 18 December, OCHA released an infographic which notes that “humanitarian assistance to 22.1 million people in Afghanistan continues to be delivered in a volatile environment that directly affect[s] the humanitarian operation, and risk[s] the safety and security of aid workers and assets”. The infographic also says that 532 incidents of serious threats and risks against aid workers and operations were reported between January and November, including 362 instances of violence against humanitarian personnel, assets, and facilities and 99 incidents involving restrictions of movement. According to the infographic, these incidents stem from “complex military operations including armed conflict and terrorism, increased restrictions to movement that especially affect female staff, criminal activities carried [out] by armed criminal actors, violence against humanitarian personnel, and [the] presence of mines and [unexploded ordnance]”. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to express concern regarding the scale of the humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan and emphasise the importance of unhindered access for humanitarian assistance. Some members may urge the Taliban to allow female humanitarian workers to carry out their work without interference. Members might call for greater support for the 2022 Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan. At the time of writing, the plan, which calls for $4.4 billion in aid, is 55.7 percent funded.

Council members are also likely to discuss the situation of women and girls tomorrow. Since August 2021, the Taliban have implemented a series of measures that impose increasingly severe restrictions on the rights and freedoms of Afghan women and girls, including a decree requiring women to cover their faces in public and a ban on girls attending high school. 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 prohibited from using gyms and parks. In light of these developments and others like them, the Secretary-General’s report notes that women and girls face “persisting restrictions” on their right to education, participation in public life, and access to services. In their statements tomorrow, Council members are likely to call on the Taliban to end their policies and practices that restrict the rights of women and girls.

The broader human rights situation in Afghanistan is also likely to be discussed tomorrow. The Secretary-General’s report says that Afghans’ fundamental rights and freedoms remain severely curtailed, and notes that reports of public floggings and executions have begun to emerge in recent weeks. On 16 December, a group of human rights experts from the special procedures of the Human Rights Council (HRC) issued a statement emphasising that public floggings and executions “violate universal principles prohibiting torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The statement also expressed doubts regarding the fairness of the trials resulting in these punishments and called on the Taliban to cease using the death penalty, prohibit flogging and other physical punishments that constitute torture, and guarantee fair trials and due process. Some Council members might echo these messages in their statements tomorrow.

Council members may refer to the economic difficulties facing Afghanistan. The Secretary-General’s report says that although the economy shows signs of slowly stabilising, most factors adversely affecting it since August 2021 remain in place, including the sharp decline in development aid, the challenges of making international financial transactions involving the country, the impact on the banking sector, and a shortage of skilled labour. During the meeting, some members are likely to call for economic and development assistance to be provided to Afghanistan without conditions, while others may suggest that the Taliban must adhere to international standards if they want to receive such aid. Some members might call for the release of frozen assets belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank, while other members may contend that the assets cannot be transferred until a properly functioning central bank with adequate financial controls has been established.

Engagement with the Taliban is another likely topic of discussion. The Secretary-General’s report says that “progress toward normalised relationships between Afghanistan and other member states has lost momentum as mistrust endures on both sides”. It further calls for all sides to “set aside mutual blame and hardened positions, and engage with respect, patience and realism on an agenda that places Afghans’ future at its centre”. At the meeting tomorrow, some members might push for greater engagement with the Taliban on the part of the international community. Other members may be more hesitant to express support for such engagement.

The security situation in Afghanistan appears to be worsening. According to the Secretary-General’s report, between 17 August and 13 November, security incidents rose by 23 percent, compared to the same period in 2021. On 30 November, a terrorist attack on a religious school in the northern town of Aybak killed at least 20 students and children and wounded a dozen more. The following day, on 1 December, Council members issued a press statement condemning the attack. On 2 December, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant—Khorasan Province (IS-KP) carried out an attack on the Pakistani embassy in Kabul. The attack reportedly targeted Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Ubaid Ur Rehman Nizamani, and injured one Pakistani security guard. On the same day, Council members issued a press statement that condemned the attack. IS-KP also targeted Chinese nationals in a 13 December attack on a Kabul hotel. At least five people were wounded in the attack. Clashes between Taliban and Pakistani forces have also taken place near the Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in recent weeks. Members are likely to express concern regarding these developments and emphasise the importance of preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorism in their statements tomorrow.

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