What's In Blue

Afghanistan: Closed Consultations

This afternoon (27 January), Council members will convene for closed consultations on Afghanistan. The meeting was requested by France, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to discuss Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed’s recent visit to Afghanistan. Mohammed is expected to brief.

UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous and Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari were also part of the UN delegation led by Mohammed. The visit was part of a broader series of consultations between the delegation and the Islamic world regarding the situation in Afghanistan, which began in the second week of January. Prior to arriving in Afghanistan, the delegation met with high-level officials from several Islamic countries, such as Indonesia and Türkiye, as well as a number of member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including Saudi Arabia. Meetings were also held with the leadership of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) the Islamic Development Bank, groups of Afghan women living in Ankara and Islamabad, and Doha-based ambassadors and special envoys to Afghanistan.

The visit came weeks after the Taliban issued separate decrees directing non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in Afghanistan to suspend all female employees and banning female students from attending university. The decrees—which have been met with widespread criticism from UN officials, member states, and civil society—are the latest in a series of measures implemented by the Taliban that impose increasingly severe restrictions on the rights of women and girls. On 13 January, Council members held a private meeting, followed by closed consultations, to discuss these developments, at the request of Japan and the UAE. (For more information, see our 12 January What’s in Blue story.)

The delegation led by Mohammed arrived in Afghanistan on 16 January. Over the next four days they travelled to Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat, where they met with Taliban officials—including members of the Taliban’s cabinet—humanitarian workers, representatives of civil society, and Afghan women, among others. According to a 20 January UN press release, the delegation conveyed their alarm over the decree banning women from working for NGOs and highlighted the need for a “realistic political pathway” and the importance of women and girls’ rights to education, work, and public life in Afghanistan.

During the visit, Secretary-General António Guterres reportedly told Al Jazeera on 18 January that “only the Muslim world can convince the Taliban … to change” and said that Mohammed had visited “a number of Islamic countries” with the objective of mobilising “support in the Islamic world to make clear to the Taliban that they need to reverse the present trend on women”. A week earlier, on 11 January, the OIC issued a communiqué which expressed disappointment regarding the Taliban’s decisions concerning female education and female NGO employees. Among other matters, the OIC urged the Taliban to allow women and girls to “exercise their rights and contribute to the social and economic development of the Afghan society in accordance with the rights and responsibilities as guaranteed to them by Islam and international human rights law”.

This afternoon’s consultations will provide an opportunity for Council members to receive an update from Mohammed regarding her visit to Afghanistan. Council members are particularly interested in hearing her analysis of the Taliban’s response to the messages conveyed by the delegation, the steps being taken by the UN to respond to the Taliban’s policies that violate the rights of women and girls, and the overall atmosphere on the ground.

In a 25 January press conference, Mohammed told reporters that in her exchanges with Taliban officials, they had repeatedly pushed for international recognition and argued that the measures they have introduced regarding women and girls are intended to ensure their safety and prevent them from being exposed to western values. Mohammed also said that she had discussed humanitarian aid with the Taliban and referred to rumours that the Taliban may introduce an additional edict banning women from working for international organisations and diplomatic missions. She further described the UN’s efforts to persuade the Taliban to introduce exemptions to the decrees that restrict the rights of women and girls. Mohammed may elaborate on these points during her briefing this afternoon.

It appears that Council members will use the information provided by Mohammed to determine the Council’s next steps on the file. During the Council’s 13 January meeting on Afghanistan, the US reportedly proposed a resolution calling on the Taliban to reverse its bans preventing women from working for NGOs and attending universities and high schools. While this proposal received support from some Council members, it was opposed by others, some of whom apparently argued that the Council should wait to learn more about the delegation’s visit to Afghanistan and the Taliban’s response to the messages it had delivered before deciding how to proceed. It seems that as an interim measure, Council members agreed to send a letter to the Secretary-General outlining their concerns and requesting that those concerns be communicated to the Taliban. The contents of this letter were apparently agreed on 17 January and conveyed to the Taliban by the UN at a later date. Council members may choose to pursue the resolution proposed by the US after considering the findings from Mohammed’s briefing. At the time of writing, a draft text has not been circulated.

It appears that press elements regarding the 13 January meeting could not be agreed due to differences regarding the possible resolution. The US apparently suggested including a reference to the resolution in the draft elements, however this proposal seems to have been opposed by other Council members. Members were unable to resolve these differences, leading Japan and the UAE to withdraw the draft elements.

Exemptions to the Taliban’s decree banning women from working for NGOs might be discussed during the consultations this afternoon. During a visit to Afghanistan earlier this week, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths reportedly pushed for the Taliban to introduce exemptions that allow female NGO workers to continue providing aid in the country. Speaking to Reuters on 25 January, Griffiths said that he had told the Taliban: “if you can’t help us rescind the ban, give us the exemptions to allow women to operate”. In a briefing delivered during a 26 January meeting of the Informal Expert Group (IEG) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) on Afghanistan, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan Markus Potzel apparently told Council members that the Taliban is considering introducing such exemptions. Council members are likely to be interested in learning more about the exemptions during this afternoon’s consultations.

Council members may also discuss the upcoming renewal of the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which expires on 17 March. It appears that UNAMA’s mandate was discussed during the 26 January meeting of the IEG on WPS. Many Council members apparently expressed their support for UNAMA’s current mandate, while Potzel referred to the importance of maintaining the aspects of the mandate relating to human rights and the rights of women and girls. Some members may convey similar messages this afternoon.

It appears that the UK is currently working on a draft General Assembly resolution concerning the situation in Afghanistan. The last General Assembly resolution on Afghanistan, which was adopted on 10 November 2022, expressed deep concern about human rights abuses in Afghanistan and called on the Taliban to reverse its policies that restrict the human rights of women and girls, among other matters.

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