What's In Blue

Posted Wed 5 Apr 2023

Afghanistan: Closed Consultations

Tomorrow (6 April), Council members will convene for closed consultations on Afghanistan. The meeting was requested by Japan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after the Taliban decided to prohibit Afghan women from working for the UN throughout Afghanistan. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Roza Otunbayeva is expected to brief.

In a 4 April tweet, UNAMA announced that “female national UN staff have been prevented from reporting to work in Nangarhar province”. Hours later, during his daily press briefing, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said that “we were told through various conduits that [the ban] applied to the whole country” and that “we are meant to meet with our counterparts in the Foreign Ministry tomorrow, and we will have more details”.

On 5 April, UNAMA released a statement regarding the Taliban’s decision. According to the statement, the Taliban notified the UN that “with immediate effect, no Afghan woman is permitted to work for the UN in Afghanistan, and that this measure will be actively enforced”. Among other matters, the statement strongly condemned the Taliban’s decision and noted that Otunbayeva is engaging with the Taliban to seek “an immediate reversal of the order”. It also said that “several UN national female personnel have already experienced restrictions on their movements, including harassment, intimidation, and detention” and indicated that “the UN has therefore instructed all national staff—men and women—not to report to the office until further notice”.

The Taliban’s decision is expected to have a significant impact on the UN’s operations in Afghanistan. According to Dujarrac, approximately 3,300 of the UN’s 4,000 staff members in the country are national staff. In their statements tomorrow, Council members are likely to express concern regarding the effect of the ban on the UN’s work in Afghanistan and call on the Taliban to reverse their decision.

In a 5 April statement, Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned the Taliban’s decision and said that it “violates Afghanistan’s obligations under international human rights law, and infringes on the principle of non-discrimination, which is a core tenet underpinning the [UN] Charter”. The statement also noted that female staff members are essential for UN operations, including in the delivery of life-saving assistance, and said that the decision “will harm the Afghan people, millions of whom are in need of…assistance”. Some Council members are likely to echo these sentiments in their statements tomorrow.

During a 5 April press conference, Deputy Special Representative and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said that all Afghan personnel working for the UN will stay home until female staff can return to work. Alakbarov also indicated that Otunbayeva led the UN delegation that met with Taliban officials earlier that day and that the Taliban’s decision was an extension of its 24 December 2022 edict directing NGOs working in Afghanistan to suspend all female employees. Council members are likely to be interested in hearing Otunbayeva’s analysis of her meetings with the Taliban during tomorrow’s meeting.

The Taliban’s decision comes less than a month after the Council extended UNAMA’s mandate for 12 months and requested that the Secretary-General provide the Council with an independent assessment of the international community’s approach to Afghanistan by 17 November. (For more information, see our 15 March What’s in Blue story.)

It is also the latest in a series of measures implemented by the Taliban that impose increasingly severe restrictions on the rights and freedoms of Afghan women and girls, including the 24 December 2022 ban on female NGO workers, a 20 December 2022 edict preventing women from attending university, and a 7 May 2022 decree requiring women to cover their faces in public. On 13 January, the Council convened for a private meeting to discuss the measures introduced in December 2022. (For more information, see our 12 January What’s in Blue story.) Council members also held closed consultations on 27 January to receive a briefing from Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed regarding her January meetings with Taliban officials in Afghanistan. (For more information, see our 27 January What’s in Blue story).

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