What's In Blue

Posted Tue 20 Jun 2023

Afghanistan: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (21 June), 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 and a female representative of Afghan civil society are expected to brief. Head and Representative of OCHA in Geneva and Director of the Coordination Division Ramesh Rajasingham will also brief the Council via videoconference during the closed consultations. Rajasingham will brief on behalf of Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths pursuant to resolution 2615 of 22 December 2021, which established a humanitarian exception to the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime and requested that the Emergency Relief Coordinator brief the Council on the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan every six months.

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan remains grim. According to OCHA’s May humanitarian update on Afghanistan, which was published on 15 June, the country is experiencing “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis”. The update also notes that the crisis has worsened as 2023 has progressed, with the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance increasing from 28.3 million at the beginning of the year to 28.8 million by the end of May.

On 5 June, OCHA announced that the budget for the 2023 Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan had been revised from $4.6 billion down to $3.2 billion. OCHA’s May humanitarian update attributes the reduction to several factors, including underfunding, the capacity of its humanitarian partners, the changing operating environment, the latest food insecurity projections, and a focus on the most vulnerable groups in the country.

The policies and practices of the Taliban, including the ban on female staff working for NGOs and the decree prohibiting Afghan women from working for the UN, have had a particularly negative impact on the humanitarian response in Afghanistan. The Secretary-General’s latest report on UNAMA, which was provided to Council members on 19 June, says that gaining access to women in need has become increasingly challenging, with critical components of hygiene promotion, risk communication, and community engagement-focused activities especially affected. The report also notes that the humanitarian community has continued “to negotiate to expand authorisations”. In this regard, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) announced on 5 June that it had resumed operations in some parts of the country after the Taliban agreed to allow its female staff to return to work. In a 5 June tweet, Secretary-General of the NRC Jan Egeland said that the NRC “have been able to resume most of our humanitarian operations in Kandahar as well as a number of other regions in Afghanistan” and that the NRC’s work involves “equal participation of our female and male humanitarian colleagues”.

Other practices and policies of the Taliban have also negatively affected the provision of humanitarian assistance. OCHA’s humanitarian access snapshot for March, which was published on 25 May, says that incidents of interference with humanitarian activities, including aid diversion and interference with beneficiary selection and staff recruitment, had tripled compared to the same period last year. Reports have also emerged which suggest that the Taliban may continue to expand their policies that disrupt humanitarian activities. In an 8 June statement, UNICEF spokesperson Samantha Mort said that “UNICEF is deeply concerned by reports that over 500,000 children, including over 300,000 girls, could lose out on quality learning through community-based education within a month if international non-governmental organisations working in the field of education are no longer allowed to operate”.

In discussing the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan tomorrow, Council members are likely to express concern regarding the scale of the crisis and emphasise the importance of facilitating humanitarian assistance. Some members may call on the Taliban to comply with resolution 2681 of 27 April, which, among other matters, reiterated the Council’s demand that all parties allow full, rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access to UN personnel and other humanitarian actors, regardless of gender. Members might also urge the Taliban to refrain from issuing additional decrees that further impinge on the ability of humanitarian organisations to carry out their work.

Council members are also likely to focus on the threat of terrorism emerging from Afghanistan during tomorrow’s meeting. The latest report of the Monitoring Team supporting the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee, which was released on 1 June, concluded that the links between the Taliban and both Al-Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) remain “strong and symbiotic” and said that “a range of terrorist groups have greater freedom of movement under the Taliban”. The report also noted that Al-Qaeda appears to be rebuilding its operational capability, that the TTP is launching attacks in Pakistan with support from the Taliban, and that the Taliban has not delivered on the counter-terrorism promises made in the Doha agreement.

Terrorist attacks have also continued to occur throughout Afghanistan. On 6 June, the acting governor of Badakhshan Province was killed by a suicide attack that was later claimed by the Islamic State in the Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIL-K), the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). One other person was killed and at least six more were wounded during the attack. In their statements tomorrow, Council members may stress that Afghanistan must not become a haven for terrorism and call on the Taliban to adhere with the commitments it has made in this regard.

The human rights situation in Afghanistan, particularly for women and girls, is another likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting. The latest report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, which was co-authored with the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls and published on 15 June, found that the Taliban are responsible for “the most extreme forms of gender-based discrimination and generalised censorship through restrictions targeting women and girls, the abolition of legal protections and accountability mechanisms for gender-based violence, and the ongoing denial of rights”. More broadly, the Secretary-General’s report refers to a range of human rights violations perpetrated by the Taliban, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, the use of corporal punishment, and restrictions on freedom of expression. Council members may condemn these violations in their statements tomorrow and urge the Taliban to cease violating human rights. Members may also refer to resolution 2681 of 27 April, which called for the full, equal and meaningful participation of women and girls in Afghanistan and called on the Taliban to swiftly reverse their policies and practices that restrict the enjoyment by women and girls of their human rights.

The 27 May border clashes between Iranian and Taliban security forces, which killed at least three people and came amid a dispute between Iran and the Taliban over water rights to the Helmand River, are another possible topic of discussion. Council members may be interested in hearing Otunbayeva’s analysis of the circumstances that led to the fighting and the extent to which climate change contributed to the dispute.

On 25 April, the UN announced that Feridun Sinirlioğlu had been appointed as Special Coordinator of the independent assessment on Afghanistan requested by resolution 2679 of 16 March. (For more information, see our 16 March What’s in Blue story.) Some members may welcome Sinirlioğlu’s appointment and express their support for the independent assessment in their statements tomorrow. The independent assessment is due to be completed by 17 November.

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