What's In Blue

Afghanistan: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (26 September), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Afghanistan. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Roza Otunbayeva is expected to brief on the Secretary-General’s most recent report on the mission, dated 18 September. The Council will also be briefed by UN Women Executive Director Sima Sami Bahous, and by a woman civil society representative who will speak about women’s rights in the country and accountability.

Council members that have signed on to the Shared Commitments on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS)—Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the US—are expected to read a joint statement on Afghanistan ahead of the meeting.

A major focus of tomorrow’s meeting is expected to be the severe restrictions on the rights of women and girls in the country. The briefers and several Council members are likely to cite examples of steps taken by the Taliban in recent months that have further limited women’s freedom of movement, access to education, and participation in employment. These include the de facto authorities’ decision in July to close all beauty salons, which previously provided a source of employment and a safe space for social interactions for tens of thousands of Afghan women. Some might note that in August the Taliban prevented a group of Afghan women from travelling to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to attend university and banned women from entering a national park outside Kabul.

The Taliban’s policies regarding women and girls have been met with widespread international criticism. In a 15 August statement marking the two-year anniversary of the Taliban’s seizure of power, Bahous said that the Taliban has “created a system founded on the mass oppression of women that is rightly and widely considered gender apartheid”. Other UN officials, including Secretary-General António Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk, as well as Council member Albania, have also used the term “gender apartheid” in referring to the situation in Afghanistan. In an 8 September report, Human Rights Watch argued that the Taliban is committing the crime against humanity of gender persecution against women and girls and noted that the International Criminal Court’s investigation in Afghanistan could provide a path toward accountability for this crime. Several UN officials and some Council members, such as Malta, have used the term “gender persecution” to describe the Taliban’s policies.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Bahous is expected to highlight the perspectives of Afghan women regarding the harsh conditions that they face. She is likely to refer to the findings of a 19 September report of quarterly country-wide consultations conducted by UN Women, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and UNAMA. The consultations involved 592 Afghan women from 22 provinces who reflected on the period from April to June. The report says that many women have lost their jobs or have been forced to end their education due to decrees or social pressures, leaving them unable to meet basic household needs. This has led families to resort to “extreme coping mechanisms”, such as child labour and the sale of children, as well as child marriages and forced marriage. The report warns that the early marriage of girls risks “entrenching deep and intergenerational gender inequality in addition to putting the brakes on Afghanistan’s long-term development”.

Bahous may highlight the cumulative effects of the Taliban’s policies on Afghan women’s mental health. Sixty-nine percent of the women consulted reported that feelings of anxiety, isolation, and depression have significantly worsened between April and June, a 12 percent increase compared with the previous quarter. Respondents also described having suicidal ideation or fears that their daughters have such thoughts. Bahous might note that 46 percent of the women consulted said that international recognition of the de facto authorities should not happen under any circumstances, while 50 percent contended that recognition should only occur under specific conditions, contingent on improving women’s rights, including restoring their right to education and employment, and forming an inclusive government. The respondents further urged the international community to continue political and economic sanctions against the Taliban, including by not granting exemptions to the travel ban imposed by the 1988 Afghanistan sanctions regime.

At tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members—including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded states—may reiterate their position that the Taliban must adhere to international norms if it wants to obtain international recognition and receive economic and development aid from the international community. They might contend that in the two years since the Taliban came to power, it has not kept its initial promises on such issues as human rights, inclusive governance, respecting the rights of women and girls, and cutting ties with terrorists. In this regard, they may reference UNAMA’s 22 August report documenting human rights violations against former government officials and former armed force members in Afghanistan in the period between 15 August 2021 and 30 June. During this period, UNAMA recorded at least 218 extrajudicial killings, 424 arbitrary arrests and detentions, 144 instances of torture and ill-treatment, and 14 instances of enforced disappearance carried out against individuals affiliated with the former Afghan government and its security forces. These developments are occurring despite the Taliban’s announcement in August 2021 of a “general amnesty” for former government officials and members of the security forces.

Some Council members might also reference the Taliban’s 17 August decision to abolish political parties on the grounds that their existence is incompatible with Islamic law. These members may note that this decision presents a worrying indicator of the de facto authorities’ approach to governance.

China and Russia, on the other hand, hold the view that the international community should provide assistance to Afghanistan without linking it to other issues, such as human rights. At the Council’s most recent meeting on Afghanistan on 21 June, China argued that to promote dialogue and engagement, the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee should “make a package of exemption arrangements for the international travel of the relevant personnel of the Afghan interim Government”. In a recent development, China’s new ambassador to Afghanistan presented his credentials to the Taliban authorities on 13 September. The Taliban’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, reportedly commented that this move “signals to other countries to come forward and interact with the Islamic Emirate”.

The dire humanitarian situation in the country is another expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting. According to the Secretary-General’s 18 September report covering developments since 20 June, more than two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population requires humanitarian assistance, as worsening conditions led to an increase in the estimated number of people in need from 28.3 million at the year’s outset to 29.2 million. The report also notes that the effects of two consecutive years of drought continue to drive acute food, livelihood, and water insecurity.

The briefers and Council members may call for enhanced funding for relief efforts in Afghanistan, particularly in light of severe shortfalls faced by such agencies as the World Food Programme (WFP), which has said that food assistance in Afghanistan could cease entirely by the end of October due to funding constraints. At the time of writing, only 27.6 percent of the $3.2 billion required by the 2023 Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan had been received.

Several members may note that they look forward to receiving the independent assessment on Afghanistan requested by resolution 2679 of 16 March, which is due to be completed by 17 November. Some might express hope that the independent assessment will help the international community coalesce around a coherent strategy on Afghanistan. Some civil society organisations have sent open letters urging the assessment to prioritise human rights, especially the rights of women and girls. In a 26 July letter, Human Rights Watch said that the independent assessment should hear from survivors of human rights violations and offer recommendations to prevent and provide accountability for human rights abuses.

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