What's In Blue

Posted Tue 19 Dec 2023

Afghanistan: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (20 December), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on Afghanistan. Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Roza Otunbayeva, Head and Representative of OCHA in Geneva and Director of the Coordination Division Ramesh Rajasingham, and a representative of Afghan civil society are expected to brief. Ambassador José Javier De La Gasca (Ecuador), the chair of the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee, is also expected to deliver the annual briefing on the committee’s work. The open briefing is scheduled to be followed by closed consultations.

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 tomorrow morning.

Council members are likely to focus on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan during tomorrow’s meeting. According to the Secretary-General’s latest report on Afghanistan, which was issued on 1 December and covers developments since 18 September, women’s rights “remained curtailed in all spheres of public life, with no change in the de facto authorities’ policies on female education and employment”, including “the continued severe restrictions imposed on Afghan female personnel working for the United Nations”. The situation appears particularly dire for women’s rights activists in the country. In a 30 November report, Human Rights Watch noted that women’s rights activists “have been arrested with family members, including small children” and “held in abusive conditions”. The report also found that the Taliban’s crackdown on these activists “is ongoing” and said that Taliban officials “continue to issue abusive new policies and to brutally enforce old ones”.

In their statements tomorrow, Council members are likely to emphasise the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls and advancing their meaningful participation in Afghan society. Some members are also expected to call on the Taliban to reverse their policies and practices that violate these rights. The civil society representative is also likely to focus on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan and may make several recommendations regarding the protection of their rights.

Rajasingham will deliver a briefing on behalf of the 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. Rajasingham may note in his briefing that the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan remains dire. According to the Secretary-General’s report, Afghanistan has continued to face unprecedented levels of humanitarian need, with over two thirds of the population requiring humanitarian assistance during 2023.

Despite the scale of the humanitarian crisis, reports of Taliban interference with the provision of humanitarian aid have continued to emerge. OCHA’s latest humanitarian access snapshot, which was issued on 14 December, says that OCHA’s humanitarian partners reported 131 incidents that impeded humanitarian operations during November, leading to the suspension of 28 humanitarian projects. The report notes that 98 percent of these incidents involved Taliban officials and refers to several examples of “access incidents”, including interference with programming, pressure to sign a memorandum of understanding, requests for staff lists and sensitive data, and interference with staff recruitment. It also says that the Taliban’s ban on women humanitarian workers, and its enforcement on both NGOs and the UN, continues to pose challenges to aid delivery, specifically on the reach to women and children. Rajasingham may refer to these findings during his briefing tomorrow.

Rajasingham might also note that efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan have been complicated by recent developments, including the series of earthquakes that struck Herat province in mid-October, and the Pakistani government’s 3 October announcement regarding the repatriation of all “illegal foreigners” remaining in Pakistan after 1 November, a move widely perceived as targeting the estimated 1.3 million undocumented Afghans living in the country. According to a 17 November report published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 350,000 people have returned to Afghanistan since the announcement.

In discussing the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, Council members may express concern regarding the scale of the crisis and emphasise the importance of facilitating humanitarian assistance in the country. Some members might 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 impinge on humanitarian organisations’ ability to carry out their work and emphasise that several of the Taliban’s policies and practices have complicated efforts to provide humanitarian assistance.

The broader human rights situation in Afghanistan is another likely topic of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting. The Secretary-General’s report notes that the Taliban have continued to implement public corporal punishment, arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals, and close media outlets in order to restrain dissenting opinions, among other matters. Council members may condemn these reports and call on the Taliban to cease perpetrating human rights violations.

Council members are also likely to refer to the ongoing threat posed by terrorism in Afghanistan and may mention examples of specific terrorist attacks, such as the 13 October attack that struck the Imam Zaman Mosque in the Baghlan province, killing dozens of people and wounding many more. In their statements, Council members may stress that Afghanistan must not become a haven for terrorism and call on the Taliban to adhere to the commitments they have made in this regard.

Members are also expected to discuss the independent assessment on Afghanistan during tomorrow’s meeting. The Council requested the independent assessment by resolution 2679 of 16 March, which asked that it “provide forward-looking recommendations for an integrated and coherent approach among relevant political, humanitarian, and development actors, within and outside of the [UN] system, in order to address the current challenges faced by Afghanistan”. The independent assessment report, which was provided to Council members on 9 November, proposes an “engagement architecture” and makes four broad recommendations in this regard, including a series of measures aimed at addressing the basic needs of Afghan people and strengthening trust, as well as a roadmap for political engagement aimed at reintegrating Afghanistan into the international community in line with its international commitments and obligations. (For more information on the independent assessment, see our 27 November and 8 December What’s in Blue stories.)

Some members may welcome the recommendations outlined in the report and note the importance of ensuring the meaningful participation of Afghan women in their implementation. Members may also emphasise that human rights should be at the forefront of any engagement with the Taliban and highlight the need for the Taliban to make progress on human rights, particularly those of women and girls. At the time of writing, Council members were negotiating a draft resolution on the independent assessment proposed by Japan and the UAE, the co-penholders on the file.

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