What's In Blue

Posted Wed 6 Mar 2024

Afghanistan: Briefing and Consultations

This morning (6 March), 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 is expected to provide an update on political, humanitarian, and human rights developments in the country based on the Secretary-General’s latest 90-day UNAMA report, which was circulated to Council members on 28 February and covers developments since 1 December 2023 (S/2024/196). A civil society representative is also expected to brief. Closed consultations are scheduled to follow the open briefing.

A likely focus of today’s meeting is the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, where nearly half of the population lives in poverty. The crisis was exacerbated in 2023 by persistent drought, the three 6.3 magnitude earthquakes that struck Herat Province in October 2023, and the return of nearly half a million Afghans from Pakistan after the Pakistani government enacted a policy in October 2023 targeting undocumented foreigners for deportation. The 2024 Afghanistan Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan (HNRP), which was issued in December 2023, estimates that 483,500 Afghans are expected to return from Pakistan in 2024, which will “add to already overstretched basic services and resources and place additional stress on host communities”.

Otunbayeva and several Council members may emphasise that the curtailment of women’s rights in Afghanistan hinders economic recovery and humanitarian efforts. An 18 January report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) identified the restrictions on women’s rights and the near failure of the banking system in Afghanistan as major areas of concern that will require international cooperation. It also says that the restrictions on women’s access to employment, education, and overall participation in public life have inflicted “considerable output loss to the economy”. According to the report, the percentage of women employed in all sectors has dropped drastically, nearly halving from 11 percent in 2022 to only six percent in 2023.

The Secretary-General’s 28 February UNAMA report describes how the Taliban’s policies banning Afghan women from working for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the UN have hindered humanitarian efforts. As at October 2023, 28 percent of NGOs and UN agencies fully operated with both genders, 43 percent partially operated with both, 16 percent operated exclusively with men, while six percent were non-operational. The report describes these figures as representing progress, while noting that these bans continue to hinder organisations’ efforts to engage with women in person, monitor humanitarian impact, and facilitate women’s access to information.

Several members are expected to call on the Taliban to reverse its restrictive policies against women and girls, noting that 50 such edicts have been issued since August 2021. They are likely to express particular concern about a trend documented by UNAMA since January where women and girls are arrested and detained because of alleged violations of the dress code imposed by the Taliban. In an 11 January statement, UNAMA said that it was examining allegations of ill-treatment of women and girls detained for these alleged violations and noted that ethnic minorities have been disproportionally targeted.

The most recent report by Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett, dated 22 February, says that the Taliban’s “disrespect for the fundamental rights of women and girls is unparalleled in the world”. It highlights gender-based violence as a major concern, noting that the prevalence of such violence against women and girls has increased since the Taliban’s takeover. According to the report, survivors of gender-based violence face obstacles in accessing justice, as well as services related to protection, healthcare, and psychosocial support.

The overall human rights situation in Afghanistan may also be raised by several Council members. UNAMA’s most recent quarterly report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, which was issued on 22 January and covers the period between October and December 2023, notes that the Taliban continues to implement corporal punishment, usually announcing the information about the crimes and their punishment on social media. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Taliban has carried out five public executions since August 2021, three of which took place within the span of one week between 22 and 26 February. In response to the 22 February execution of two men in Ghazni Province, UNAMA reiterated the UN’s strong opposition to the death penalty and called on the Taliban to establish an immediate moratorium on the use of this punishment as a step towards its abolition.

The 22 February report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan also expresses concern about continued extrajudicial killings, ill-treatment, and torture of former security personnel and government officials. It notes that former members of the judiciary have also been similarly targeted, as 20 prosecutors were reportedly killed across the country since January 2023.

Council members may also express concern about ongoing terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. According to the Secretary-General’s 18th biannual strategic-level report on the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) to international peace and security, dated 31 January, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K)—ISIL’s Afghan affiliate—remains the most serious terrorist threat in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. It notes that despite increased counter-terrorism pressure by the Taliban, which has led to a reduction in the number of attacks perpetrated by ISIL-K and a high attrition among its senior and mid-tier leadership figures, the group has nonetheless retained the ability to recruit and conduct attacks.

Otunbayeva is likely to provide an overview of the outcomes of the second meeting of Special Envoys and Special Representatives on Afghanistan, which was held on 18 and 19 February in Doha, Qatar. According to Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric, the Doha meeting aimed “to discuss how to approach increasing international engagement in a more coherent, coordinated and structured manner, including through consideration of the recommendations of the independent assessment on Afghanistan”. (For more information on the Doha conference, see our 25 February What’s in Blue story.)

At today’s meeting, Council members may express different positions on some of the recommendations outlined in the independent assessment on Afghanistan, which the Security Council requested in resolution 2679 of 16 March 2023. (For more information on the independent assessment, see our 27 November 2023 and 8 December 2023 What’s in Blue stories.) The Taliban have expressed opposition to specific recommendations, including the proposed appointment of a UN Special Envoy, who would focus on diplomacy between Afghanistan and international stakeholders and advancing intra-Afghan dialogue. China and Russia have emphasised the importance of taking into account the Taliban’s views on the assessment and have questioned the added value of a UN Special Envoy. Other members, including the US, have expressed support for the appointment of a Special Envoy, maintaining that such a position will be crucial in coordinating international engagement on Afghanistan.

Council members are currently negotiating a draft resolution renewing UNAMA’s mandate, which expires on 17 March. It appears that many members—including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) and other like-minded states—support retaining a robust mandate for UNAMA, which currently encompasses the protection of human rights and the promotion of inclusive governance and gender equality. Some of these members may express support for a straightforward renewal of the mission’s mandate in their statements today. (For more information on Council dynamics on UNAMA’s mandate, see the Afghanistan brief in our March 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

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