United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) - Security Council VTC Debate

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23-Mar-2021 02:09:14
Killings, suffering of Afghanistan’s people ‘must end now’, Special Representative tells Security Council, demanding greater action by global community.

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Six months into Afghanistan’s latest round of peace talks, progress remains slow and demands strong support from the global community, the senior United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today, while also sounding alarm about soaring rates of violence that continue to hamper humanitarian efforts and erode public confidence more broadly.

“We always knew that this would be a complicated peace,” said Deborah Lyons, who is Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), as she briefed the 15-member Council during a videoconference meeting. Describing today’s meeting as a chance to take stock six months after the launch of the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations, the signing of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban and a joint declaration between Kabul and Washington, D.C., she said attacks against civilians have only escalated. The extreme violence is leading both Afghans and their international partners to voice understandable frustration. “The killings, the displacement, the suffering of the Afghan people must end now,” she stressed.

Noting that the first two months of 2021 saw a worrying spate of brutal attacks deliberately targeting civilians, she said the deaths of more than 80 Afghans — including media staff, civil society, members of the judiciary, religious scholars and Government officials — have been recorded to date. “This does not convey the full, crippling impact of the violence on Afghanistan’s civic life,” she said, adding that for every Afghan killed, many more leave their professions or plan to flee the country. Noting that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant—Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) claimed responsibility for 25 violent attacks in the last quarter, a steep increase, she also spotlighted a deepening humanitarian crisis and the threat of drought. Food insecurity is at record levels, with more than 40 per cent of the population at emergency and crisis levels.

Against that backdrop, she called on Member States to contribute generously to the humanitarian response plan, which is only 6 per cent funded, while warning that money alone is not enough. Humanitarian workers continue to be targeted by threats and violence, and the impartial delivery of aid is obstructed. Emphasizing that such acts are illegal and unjustifiable, she recalled that she recently raised those issues with Taliban leaders and her office has been working with the Afghan Government to ensure its legislative framework protects the space of non-governmental organizations carrying out humanitarian work. Meanwhile, Afghanistan seems to have weathered the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and vaccinations have begun thanks to donations from the Government of India and the support of the global COVAX facility.

All those developments are taking place against the backdrop of slowing progress in the peace talks in Doha, she continued, describing it as notable that both sides continue to show their commitment to remaining at the negotiating table. Progress is being made on key agenda items, but more must be done to demonstrate to Afghans that the talks are truly progressing in their best interest. Welcoming the appointment of Jean Arnault of France as the Secretary-General’s new Personal Envoy on Afghanistan and Regional Issues, she said Member States have also played a vital role in coming up with new initiatives to reinvigorate the peace process. Pointing to a proposed meeting in Turkey as another such opportunity, she stressed that such initiatives must be focused, coherent and, above all, they must reinforce rather than undermine the Doha negotiations.

She emphasized that decades of conflict have created real grievances on all sides, as well as a deep lack of trust among the parties. There are also genuine and profound differences between the Islamic Republic Government and the Taliban over their desired end State. Addressing those issues will continue to require patience and commitment on both sides, she said, adding that any lasting peace settlement must consider the views and concerns of all Afghans and not just those of an elite few. Today’s Afghanistan is not the one of 20 years ago. Its younger generation has grown up with women in positions of power, media playing a vital civic role and quality education within their reach. “These Afghans are now a majority,” she stressed, adding that they deserve to have their voices heard, both now and in the future.

Noting that by the time of her next briefing to the Council in June the proposed deadline for the withdrawal of international troops under the United States-Taliban agreement will have passed, she stated: “I hope that by then, we will be able to discuss real progress, brought about by continued negotiations in Doha, tangible outcomes from the meeting in Turkey, and, if not a ceasefire, at least a substantial de-escalation in violence,” she said. While those developments could mark a real turning point, the road ahead is still not clear and “we are moving into a period of great uncertainty”. Continued vigilance and support by all actors are needed, she stressed.

Shaharzad Akbar, Chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, also briefed the Council, stressing that the war in Afghanistan remains one of the world’s deadliest conflicts for civilians. Their ongoing targeting, which may constitute a war crime, remains an almost daily occurrence. Meanwhile, the onslaught of attacks has further diminished the country’s civic space, leading to self-censorship for journalists, human rights defenders and religious scholars, and thus impacting the quality of public engagement and debate on issues critical to Afghanistan’s present and future. While re-energized regional and international engagement could renew hopes for peace, she cautioned that rushing that process could also tip the country back into full-scale war.

Meanwhile, she said, the country’s peace talks remain dominated by a group of elite men, some of whom have themselves been responsible for perpetuating violence. Any settlement that excludes the wider public will almost certainly be short-lived and is unlikely to lead to lasting peace. “Building peace takes more than a deal among elites,” she said, calling for a more inclusive national endeavour that ensures the participation of women, minorities, youth, civil society and the vibrant Afghan media, as well as victims. A minimum of 30 per cent of the participants in the peace talks should be women, and more steps are needed to achieve full gender balance in the future.

“At the recent conference in Moscow, I, like many Afghan women, was shocked and angered to see only one Afghan woman, Dr. Habiba Sarabi, in a room full of men discussing the future of my country,” she said. Afghan women have fought for their human rights for many decades, and have made considerable progress in education, employment and political participation. They are experts everywhere, from the fields of politics to public administration, security, business, science and information technology. Excluding or marginalizing them from the main discussions about the future of Afghanistan is not only unjust and unacceptable, but unwise and unhelpful to a lasting peace.

The peace talks should also address human rights and victims’ rights, she said, calling for a robust reparations programme, a national community-based reconciliation initiative, truth-seeking process, memorialization and victim recognition. Amnesty for certain crimes is permissible at the end of conflicts, but it cannot be applied to war crimes, crimes against humanity or grave human rights violations, as impunity for such egregious actions is unlawful and undermines sustainable peace.

Emphasizing that Afghans are exhausted by war and yearn for peace, she underlined the urgent need to bring the population relief from relentless violence. The peace process must reflect the concerns and aspirations of all people, with citizens’ fundamental rights recognized and upheld — not violated or “bargained off”. Peace in Afghanistan will contribute to peace in the region and the world, she stressed, welcoming the heightened role of the United Nations and the Security Council in that process.

As Council members took the floor, many pledged their unwavering support for the people of Afghanistan as they continue on their long and difficult quest for peace. Some emphasized the need to ensure that the ongoing talks in Doha and elsewhere remain both Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, while stressing that no solution to the country’s problems can be imposed from the outside. Several delegates also pointed to the potential imminent withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan as a move that must be very carefully considered, as it may have serious security implications or risk reversing hard-won gains already achieved.

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