The situation in Afghanistan- Security Council, 8984th Meeting

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02-Mar-2022 02:50:10
To avert ‘irreversible’ damage in Afghanistan, international community must engage with country’s de facto authorities, mission head tells Security Council.

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Six months after the fall of the Afghan Government, the international community must begin engaging more substantively with the de facto Taliban authorities, the senior United Nations official in Kabul told the Security Council today, citing economic challenges that have left the country on the brink of “irreversible” ruin.

Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), briefed the 15‑member Council just weeks before it is slated to renew the Mission’s mandate. She recalled that, when UNAMA’s mandate was rolled over for six months in September 2021, it was still too early for the international community to react to the Taliban’s seizure of power. It is now clear, however, that it will be impossible to truly assist Afghanistan’s people without working with the de facto authorities.

“Six months of indecision, marked by continued sanctions — albeit with some relief — and unstructured political engagement, are eroding vital social and economic coping systems and pushing the population into greater uncertainty,” she said. Thanks to robust donor support, humanitarian partners were able to help Afghanistan avert “our worst fear of famine and widespread starvation” over the recent winter months. However, providing short-term relief is not the same as giving hope to Afghan people of building a strong foundation for self-reliance.

Describing Afghanistan’s pressing economic challenges, she warned of a tipping point that will see more businesses close, more people unemployed and more falling into poverty. Meanwhile, a gulf of distrust exists between the Taliban and the global community, and the group feels misunderstood and unrecognized. While UNAMA will continue to vocally raise concerns about issues it sees on the ground — including restrictions on fundamental rights, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention — it can do more by working alongside the de facto authorities. “You are about to approach a critical moment in your relationship with Afghanistan,” she told the Council, noting that it has the chance to build a more solid and relevant Mission and avert the country’s further collapse.

Also briefing the Council was civil society leader Mariam Safi, who stressed that Afghanistan — and the credibility of the United Nations — is “hanging by a thread”. Peacebuilding in Afghanistan has been intrusive, externally driven, top‑down and technocratic for two decades, as powerful countries exploited the process for their own ends. Noting the rapid deterioration of women’s rights since the Taliban seized power, she said UNAMA must have a robust mandate to monitor and report on human rights and support the implementation of Afghanistan’s international obligations. It must also have an explicit mandate to support the full, safe, equal and meaningful participation of women across all processes, she stressed, noting that the de facto Taliban leaders have yet to articulate their vision for a political path forward and maintain close ties with terrorist fighters.

As Council members took the floor, many voiced their expectations for the upcoming renewal of UNAMA’s mandate, which ranged from robust new human rights monitoring tasks to narrower, more concrete objectives. Many speakers agreed that the time has come for the Mission, and even the broader international community, to cautiously expand their engagement with the de facto Taliban authorities, for the good of the country’s people. Also raised by several speakers was a recent decision by the United States Government to not return half of its $7 billion in frozen Afghan assets, and to instead make them available to victims of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks in New York.

The representative of France, noting UNAMA’s essential role in Afghanistan, voiced her hope that the Mission will maintain a robust presence. Outlining the global community’s expectations for the Taliban’s conduct — including full respect for women’s rights and the protection of children — she emphasized that “none of these are options”. However, she agreed that UNAMA must work with the Taliban in order to be effective and preserve its role as a humanitarian coordinator. “The Taliban need to prove that they have changed, and that they are ready to join the international community,” she stressed.

Ghana’s representative emphasized that, at all times, the interest and safety of the Afghan people must be pre-eminent and take centre stage in the actions of the United Nations. The Council in particular will have to shoulder its responsibility by ensuring that a fit-for-purpose and robust UNAMA mandate is unanimously and rapidly agreed, to effectively backstop reconstruction and recovery efforts. He joined other speakers in advocating for a human rights framework mandate that ensures the protection of civilians, minorities and vulnerable persons, and that safeguards the rights of women, girls and children.

The representative of China, echoing the Special Representative in emphasizing that humanitarian aid alone is not enough to prevent further collapse in Afghanistan, said the international community must inject liquidity into the country to help restore domestic markets. Any economic blockade and unilateral sanctions must end immediately, he stressed, denouncing the recent decision by the United States to divert Afghanistan’s frozen assets.

The representative of the Russian Federation cited efforts being undertaken by the new Taliban authorities to address the challenges facing the country. Today, women can be involved in business in line with Afghan and Islamic values, and educational institutions have reopened their doors to girls. Stressing that resolving old issues and tackling new challenges will be impossible if the country collapses economically, she recalled that the arrival of United States forces in Afghanistan 20 years ago only deepened the country’s status as a hotbed of terrorism and drug trafficking, and expressed regret that, two decades on, some countries still refuse to lift their sanctions. Turning to the upcoming renewal of UNAMA’s mandate, she rejected the proposal to strengthen its human rights component, instead calling for a more concrete, implementable mandate.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s representative said his country’s new authorities have been unable to uphold their various commitments. Citing credible reports of human rights violations committed by the Taliban — including house searches and violence committed against many members of society — he said that has prompted growing displacement across the country and over its borders. Against that backdrop, he called for the formation of a legitimate, inclusive and responsible Afghan Government and for the convening of an international conference to launch negotiations and intra-Afghan talks. “Please engage with Afghan stakeholders who have credibility, legitimacy and a good reputation,” and actually represent the interests of the country’s people, he told the Council.

Also speaking today were representatives of Norway, India, Brazil, United Kingdom, United States, Albania, Kenya, Ireland, Mexico, Gabon, United Arab Emirates, Iran and Pakistan.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:25 p.m.

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