Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution 2615 (2021), Enabling Provision of Humanitarian Aid to Afghanistan as Country Faces Economic Crisis
United States Representative, Introducing Text, Says It Exempts Activities to Meet Basic Needs from Taliban-Related Sanctions
The Security Council today adopted a resolution providing for a humanitarian exemption to the sanctions regime established by resolution 1988 (2011), enabling the provision of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan as the country verges on economic collapse.
Unanimously adopting resolution 2615 (2021), under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, the 15-member Council decided that humanitarian assistance along with other activities that support basic human needs in Afghanistan are not a violation of a provision in resolution 2255 (2015) concerning individuals and entities associated with the Taliban in constituting a threat to the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan.
Additionally, the Council decided that the processing and payment of funds, other financial assets or economic resources, and the provision of goods and services necessary to ensure the timely delivery of such assistance or to support such activities are permitted. It also strongly encouraged providers relying on the resolution to use reasonable efforts to minimize the accrual of any benefits — whether as a result of direct provision or diversion — to entities or individuals designated on the sanctions list established by resolution 1988 (2011).
By other terms, the Council decided to review implementation of the resolution after one year and requested the Emergency Relief Coordinator to brief its members every six months, based on the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.
In addition, the Council requested providers to assist the Emergency Relief Coordinator in preparing such briefings by providing relevant information within 60 days of any provision of assistance or activities. It called on all parties — in all circumstances — to respect the human rights of all individuals and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, and demanded that they allow full, safe and unhindered access for personnel of United Nations humanitarian agencies and other humanitarian actors, regardless of gender.
Introducing the text, Jeffrey DeLaurentis (United States) stressed that 24 million Afghans face food insecurity as winter begins, and while this is not a new situation, suffering is more acute this year. He welcomed dialogue between Member States, the United Nations, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and a wide range of aid organizations on the challenges associated with delivering assistance since 15 August and expressed hope that it continues. Given that some organizations are still hesitant to provide humanitarian aid due to the risks associated with providing direct or indirect assistance to listed entities in certain ministries, today’s resolution decides to exempt humanitarian assistance and asset freezing against listed members of the Taliban solely for the provision of such assistance, in addition to activities that support basic humanitarian needs. Stressing that this humanitarian exception “is not a blank check for any organization to disregard its international obligations”, he expressed hope that Council members will support the resolution and, through it, the people of Afghanistan.
Following the adoption, Mr. DeLaurentis took the floor again to stress that the resolution will enable the international community to move forward with a broad range of humanitarian assistance. It will also enable other activities designed to meet the basic needs of the Afghan people — such as those that primarily benefit poor and at-risk populations — including in the areas of shelter, food security, education, energy, water, sanitation, health, nutrition and hygiene. Importantly, he said it includes reporting requirements for assistance providers, which are essential for the Council to receive regular updates on the resolution’s implementation. These requirements are critical to enable sufficient oversight, ensuring that assistance is reaching intended beneficiaries. He called on those undertaking these activities to take “all reasonable steps” to ensure assistance is not diverted, misused or misappropriated. Today’s resolution highlights how United Nations sanctions can be flexible tools, he added, allowing support for the Afghan people while holding the Taliban accountable to their commitments.
Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland) said she voted in favour of the much needed and unequivocal exemption to facilitate access to humanitarian assistance into Afghanistan. The measure responds to the dire need of Afghans, which has been repeatedly raised before the Council, including by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons. Winter has arrived, and millions are facing hunger, with women-led households being worst impacted. While the Taliban bear the primary responsibility for the crisis, the international community had to take action to address the world’s worst humanitarian emergency. Therefore, the Council finally delivered on its obligation to facilitate an urgent response. The next step is to ensure the aid — which is required at an unprecedented level — is delivered to every person in need, she said, calling on all actors to allow full, safe, unhindered access to all humanitarian workers, regardless of gender. Stressing that the text must be stronger in addressing the situation of women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by the economic crisis, she clarified that the one-year timeline for review is not intended as a “year of license” or a year during which the Taliban will not be held to account. Ireland will remain vigilant towards their actions, and not their words, she assured.
Zhang Jun (China) said that while the resolution faced multiple challenges, in its final form, it will do what is intended: help Afghanistan mitigate the crisis and stabilize its economy as soon as possible. Noting that sanctions have led to aid agencies not being sure if they can continue to provide assistance, he underlined the importance for aid to not have strings attached or be politicized. Further, sanctions should only target individuals and entities, not the Afghan people at large. China will look favourably upon all Council measures which seek to clarify doubts and enable aid to be delivered in a timely, unfettered manner. He noted that the original draft deviated from the right track, as it added to obstacles by insisting on an onerous humanitarian reporting mechanism, among other arbitrary restrictions and conditions, which hamper economic cooperation with Afghanistan. The most “legally, logically and logistically” problematic of these irrelevant provisions was the stipulation about the time limit, he said, adding that he was pleased that the final draft takes China’s views into account and clarifies key issues.
He expressed hope that the adopted text will finally clear all confusion related to humanitarian assistance, pointing out, however, that it merely “fixed a blocked faucet”. Next year, it is estimated that humanitarian needs will hit a historic high of $4.5 billion, which is uncertain to materialize, as countries that caused the dilemma are more obliged to assume primary responsibility. Further, pointing to the liquidity crisis and an economy on the brink of collapse, he called for the unfreezing of overseas assets, adding that the funds must be returned to their real owners, and should not be used as a bargaining chip. The international community should actively guide the Taliban to consolidate interim structures, enabling them to maintain security and stability, and to promote reconstruction and recovery. Moreover, the Council should examine its existing sanctions regime.
T.S. Tirumurti (India) recalled that over half the population is facing acute food insecurity, stressing that urgent humanitarian assistance is required to meet the people’s basic food needs, as winter has begun. Assistance must be rapidly scaled up and unhindered access provided to the United Nations and other agencies. Further, humanitarian assistance must be based on the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence; disbursed to all regardless of ethnicity, religion or political belief; and reach the most vulnerable first, including women, children and minorities. Emphasizing that the Council should exercise oversight and guard against any misuse or diversion of funds, he welcomed the text’s provision calling for a review of the humanitarian carveout after one year. For its part, India has contributed significantly to Afghanistan’s development, including through the provision of vaccines, medicine and food grains. He added that, while the international community caters to the population’s immediate needs, it must be guided by the requirements set out in resolution 2593 (2021).
Sheraz Gasri (France) stressed that the Council has a responsibility to ensure that humanitarian assistance is delivered to all those in need without the Taliban benefiting from such aid. Underscoring that the Taliban must ensure the safe provision of humanitarian assistance and uphold their obligations, she said the Council’s goal is to be lucid in light of decades of armed conflict and the Taliban’s collusion with Al-Qaida. The Taliban must provide evidence of their readiness to meet the Council’s expectations and not be allowed to profit from the suffering of the Afghan people. She described the removal of humanitarian exemptions as a mistake. Expressing the belief that the United States did not coordinate with other members and presented changes in the resolution as cosmetic, she urged the Council to re-examine today’s decision based on how future events unfold. Adding that the humanitarian exemption excludes development activities — only covering humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs — she underscored that the Taliban should not benefit from direct monetary support.
Anna Evstigneeva (Russian Federation) said agreeing on the draft was not an easy process, but the text fulfils her country’s intention: for it to be brief, its contents pithy, and for it to successfully enable the flow of humanitarian assistance through all channels, and to do so quickly, without preconditions or fears of restriction. She welcomed the new authorities’ demonstrated readiness to cooperate to provide aid to all those in need, particularly women and children, who are on the brink. However, she pointed out that Afghanistan cannot overcome the crisis without the unfreezing of its overseas assets, as the country has become dependent on international financial assistance over the past two decades. The lack of liquidity in Afghanistan has paralyzed its economy. She called on the United States and Western donors to return Afghanistan’s funds, adding that not doing so risks adding to the country’s destabilization and could lead to an increase in drug production. However, those on the resolution 1267 (1999) Sanctions List concerning Al-Qaida and the Taliban and associated individuals and entities shall not be allowed access to funds.
Andre Lipand (Estonia) said the Council was obliged to respond to the grave and urgent needs of the Afghan people, and further, has emphasized that the Taliban respect international humanitarian law and constitutional protections for the rights of all persons, particularly women, girls and minorities. The exemption would not benefit those under sanctions; it will only reach the Afghan people.
Barbara Woodward (United Kingdom), stressing that Afghanistan is facing the world’s largest food-security crisis, said her country has contributed £286 million in aid and welcomed global efforts to finance the United Nations flash appeal. Underlining the shared responsibility to establish the means to deliver aid efficiently and effectively where it is most needed, she emphasized that “this resolution will help save lives” by ensuring that the sanctions regime imposed by resolution 1988 (2011) poses no obstacle to humanitarian assistance or to other activities that support basic human needs. The Council must, however, continue to strike a balance between providing life-saving aid and preventing the accrual of any benefits to any individual or entity designated on the 1988 sanctions list. She welcomed the Taliban’s assurances to provide humanitarian access and to refrain from taxing aid, which are vital to ensuring that as many Afghans as possible can benefit from the assistance.
The meeting began at 9:07 a.m. and ended at 9:44 a.m.