Women Literally Being Erased from Public Life in Afghanistan, Speaker Tells Security Council, Sounding Alarm over Country’s Dire Situation
Delegate Warns Isolation Will Only Push Taliban into More Extreme Positions
Spotlighting the Taliban’s continued suppression of media and civil society, the senior United Nations official in Afghanistan told the Security Council today that all Afghans must be represented and be able to participate in the country’s decision-making processes, underscoring that ongoing dialogue with the de facto authorities is needed to secure a better future for Afghans.
Roza Isakovna Otunbayeva, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said what struck her most during her visit to many parts of the country was the misery of so many Afghans who live in great poverty and their uncertainty about the future. Detailing the de facto authorities’ suppression of media and civil society, she said the Taliban reject the need for any sort of intra-Afghan dialogue and claim that their Government is sufficiently representative.
“The only way forward for Afghanistan is through a more pluralistic polity, where all Afghans, especially women and minorities, see themselves represented and have a real voice in decision-making,” she said. Noting a slew of decrees that are especially harmful to women, she reported that women have been banned as of 9 November from visiting most public parks, bath houses and gymnasiums. The prevention of secondary education is extremely unpopular among Afghans and even within the Taliban leadership and has been criticized by the entire Islamic world. However, it remains in force causing damage today that will be felt long into the future, she warned.
“We do not see eye to eye with the Taliban on a number of issues, but the focus is, and should be, on maintaining a dialogue in the hope of a better future for Afghanistan, where everyone — women, men, girls and boys — can live a life with dignity and equality.” Affirming UNAMA’s commitment to that end, she warned that any positive economic developments might not be sustainable if the real concerns of Afghans, including the ban on girls’ education, lack of health facilities, mental health problems, poverty and economic insecurity, and discrimination against ethnic minorities, are not addressed.
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said 97 per cent of Afghans live in poverty, two thirds of the population need humanitarian assistance and 20 million people face acute hunger. Half the population urgently needs access to clean water and sanitation, 1.1 million teenage girls are still banned from school and nearly 7 million Afghan nationals remain in neighbouring countries. The United Nations cash facility has brought in at least $1.8 billion in 2022 and the humanitarian exception adopted by resolution 2615 (2021) has played a critical facilitating role.
Ruchira Kamboj (India), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011), noting that 60 United Nations-sanctioned individuals occupy cabinet and senior positions in the Taliban Administration, said relations between the Taliban and Al-Qaida remain close. The Committee’s sanctions measures strive for a peaceful Afghanistan by deterring support to terrorist entities, she asserted, welcoming the decision of the Council to extend the mandate of the Committee and its Monitoring Team to oversee the implementation of sanctions measures and to support the peace and reconciliation process in the country.
Mahbouba Seraj, Afghan women human rights defender and Executive Director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Center, said women are literally being erased from public life, down to the beheading of female mannequins in shop windows. It has been over 700 days, and Afghan girls are yet to be permitted to return to school. Women must cover their faces when they go out in public, and they cannot go out without a male guardian. Moreover, women who used to be the sole breadwinners in their families cannot go to their offices or workplaces anymore. Sounding alarm over the dire economic and humanitarian situation in the country, she requested the Council to continue to provide life-saving aid to the people of Afghanistan.
In the ensuing debate, Council members united in their hopes for a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan but continued to diverge on what should be the international community’s level of engagement with the Taliban, citing its failure to deliver on its commitments. Speakers expressed grave concern about the increasing restrictions on the rights of women and girls, the threat of terrorism and the dire humanitarian situation in the country.
Anniken Huitfeldt, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, said her country has been sponsor of the Afghanistan file in the Council for the past two years and has been focused on strengthening international support for the Afghan people. Moreover, it has been at the forefront in arguing for continued contact with the Taliban, underlining that it is necessary to talk to those who are in power, but with eyes open and avoiding giving legitimacy to the Taliban. As instability in Afghanistan is a threat to international peace and security, the Council must remain united in support of the Afghan people.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates, in a similar vein, said it is tempting for the international community to shut down engagement and isolate those in power given the latest developments and lack of response from the de facto authorities. However, isolation will only entrench positions and push the Taliban into more extreme positions. The situation of women and girls in Afghanistan “is continuing on a downward trajectory” and requires a decisive response from the Council, she stressed.
Kenya’s representative pointed out that Afghanistan continues to be a haven for terrorist groups, including Al-Qaida, whose affiliates such as Al-Shabaab have subjected millions of civilians in the Horn of Africa to untold fear and suffering. Thus, how the world responds to the situation in Afghanistan has direct ramifications on security in the Horn of Africa. If the Taliban expects to gain international recognition, it must secure sustained peace and security in Afghanistan and ensure that the country is not a haven for any terrorist groups.
The representative of the United States said his country remains steadfast in holding the Taliban accountable to their commitments to the Afghan people and the international community, including on counter-terrorism in alignment with the Doha Agreement. Moreover, the Taliban must allow safe passage and freedom of movement, make efforts to build an inclusive system that gives the people a voice in their political future and take responsibility for efforts aimed at supporting economic stability. The United States has provided more than $1.1 billion in humanitarian assistance since August 2021 and will continue to address the needs of vulnerable Afghans in the country and those who have fled to neighbouring countries.
The representative of the Russian Federation, countering that perspective, said Western colleagues, led by the United States, are passing the buck in blaming the Taliban for the current situation in Afghanistan. Efforts by the United States and other major donors to use Afghan funds as grounds for resolving issues is immoral, he said, calling for the immediate return of stolen funds to the Afghan people. To build lasting peace in the country, it remains imperative to continue pragmatic dialogue with the new authorities and patiently work with Afghans so they can create a State that is politically and ethnically inclusive, free of terrorism and narcotics, economically stable and developed, and that respects and protects the rights of all its citizens.
Representatives of neighbouring countries, including Iran, Kazakhstan and Pakistan then took the floor, with Uzbekistan’s representative proposing a high-level international negotiating group on settlement in Afghanistan. The group would provide a unique platform for dialogue, which conveys demands of the international community and serious concerns regarding the violation of international norms, with a view to helping the Taliban gradually normalize its relations with the world, he said.
Afghanistan’s representative said there is no hope for positive change and progress in the overall social, economic, security and political situation in his country due to the Taliban who have returned to the draconian, cruel and inhumane practices of their past rule. Respecting human rights and embracing the political, social and civil rights of all Afghans, including participation of women and girls in all facets of society, should be a non-negotiable prerequisite for any engagement. “It is time that the international community, regional countries, international donors and Afghans inside and abroad come together to resume political settlement talks,” he said, calling on the Council to unite and reach consensus to restore peace and stability in his country.
Also speaking today were representatives of Gabon, China, Brazil, Albania, Ireland, Mexico, United Kingdom, Ghana, France and India.
The representatives of the United States, United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates took the floor a second time.
The meeting began at 10:37 a.m. and ended at 1:51 p.m.
ROZA ISAKOVNA OTUNBAYEVA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said she has visited as many parts of the country as possible in her first three months in office, noting that what struck her most was the misery of so many Afghans who live in great poverty and uncertainty about the future who told her that they are simply surviving. Beyond pressing immediate humanitarian needs, Afghanistan is a country still traumatized by long decades of war, she said, adding that currently the Taliban remain essentially in control, but unable to satisfactorily address terrorist groups operating inside the country.
Voicing great concern about the recent activity of Islamic State-Khorasan Province in particular, and the attacks on the embassies of the Russian Federation and Pakistan, as well as against a hotel hosting many Chinese nationals, she said that civilian casualties from those attacks remain significant. Nonetheless, the general sense of security and freedom of movement for the people of Afghanistan remains. On the other hand, UNAMA is greatly concerned about recent continued exchanges of fire between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and welcomes all efforts at de-escalation. There is no significant visible political opposition to the Taliban inside Afghanistan, she pointed out, noting that while the country’s exiled politicians are vocal critics, they are fragmented, and their statements have decreasing resonance for the population. The Taliban reject the need for any sort of intra-Afghan dialogue and claim that their Government is sufficiently representative. UNAMA continues to push at all levels for wider consultation and representation and continues to interact with many non-Taliban civil society and political figures in Afghanistan.
“The only way forward for Afghanistan is through a more pluralistic polity, where all Afghans, especially women and minorities, see themselves represented and have a real voice in decision-making,” she said. Furthermore, media and civil society, already suffering from serious financial constraints, continue to be stifled through intimidation by de facto security institutions and at times through repressive actions. The suppression of opposing voices is all the more unfortunate given the increasing harshness of the Taliban’s social policies. Noting a slew of decrees that are especially harmful to women, she reported that women have been banned as of 9 November from visiting most public parks, bath houses and gymnasiums. Their social space is now being restricted as much as their political space. The prevention of secondary education will mean that in two years there will be no girls entering university. This decision is extremely unpopular among Afghans and even within the Taliban leadership. It has been criticized by the entire Islamic world and has undermined the Taliban’s relationship with the international community. However, it remains in force causing damage today that will be felt long into the future.
She went on to say that, on 13 November, the Taliban conveyed that Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada had ordered that judges implement capital and corporal punishments, known as hudūd and qisās, if conditions are met according to Sharia law. UNAMA has documented that these punishments have taken place ever since the Taliban takeover. Since the announcement of the Taliban leader’s instruction, however, they have become increasingly public. International criticisms of these corporal punishments as violations of human rights have been rejected by the Taliban as being anti-Islamic. UNAMA has urged the Taliban to apply religious law in ways that avoid pain-inducing acts of corporal punishment, as many Islamic countries do. On 7 December, the first judicially sanctioned public execution, reportedly as implementation of qisās punishment, was carried out for a murder that took place in 2017. As she has stressed to the de facto authorities, she said the death penalty is incompatible with the core principles of international human rights law. The United Nations uniformly criticizes all countries that apply the death penalty and corporal punishment, she added.
Noting severe differences of positions on a range of issues between UNAMA and the de facto authorities, she said the Mission has an ongoing dialogue regarding human rights concerns, and specific violations of international human rights law. “We do not see eye to eye with the Taliban on a number of issues, but the focus is, and should be, on maintaining a dialogue in the hope of a better future for Afghanistan, where everyone — women, men, girls and boys — can live a life with dignity and equality,” she underscored.
Pointing to positive developments, she said overall levels of corruption are significantly down compared to the Republic, but there are worrying signs of an uptick in the past six months, especially petty corruption at the local level. For now, however, the significant reduction in State corruption helps explain that the de facto authorities have announced the collection of more revenues in the first 10 months of 2022 than the Republic collected in 2021 and 2020, despite an economic contraction of 20 per cent in 2021. With these revenues, and by reducing the costs of Government, the Taliban have managed to finance their operational budget and have indicated they have resources to begin some development projects. The Taliban have also managed to maintain macroeconomic stability, albeit at a much lower level of economic activity. After a steep deterioration of the currency one year ago, the afghani has remained generally stable. Exports have risen to a historic level of about $1.7 billion in 2022, compared to about $700 million under the Republic. The de facto authorities are implementing an economic strategy that focuses on self-reliance and are investing in sectors such as agriculture, irrigation, infrastructure, water management, mining and industries that provide a foundation for economic growth.
The Taliban have identified the private sector as a key driver for economic growth and they are somewhat responsive to the concerns of private sector actors, she continued, adding that UNAMA has been in regular contact with private‑sector actors and organizations, including women’s chambers of commerce. The main impediment to greater investment is the high cost of international financial transactions given the reluctance of international banks to do business with Afghanistan, as well as policy uncertainty. While the Taliban’s economic management has been more effective than expected, international donors continue to feed more than half of the population. The cash payments required to deliver humanitarian assistance indirectly inject liquidity into the economy, she said, pointing out that, without this assistance, the picture in Afghanistan could be far bleaker.
There is evidence that the Taliban are implementing their ban on cultivation of opium and other narcotics that was announced in April by destroying fields that were planted before and after the announcement of the ban, she said. The Mission will not be able to verify the actual implementation of this ban until early 2023, but the intention behind it is commendable, she added. Nonetheless, the ban will have a negative effect on the income of individual farmers as few alternative livelihood programmes were put in place.
These somewhat positive economic developments might not be sustainable if the real concerns of Afghans are not addressed, she pointed out, reporting that, between 11 October and 8 November, UNAMA carried out stakeholder consultations in 12 provinces which were selected to ensure a representation of all Afghan communities and sectors. The Mission engaged with 519 participants, including 189 women and 83 representatives of the de facto authorities. The concerns expressed by the population had to do with the ban on girls’ education, lack of health facilities, mental health problems of the population, poverty and economic insecurity, and discrimination against ethnic minorities, she said, adding that the Taliban have not addressed these issues, and in many cases their decisions have exacerbated them. Afghans are also frustrated with the international community’s approach, she said, noting their expressed desire for projects that are more long-term, involve cash-for-work rather than handouts, and are more participatory, consultative and development-oriented. Under current conditions, however, donors are increasingly unwilling to look beyond the provision of humanitarian assistance. “As long as girls remain excluded from school and the de facto authorities continue to disregard other stated concerns of the international community, we remain at something of an impasse,” she emphasized.
UNAMA is undertaking an internal review to assess what has and has not been effective in the implementation of its mandate, she said, adding that engagement with the de facto authorities must continue in some form. Afghans want continued engagement from the international community and believe that it is only through increased interaction with the de facto authorities that positive change can take place, she added. “UNAMA’s focus must remain on the Afghan people, providing them life-saving humanitarian assistance, giving voice to their demands for fundamental rights and freedoms and by our presence — holding out hope that Afghanistan will not be isolated from the international community.” The Mission is committed to those goals, as well as to trying to maintain space for positive engagement with the Taliban and looks as always to the Security Council for support and guidance, she said.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said it is impossible to come up with new ways to describe the deprivation and suffering facing people in Afghanistan: 97 per cent of Afghans live in poverty, two thirds of the population need humanitarian assistance and 20 million people face acute hunger. Half of the population urgently needs access to clean water and sanitation, 1.1 million teenage girls are still banned from school, nearly 7 million Afghan nationals remain in neighbouring countries, and more than 3.4 million conflict-induced internally displaced people are still to find solutions. Afghanistan also faces a looming third consecutive drought, with threats of more displacement, more disease and more death, while winter is already bringing plummeting temperatures.
He noted the humanitarian community in Afghanistan is fully mobilized, with a massive scale-up, aided by quick and generous donor response, reaching around 25 million people in all 34 governorates with at least some form of assistance. The United Nations cash facility has brought in at least $1.8 billion in 2022, enabling the injection of over $55 million into the economy each month, and the humanitarian exception adopted by resolution 2615 (2021) has played a critical facilitating role. He cited the critical importance of the humanitarian exception, clarifying that the provision of funds or assets to designated persons or entities is permitted when it is necessary for humanitarian and basic human needs programming, which helps save lives.
Since long before August 2021, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organization partners are required by law to pay taxes, administrative fees and public utilities — which could take the form of withholding tax on income, sales tax, property tax, fees for visas and work permits, vehicle registration duties, electricity and water bills, and customs payments for import of goods. Failure to make some of these payments can have severe consequences for non-governmental organization partners, including the freezing of bank accounts, the shutting of offices and even deregistration. He cited the authorization provided by the resolution, enabling the leasing of State-owned warehouses from local municipalities to maintain the food stocks needed to reach 22 million people over the course of 2022. Payments to the Customs and Revenue Department by United Nations-contracted commercial transporters, as well as payments of fees for processing exemption certificates to the Department, have facilitated the entry of 1.1 million metric tons of life-saving food assistance — alongside other payments to other ministries.
Commending the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for its recent Partnership Agreement with the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation in support of affected populations, he noted this agreement — if fully implemented — helps ensure that the de facto authorities do not interfere in the humanitarian activities of UNHCR or its partners. However, the humanitarian exception is by no means a carte blanche for his office to operate unchecked. To minimize risks, humanitarian partners have continued to implement and enhance robust risk management and due diligence measures, including a new system-wide approach to fraud detection. External audits are conducted to verify project expenditures including, but not limited to, cash distributions to beneficiaries, community shelter constructions, staff salaries and supplier and consultant payments. Earlier in 2022, he recalled that the United Nations in Afghanistan invited an expert to help strengthen the humanitarian community’s understanding and implementation of the humanitarian exception, and to identify concrete measures to manage risks and prevent the diversion of aid.
While maintaining constructive engagement with de facto authorities, he noted that his personnel face routine interference and restrictions. They have detained humanitarian staff, tried to influence or control humanitarian response, and constrained women’s freedom of movement and involvement in humanitarian action. The mahram requirement, in particular, is what hampers women’s participation in humanitarian action the most and persistently impacts their access to services, and effective humanitarian assistance relies on the meaningful participation of women. He also cited the second challenge of continued bank de-risking. The humanitarian exception has been a necessary but insufficient condition for banks to fully restart international transactions to and from Afghanistan, given the range of non-sanction-related factors that they consider when determining whether to facilitate a transaction. Citing the need for $4.6 billion to adequately address the country’s humanitarian needs, he stressed: “Saving lives cannot be the sole responsibility of the humanitarian community, and I say this as a life-long humanitarian”, as development partners also save lives.
RUCHIRA KAMBOJ (India), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011), noting that 60 United Nations-sanctioned individuals occupy cabinet and senior positions in the Taliban Administration, said relations between the Taliban and Al-Qaida remain close. On 1 August, the United States announced that at the end of July the leader of Al-Qaida was killed in a Kabul compound. However, this has not yet been confirmed by the Taliban or Al-Qaida. She voiced concern over erosion of human rights, including the rights of women and girls, as well as lack of progress on inclusive governance after the Taliban takeover. Regarding narcotic production in Afghanistan, opium poppy cultivation, accompanied by an ongoing boom in methamphetamine production and trafficking, remains Afghanistan’s largest illicit economic activity. Despite a decree issued by the Taliban in April, banning the cultivation, use and trafficking of narcotics, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported a 32 per cent increase in opium cultivation in 2021.
The Monitoring Team has also reported that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-KP) remains a primary threat in Afghanistan and in the region, she stressed, pointing to its regular attacks against neighbouring States as well as ethnic and religious minorities in the country. Another worrying fact is the attacks of ISIL-KP against diplomatic embassies and their personnel. Moreover, ISIL-KP maintains the potential to attract disillusioned Taliban and foreign fighters into its ranks, thereby enhancing its ability to regain territorial hold in the country, as well as the potential to establish a so-called Islamic caliphate in the region. Highlighting the challenge posed to the Taliban regime by the presence of the National Resistance Front and other anti-Taliban groups, she cautioned that potential for further outbreaks of fighting looms large in the absence of sustained dialogue. The Committee’s sanctions measures strive for a peaceful Afghanistan by deterring support to terrorist entities, she asserted, welcoming the decision of the Council to extend the mandate of the Committee and its Monitoring Team to oversee the implementation of sanctions measures and to support the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
MAHBOUBA SERAJ, Afghan women human rights defender and Executive Director of Afghan Women Skills Development Center, reiterating that hundreds of thousands of Afghans have been displaced to countries around the world, said women are literally being erased from public life, down to the beheading of female mannequins in shop windows. The world was shocked by images of girls being locked out of their schools and forced to return home, she recalled, adding that it has been over 700 days, and Afghan girls are yet to be permitted to return to school. “This makes Afghanistan the only country in the world where girls are being banned from going to school,” she stressed. The Taliban brought in the mandate that women must cover their faces when they go out in public, and they cannot go out without a male guardian. Women who used to be the sole breadwinners in their families cannot go to their offices or workplaces anymore, she said, pointing to three dozen edicts by the Taliban which are targeted at the Afghan women. “This is not just about the status of women, but the literal erasure of women from public life,” she declared, citing a complete reversal of empowerment enjoyed by Afghan women over the last 20 years.
Raising other concerns, including discriminatory policies, she said minorities have been banished from Afghanistan’s public life while places of worship of ethnic and religious minorities have been deliberately targeted by terrorist groups. Moreover, international terrorist groups have been wreaking havoc with impunity, she cautioned, noting that ISIL-KP, Al-Qaida and Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent have got emboldened. The world stayed silent when Al-Qaida established its base in Afghanistan and when the terrorist groups expanded their tentacles within the region, she said, opposing the naïve belief that the terrorist entities that are having a free rein in Afghanistan will spread within the region and nothing more. “History teaches us otherwise,” she asserted, recalling the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Sounding alarm over the dire economic and humanitarian situation in the country, she said mere words cannot express what Afghans must go through every day, and mere statistics will not give the world a full picture. More than 20 million people face acute hunger, the highest in the world; malnutrition will affect more than 3 million children; and there has been a six-fold increase in debt across Afghan households because of the economic collapse, job losses and inflation. The ordinary lives of the people of Afghanistan are full of misery and destitution, she said, highlighting enormous humanitarian requirements. However, development projects are stalled as no one wants to invest in a country that is unstable, and banks do not wish to transact business with Afghanistan. Moreover, the Taliban’s policies have meant more than half the working age population — women — have been rendered jobless and confined to their homes. Against this backdrop, she requested the Council to continue to provide life-saving aid to the people of Afghanistan. Aid must reach all Afghans, including women, minorities and other vulnerable groups, she said.
ANNIKEN HUITFELDT, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, observed that, through a very challenging year for international diplomacy, the Council has come together on Afghanistan, expressing concern over the increasing erosion of respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Afghan people. Recalling her country’s stance that the Taliban would be judged by their actions, not by their words, she noted that “so far, we have been deeply disappointed”. While security for many Afghans has improved, without a representative and responsible Government and without development, there can be no stability. Further, on many levels, women have basically been erased from public life. “This is a human rights crisis. This is also bad economics. Sustainable development in Afghanistan is impossible if you exclude half the population,” she stressed. Norway has been at the forefront in arguing for continued contact with the Taliban, underlining that that it is necessary to talk to those who are in power, but with eyes open and avoiding giving legitimacy to the Taliban.
At the beginning of 2022, her Government invited the Taliban to Norway, she said, noting that many were surprised and disappointed about this decision. However, the stakes in Afghanistan are too high to look the other way, adding that no one will benefit if the country descends into civil war or becomes a place where terrorist groups thrive. Instability in Afghanistan is a threat to international peace and security. Therefore, it is essential that the Council remains united in support of the Afghan people. “For the past two years, Norway has been penholder on the Afghanistan file in the Council,” she noted, adding that her delegation’s main focus has been on strengthening international support for the Afghan people. In March the UNAMA mandate was renewed, she recalled, expressing gratitude to the representatives of Afghan civil society who worked to achieve this success. The Council must also continue to listen to Afghan women and men who are directly conveying the experiences and interests of the Afghan people. The Taliban are imposing restrictions on human rights in violation of Afghanistan’s international obligations. The hopes many Afghans had for greater stability and security are fading. The picture is bleak. But, the Afghan people are not giving up hope. This Council must be consistent, she said, stressing: “It owes it to them not to give up either.”
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) said that the de facto authorities must allow girls to attend school, as it is unacceptable for generations of young Afghan boys to grow up thinking that it is normal to marginalize women. The Taliban must understand that the marginalization of women and girls deprives the country of real economic players. Condemning the attack on a Kabul hotel on 12 December, he called on de facto authorities to step up efforts in the fight against terrorism. Illicit drug trafficking and the presence of foreign forces on Afghan territory, as well tensions at the borders, increase the volatility of the situation. While civilians continue to suffer the deadly consequences of improvised explosive devices, he commended UNAMA in combating the illicit trade and accumulation of small arms and light weapons, as well as explosive materials. In addition, most of the factors that have adversely affected the economy since August 2021 persist: the sharp fall in development assistance, along with difficulties linked to operations international financial institutions and their impact on the banking sector. The freezing of Afghan assets has contributed to a major financial crisis, he said, urging donors to continue efforts towards rehabilitating the Afghan economy. Citing the dire humanitarian situation, lack of drug supplies and scarcity of salaries for health personnel, he further condemned the multiple obstacles to aid access and the harassment of humanitarian personnel.
ZHANG JUN (China) called on the international community to help Afghanistan effectively fight terrorism and organized crime and to prevent that country from once again being a hub for terrorist organizations. A large quantity of weapons was left by foreign troops after their withdrawal. Thus, a high level of vigilance must be exercised to prevent the proliferation of these weapons. He expressed hope that UNAMA will step up communication and cooperation with Afghanistan to support national capacity-building in this regard. He also noted that 23.8 million Afghans will need humanitarian assistance in 2023, emphasizing that resolution 2615 (2021) makes clear that such assistance is not a violation of Council sanctions. However, this is not a panacea, as it cannot and does not fundamentally address challenges in providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. A substantial reduction of donor aid — coupled with a shortage of humanitarian resources — is an important factor in the country’s current predicament, as are unilateral sanctions. Measures should be taken to support Afghanistan’s development, and the rights and interests of women and girls in employment and education should be guaranteed. Only through engaging with Afghanistan’s interim administration in a practical manner can the international community promote the country’s peaceful development, he added.
AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates) said that, as illustrated by the latest wave of restrictions on access to public spaces — including public parks — the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan “is continuing on a downward trajectory”, requiring a decisive response from the Council. In the face of the latest developments and lack of response from the de facto authorities to the Council’s calls, it is tempting for the international community to shut down engagement and isolate those in power. However, there is no alternative to dialogue and pragmatic engagement with such authorities, as isolation will only entrench positions and push the Taliban into more extreme positions. Emphasizing the need to focus on areas where actionable outcomes are possible, she said the International Conference on Afghan Women’s Education, recently held in Bali, Indonesia, is one example of seeking ways for international stakeholders to make real change. Turning to the renewal of UNAMA’s mandate, she expressed hope that the Council can use this as an opportunity to review strengths and weaknesses of the mandate, assess what the Mission needs and avoid the creation of false dichotomies between priorities related to the Mission’s work.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) said that 15 months after the Taliban takeover, the country’s economic activity contracted by 30 per cent, the banking system collapsed and inflation and unemployment surged. The population has plunged deeper into poverty, becoming more and more dependent on humanitarian assistance, which is experiencing a lack of funding and restrictions on field agents. As well, terrorist attacks and drug trafficking, following a sharp rise in opium prices, have been impacting the country. Further isolating the de facto authority will not yield positive results, he stressed, urging that all channels stay open and those leaders be engaged constructively, even in the absence of formal recognition. He called for a reassessment of the travel bans, noting that while they may be necessary, they should not impair the ability of Afghanistan’s de facto leaders to engage with regional counterparts and the broader international community. Regarding the banking system, he also called for a reassessment of assets held abroad, as measures adopted so far have been insufficient. To that end, he urged that innovative ways be explored that also satisfy the interest of the Afghan people. “We draw inspiration from the extraordinary resilience of the Afghan people through these trying times and hope to be able to build upon our response in the year ahead,” he added.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) said UNAMA is well-positioned to convene key stakeholders at the local and national level — including women and civil society groups — in ways that promote meaningful dialogue on a range of important issues. The United States has provided more than $1.1 billion in humanitarian assistance since August 2021 and will continue to address the needs of vulnerable Afghans in the country and those who have fled to neighbouring countries. Its humanitarian aid has been and will remain unconditional, impartial and consistent with humanitarian principles, he added. The United States remains steadfast in holding the Taliban accountable to their commitments to the Afghan people and the international community, he said, underlining expectations the Taliban will follow through with commitments on counterterrorism in alignment with the Doha Agreement. He also stressed that the Taliban must allow safe passage and freedom of movement, make efforts to build an inclusive system that gives the people a voice in their political future and take responsibility for efforts aimed at supporting economic stability. The legitimacy and support sought by the Taliban from the international community begins with the legitimacy they earn from the Afghan people through their actions, he emphasized.
MICHAEL KAPKIAI KIBOINO (Kenya) pointed out that Afghanistan continues to be a haven for terrorist groups, including Al-Qaida, whose affiliates such as Al-Shabaab have subjected millions of civilians in the Horn of Africa to untold fear and suffering. Thus, how the world responds to the situation in Afghanistan has direct ramifications on security in the Horn of Africa. If the Taliban expects to gain international recognition, it must secure sustained peace and security in Afghanistan and ensure that the country is not a haven for any terrorist groups. Despite concerted efforts, at least 28 million Afghans will require humanitarian assistance at a time when the 2022 humanitarian response plan is just over 50 per cent funded and the 2023 requirement of $4.62 billion remains largely unmet. Increasing global humanitarian needs call for pragmatic approaches to humanitarian action. He also called for further support for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Area-Based Approach for Development Emergency Initiatives that provides community-level solutions to complement urgent humanitarian interventions, and UNODC Alternate Development Programme, which works with more than 10,000 farmers on strengthening food security. He also urged the authorities to stop using the mahram regulation as a systematic way to discriminate against girls and women. This practice is gaining root in other conflict situations like Yemen and could spread even further to Africa and beyond if not quickly stemmed. To that end, he called for the Taliban to allow girls their right to get an education and allow women into the economy by not denying them opportunities to work.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) stressed that the Taliban have so far failed to uphold any promises made, misled the international community and betrayed the people of Afghanistan, particularly women and girls. The Taliban are methodically engaged in repealing every achievement and democracy gain made during the previous two decades, to the detriment of Afghan people, he cautioned. Girls continue to be barred from secondary schools, increasing the risk of child marriage and economic and sexual exploitation, while women are deprived of their rights and barred from public space. Moreover, minorities are persecuted and the civic space continues to be severely restricted. He expressed concern over the Taliban’s descent into severe authoritarianism, including its draconian and misogynistic rules, which disfigure Afghanistan into a gender apartheid. Against this background, he expressed support for UNAMA.
FERGAL MYTHEN (Ireland) stressed that the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated over the last two years beyond what was imagined or feared — but as the Afghan people had warned. The Council has moved to call for an end to the abuse and repression of the population. Warnings from women that peace talks would fail without their full participation have been replaced by demands for the Taliban to end the persecution and erasure of women and girls, as well as the denial of their right to education. While the Council is charged with maintaining international peace and security, there is no peace for that population, nor for humanitarian personnel delivering life-saving assistance. Cross-border terrorism, weapons proliferation and drug trafficking persist in the region, as the Council is failing to hold the Taliban to account and uphold the rights of the Afghan people. Citing surveillance, arbitrary arrest, detention and targeted attacks against civilians — especially religious minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or questioning persons — and the abhorrent return of public floggings and executions, he called on the Taliban to end its tyranny over the Afghan people. He noted the bleak and shocking humanitarian crisis, and that while the humanitarian exemption to resolution 2615 (2021) may have prevented a systemic collapse, two thirds of the population remain in humanitarian need. Commending the tireless efforts of aid workers and civil society leaders, he saluted the brave women of the country, encouraging UNAMA to heed their calls for greater participation in society. The Council’s mandate is clear, particularly regarding the Taliban.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico), highlighting the prevailing situation as one of clear deterioration, stressed the need for direct interaction with the Taliban. Realistic and patient dialogue and preventive diplomacy cannot be ignored since aspirations and opportunities evaporate as time passes. The Taliban’s lack of cohesion and inclusiveness has generated increasing resistance from armed groups, he noted. As long as critics and dissidents continue to be excluded and oppressed, there will hardly be peace in Afghanistan, he said, while voicing concern over the reforms to its legal and judicial systems and calling for the extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, forced marriages and other human rights violations to be deplored. He then condemned the terrorist attacks against schools, education centres, places of worship and diplomatic missions, among others, and reiterated his country’s concern over the lack of results in combating terrorism. Cooperation at the regional and international levels is unavoidable in tackling this scourge, he underscored. Turning to the increase in gender-based violence, he reiterated that the Taliban’s campaign to subjugate and subordinate women is simply unacceptable. Stressing that humanitarian aid cannot be subordinated to political considerations, he said that all humanitarian actors, including women, must be able to carry out their work safely.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), reiterating her country’s steadfast support to the Afghan people, noted that her Government is the second-largest donor to the Organization’s 2022 humanitarian response plan, has dispersed over $600 million in humanitarian and development assistance since 2021 and has been working with the World Bank Group and others on measures to put the Afghan economy on a more sustainable footing. With 90 per cent of Afghans in poverty and over two thirds in a dire humanitarian situation, humanitarian aid must reach those in need, she urged. As such, the Taliban must end their interference in United Nations operations immediately and provide assurances on the safety and access of humanitarian workers, especially women. Concerning human rights, the Taliban must live up to their commitments. The increased violations of girls’ and women’s rights and freedoms are a systematic attempt to erase them from all spheres of social, economic, political and public life, she said. Without fair and impartial justice systems and access to education, there can be no self-reliant nor prosperous Afghanistan. The Taliban cannot expect to see sanctions relief or acquire legitimacy in the eyes of the international community or the Afghan people so long as they fail to meet their counter-terrorism commitments, she added.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) said that for Afghan people to look into the future with any degree of optimism or confidence, this Council must prioritize security and economic challenges facing Afghanistan. The international community must support a coherent and coordinated international action for the country’s national peace process and economic development. In this regard, he highlighted the outcome of the sixth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, which took place on 13 October in Astana, and welcomed President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan’s proposal for the formation of an international group of high-level negotiators to engage the de facto authorities. The continued retention of the Central Bank of Afghanistan’s $9.5 billion international financial reserves amid the present socioeconomic challenges in Afghanistan is unjustifiable. While noting the establishment of the $3.5 billion Afghan Fund to help stabilize Afghanistan’s economy, he stressed that more should be done, and quickly, to help early recovery. He also condemned the attack on the Russian Federation Embassy in Kabul, as well as the attempted assassination of a Pakistani diplomat in recent days. The international community’s presence in Afghanistan is to assist the country. Attacks against diplomatic missions and their agents are unacceptable and provision of safe havens to terrorist groups is not to the benefit of the Taliban and cannot be countenanced.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said Western colleagues, led by the United States, are passing the buck in blaming the Taliban for the current degraded situation in Afghanistan. Moreover, Western donors remain uninterested in expanding assistance beyond basic needs and early recovery programmes, he said, pointing out that while they underscore the importance of helping the Afghan people, they categorically reject the slightest opportunity to provide assistance for the country’s development. The situation regarding the release of frozen assets is particularly outrageous, he said, noting that efforts by the United States and other major donors to use Afghan funds as grounds for resolving issues is immoral. He called for the immediate return of stolen funds to the Afghan people. To build lasting peace in the country, it remains imperative to continue pragmatic dialogue with the new authorities and patiently work with Afghans so they can create a State that is politically and ethnically inclusive, free of terrorism and narcotics, economically stable and developed, and that respects and protects the rights of all its citizens. Urging international support in these areas, he said participants of the Moscow format meeting in Moscow on 16 November called for the release of all frozen assets and compensation by the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for the Afghan people for these years of damage.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France), spotlighting the deteriorating human rights situation in Afghanistan, emphasized the systematic exclusion of women and girls from public space and the continued deprivation of their most basic rights. It has now been 454 days since girls have had access to secondary school and more than 1 million women are deliberately deprived of education, she pointed out. The repeated scenes of flogging, stoning and other public punishments, as well as the ever-increasing restrictions on freedom of opinion, expression and assembly, are particularly shocking. The international community cannot, she stressed, become used to these daily human rights violations for which the Taliban are and must be held accountable. Turning to the worrying security situation, she said that recent developments have confirmed the Council’s fears that terrorist groups have already found refuge in Afghanistan. In closely following the evolving drug situation in that country and its impact on regional security, she recalled the essential nature of the work of UNODC. She then pledged her country’s continued support to the Afghan people in providing humanitarian assistance and defending fundamental freedoms. It is up to the Taliban to respect the demands of the international community, which are an essential prerequisite for any form of international recognition and indispensable for improving the living conditions of the Afghan people, she said.
SANJAY VERMA (India), Council President for December, speaking in his national capacity, voicing deep concern over the unfolding humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, said his country has dispatched several shipments of humanitarian assistance. Apart from providing immediate humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people, India remains committed to the formation of an inclusive Government, combating terrorism and drug trafficking, and preserving the rights of women, children and minorities. Sounding the alarm over terrorist attacks that have targeted places of worship and educational institutions, as well as diplomatic premises, he highlighted the link between terrorism and drug trafficking. It is essential to strengthen international cooperation to dismantle the trafficking networks, he added. On the political front, India continues to call for an inclusive dispensation in Afghanistan, which represents all sections of Afghan society.
Mr. WOOD (United States), taking the floor for a second time, noted the Taliban’s so-called Ministry of Education had just released a decision banning women from public and private universities. He condemned in the strongest terms that indefensible position. The Taliban cannot expect to be a legitimate member of the international community until they respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Afghans, including women and girls.
Ms. WOODWARD (United Kingdom), taking the floor for a second time, joined the United States in condemning the Taliban announcement — another egregious curtailment of women’s rights and a deep disappointment for every single female student affected. It is also another step by the Taliban away from a self-reliant and prosperous Afghanistan. Citing attempts to point the finger at the West for the situation in the country, she stressed that rather than politicizing the plight and suffering of ordinary Afghans, those parties might focus on bolstering their support for the chronically underfunded United Nations appeal.
NASEER AHMED FAIQ (Afghanistan) said that 16 months after the Taliban’s forced takeover of power, there is no hope for positive change and progress in the overall social, economic, security and political situation in his country. This is largely due to the Taliban, who as de facto authorities, despite their promises to the world and to the people of Afghanistan, have returned to the draconian, cruel and inhumane practices of their past rule. Noting the Taliban’s hard line interpretation of Sharia law, he pointed to incidents of public flogging and execution, the suppression of freedom of speech and media, arbitrary arrest and detention — as well as reports of torture — and the forced displacement of people. Above all, girls across Afghanistan remain barred from receiving their secondary school education, and women are refused their fundamental rights to employment and political participation. Respecting human rights and embracing the political, social and civil rights of all Afghans, including participation of women and girls in all facets of society, should be a non-negotiable prerequisite for any engagement, he stressed.
Turning to the current system of governance, he said there is no inclusivity in political or technical positions and the Taliban’s policies are forcing human capital to leave the country. Meanwhile, the security situation there continues to deteriorate, he said, stressing that the culture of impunity must be ended and the perpetrators of human rights crimes held accountable. Voicing concern about the humanitarian and economic situation, he said donors continue to provide humanitarian aid while the Taliban collect national revenue with no accountability or transparency, and called for strict monitoring and reporting mechanisms by donors and the United Nations country team. The international community must ensure that aid is being distributed to the most vulnerable groups equally and without hindrance. Welcoming the transfer of $3.5 billion in frozen assets to the newly established Fund for the Afghan people, he voiced hope that those funds, the national reserves of Afghanistan, will be used by a legitimate Government with strict, transparent monitoring for the long-term benefit of the Afghan people, and not for humanitarian aid.
Underscoring the Afghan people’s frustration with the current status quo and uncertainty about their future, he said: “It is time that the international community, regional countries, international donors and Afghans inside and abroad come together to resume political settlement talks.” This dialogue should aim for political stability, national unity and a permanent peace in a stable and democratic Afghanistan, he said, adding that lessons learned from the Doha process should help create the blueprint of a new process for Afghan talks that places Afghan people’s interests at the front and centre. Afghans only welcome engagement with political figures who are not among the corrupt and criminal members of the former Governments of the country. He called for Council unity and consensus for the restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan. He further called on the Secretary-General to take immediate action on addressing the situation in the country, noting that one proposal for consideration might be the appointment of a high-level Panel of Eminent Persons or a Group of Eminent Persons to come up with a holistic, comprehensive and sustainable solution to address the ongoing crisis.
AMIR SAEID JALIL IRAVANI (Iran) noted the Secretary-General’s latest report indicates that 28.3 million Afghans will require humanitarian and protection assistance in 2023, up from 24.4 million in 2022 and 18.4 million at the beginning of 2021. Meanwhile, the de facto authorities have failed to keep their pledges on the establishment of an inclusive and representative Government, while implementing positive economic steps, including anti-corruption efforts. Although humanitarian assistance is vital, it is not a long-term solution, and the country’s economy must take priority. Stressing that frozen assets belong to the people and must be unconditionally returned rather than accepting responsibility for its reckless withdrawal, he noted the United States has resorted to unfounded grounds to justify its unlawful acts, and that sanction regimes must not obstruct attempts to rebuild the economy. Calling on the de facto authorities to uphold their international obligations, particularly by ensuring Afghan women and girls have access to education, he further emphasized the serious threat posed by Da’esh and Al-Qaida affiliates in Afghanistan to the peace and security of the country, its neighbours and the region. He noted that opium cultivation has increased by 32 per cent since the Taliban took control compared to the previous year. If the international community does not support economic recovery, the situation will create a vulnerable environment where extremists, terrorists and drug traffickers can exploit and recruit vulnerable people. His country is host to millions of Afghans, providing necessary assistance to those who have lived in the country for more than 40 years, despite receiving little support from the international community and being subjected to severe United States sanctions. He noted that Iran needs to provide $1 billion in annual subsidies to host and shelter 5 million Afghans, but that country and its neighbour countries should not bear that whole burden, he stressed.
NURILLA ABDULLAYEV (Uzbekistan), spotlighting Afghanistan’s humanitarian situation, continued restrictions on education for women and girls and lack of an inclusive Government, called for intensified dialogue with the interim Government and continued demands on Afghan authorities to fulfil key commitments. To that end, he proposed establishing a High-level International Negotiating Group on Settlement in Afghanistan under the Organization’s auspices. This initiative, he reminded, was launched by his President at the sixth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia in October 2022. The Negotiating Group is meant to provide a unique platform for dialogue, which conveys demands of the international community and serious concerns regarding the violation of international norms. With the goal of negotiating for step-by-step fulfilment of demands and a precise algorithm of actions to be taken, the proposed Group would in cooperation with UNAMA develop a programme of measures on reciprocal actions, including incentives. UNAMA would also have an oversight role in implementation of agreed upon actions. The Group’s activities are not about making concessions, but rather helping the Taliban gradually normalize its relations with the world.
He then spotlighted his country’s positive experience in engaging with the Taliban since they came to power, which has included opening schools for girls in the northern provinces, a land route for the transit of goods to Pakistan’s seaports through Afghanistan and a counter-terrorism partnership, in which the Taliban has shared information on potential security risks, threats and terrorist attacks. Uzbekistan has also created a logistics hub in the border city of Termez to deliver humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and other countries in the region, he added, while calling for the hub to have an international status under the Organization’s auspices. His country, he pledged, will continue to provide all possible support to the Afghan people to mitigate their humanitarian situation, including the supply of electricity at reduced price rates. The Afghan people have never waged wars themselves; the fire of wars have been brought to Afghan soil from the outside, he underscored. Therefore, the international community must bear a moral responsibility for the destiny of Afghans and the future of their country. The Afghan people cannot be left to face existing challenges and their country’s re-isolation should not happen, he emphasized.
AKAN RAKHMETULLIN (Kazakhstan), welcoming the appointment of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, emphasized the need to maintain close interactions with the country’s de facto authorities, despite the absence of their official recognition, to seek remedies to current crises in the interests of the Afghan people. Given their nature and specificity, UNAMA should concentrate on education, development support and delivery of humanitarian assistance. That is extremely important now, as the cold winter is the most damaging factor for that country’s population, he underscored. The rest of its mandate can be addressed at a later stage, once a more conducive environment for its activities has been established and there is a better understanding from the de facto authorities.
He then spotlighted his country’s support, noting that it continues to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, is actively cooperating with the Organization’s agencies, especially the World Food Programme (WFP), and is ready to supply wheat, grain and various procurement projects. Along with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, it also has initiated and implemented a joint programme with the European Union and UNDP to educate Afghan students, particularly women, in their respective universities. For inclusive and comprehensive sustainable development to be a key cornerstone for peace in the region, Central Asian countries have been promoting establishment of the United Nations Regional Centre on Sustainable Development Goals for Central Asia and Afghanistan in Almaty. When fully operational, this Centre will streamline the Organization’s inter-agency and interregional coordination and management. It has the capacity to transform Central Asia into a zone of peace and security as well as sustainable development and prosperity with spill-over effects into Afghanistan. The current regional security situation, he noted, implies that without proper and coordinated international efforts, Afghanistan may become a hotbed for foreign terrorist fighters. The international community must not limit its efforts to those of Central Asian countries and must realize that the region may become a transit point for threats to the area and beyond. Kazakhstan will remain fully engaged in multilateral action for Afghanistan’s stability and progress, he pledged.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said due to deep bonds of ethnicity and history, peace and stability in Afghanistan is a political and strategic interest for his country. Voicing deep concern over the challenging situation in Afghanistan, he stressed that engagement with the interim Afghan Government is the best option to promote peace and stability in the region, to realize respect for human rights, especially women’s rights, and to eliminate terrorism within and from Afghanistan. Coercion and isolation have not proven successful in the past, he noted, underscoring the need for a coherent plan to realize the objectives of the international community through patient engagement with the interim Government. The key to reviving the Afghan economy is to inject the financial assets of Afghanistan — especially the $7 billion that are held abroad — into the Afghan financial system. Pakistan remains extremely disturbed by the latest announcement on restrictions on higher education for women in Afghanistan, he said, calling for cooperation and persuasion instead of coercion to ensure human rights. A major concern for Afghanistan and its neighbours is the rise of terrorist violence within and from Afghanistan, he cautioned, pointing to ISIL-KP’s recent attacks against the Russian Embassy, Chinese personnel in Kabul and Pakistan’s head of mission. ISIL-KP remains a potent threat as it continues to receive funding from outside of Afghanistan and is thus equipped to attract recruits. Against this background, he highlighted the role played by UNAMA in addressing the humanitarian challenges facing the people of Afghanistan.
Ms. ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates), taking the floor a second time, condemned the Taliban’s recent decision to close universities and to not allow women to enter universities. That unjust decision undermines the rights of women and girls by depriving them of participation in public life and any prospects for a better future. She called on the Council to discuss the matter in detail and listen to the Special Representative about the causes of that decision when possible.