States must put words into action and support Afghan women’s rights: UN Security Council Debate on the situation in Afghanistan
10 September 2019
After nearly a year of talks between the Taliban and the United States, a peace deal has been publicly laid to rest at the behest of President Donald Trump after yet another deadly attack by the Taliban that killed one US soldier, a Romanian army corporal and 10 Afghan civilians. The American president has been quoted as saying “As far as I'm concerned, they are dead”. It is unclear if negotiations will resume in the near future as presidential elections also loom large in Afghanistan.
Two days later on September 10, 2019, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held its quarterly debate on the work of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the situation in Afghanistan, and its implications for international peace and security (S/2019/493). The UN Secretary-General (UNSG) provided his report on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security (S/2019/70) to the Council the week prior. The morning debate included briefings by the Secretary General’s Special Representative (SRSG) and Head of the Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto; Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime; and Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia), chair of the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee. The UNAMA mandate is set to be renewed later the month of September. Twenty-seven member states shared statements on their support for the Afghan peace process, free and fair elections, and economic development “post-peace”. Notably, after several weeks of large attacks on Afghan civilians by the Taliban despite a peace process, this UNAMA debate revealed more cautious optimism and support by member states for the situation in Afghanistan in light of the recent aggravated violence by the Taliban against the Afghan people.
Noting the continued violence in recent weeks by the Taliban despite their participation in negotiations toward a peace settlement, UN SRSG and head of UNAMA, Mr. Tadamichi Yamamoto spoke about the challenges facing the political life in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to elections upcoming on September 28 and the ongoing and unclear peace process. He reminded all actors that “conflict can only be resolved between the Afghan people and must be inclusive,” advancing fundamental human rights including that of women, youth, and ethnic and religious minorities as well as free expression in the media. He urged actors to refrain from taking actions that would legitimise violations in elections and taking a hardline if faced with election results not to their liking. This was particularly important to note as there is tension and fear that violence will continue to intensify by insurgents and by political factions risking an escalation toward civil war. In particular he pointed out the deliberate targeting of civilians as a war crime, and those killed in air strikes as also a concern, calling on all to protect civilians and minimise all harms caused. UN agencies and NGOs working in the 31 out of 400 districts on agriculture and health are building blocks for a better future. It is never too early on how to assist people “post-peace” and during the process. International assistance in Afghanistan must be reviewed against new requirements brought about “peace” and ramped up in planning and financing. Yamamoto recalled other peace processes around the world reminding the Council that the more effort is put into a peace process the more complicated it will be and that all needs to be on board to support this work.
Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (joining from Vienna) provided a brief on the situation of drug trafficking and related crimes, including challenges by recent drugs, economic corruption, money laundering which undermine the stability of the country. Fedotov noted UNODC efforts in scaling up support to the Afghan government to prevent trafficking in persons, funded by the EU and implemented with linkages to drug trafficking and organized crime. He also noted “Challenges by recent drugs, economic corruption, money laundering continue to undermine the stability of the country. These have an impact on the government's economic objectives, job creation, federal domestic revenues.” UNODC is working with Afghanistan and other partners to better understand the challenges faced by victims, and advance assistance to victim-centered criminal justice approach. UNODC is commited to addressing challenges of drugs, crime, and terrorism, and rely on the assistance on international community ot help us carry out this essential work.
As chair of the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committee, whose main goal is to deter the Taliban from support or utilise tools for violence and terror under a global arms embargo, Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia) briefed the Council on the recent decision of the 1988 Committee on 6 April 2019 to adopt a nine month travel ban for eleven listed Taliban members in the interest of promoting reconciliation and promoting peace. Djani urged member states to play a more active role to provide information to assist the 1988 Committee to assess the effectiveness of sanction measures, stating that it is “imperative for the Security Council to consider extending the work of the monitoring team relating to Taliban sanctions to the end of 2021”.
Afghanistan’s Ambassador Adela Raz reminded the Council of the important temporal juncture in which the country and the international community in Afghanistan find themselves. The 28 September elections are still scheduled to take place despite efforts, both public and private, to delay them after a peace process was finalised. Calling it “a historic step” towards strengthening and institutionalizing democracy, the Afghan Ambassador, Ms. Adela Raz, called on member states to support the Afghan people’s constitutional right to elect a president through a democratic process, stating “the people of Afghanistan are determined to participate in the election process, the ballot will signify our people’s determination to stability, democracy, and prosperity. Afghanistan would like to move forward not backward”. Ms. Raz called on all member states to influence the Taliban to prevent attacks on election day and to ceaese unleashing violence as a means to a political settlement, stating that a “ceasefire and long-lasting peace and stability, democractic values, rights of women as stipulated in the constitution [where] we cannot ignore the role of women’s meaningful participation” must be a part of any peace process going forward. Urging the Council to not forget that it is the Taliban that continue attacks, remaining hostile to humanitarian workers and continue to issue threats to members of the press, Afghanistan further urged member states to call on the Taliban to end violence. On it’s part, Afghanistan reaffirmed its commitment to defense of the rule of law, respect for international law, international peace and solidarity.
Of the statements made by the 27 member states along with the briefers and European Union representative, 53.6% made mention of the importance of women’s meaningful participation in the peace process. Among these states Germany and Afghanistan were the clearest in pressing for this element of UN SCR 1325 to be a parcel of any peace negotiation efforts moving forward. As a major donor in Afghanistan and broker of an intra-Afghan dialogue along with Qatar, Germany underlined that “full, effective participation, and leadership of women in the peace process and decision making in Afghan regional and local national level is key”. In general member states did not discuss in the context of the UNAMA mandate or ongoing peace efforts issues of disarmament, sexual violence, violence against women human rights defenders, and human rights despite high rates of theses issues reported in Afghanistan. Instead, member states stayed focused on the need for a ceasefire by the Taliban against civilians if they are serious about negotiation and peace in the aftermath. Belgium summarised the feelings of many, stating “You cannot hold a pen in one hand and a bomb in the other,” and called on the Taliban to engage in peace talks, with a central role of the government in the peace process. Two member states, the Dominican Republic and Egypt, made mention of the importance of addressing root causes in order to reach a peace that deals with the fundamental divisions and priorities of all factions and communities. However, connected to the critical importance of addressing root causes, the issues of disarmament and the trade in illicit weapons and small arms were summarily ignored by member states.
The concern for roll-back on the rights of women and other marginalised ethnic and religious communities was also a cause for concern by member states. Member states gave support to the critical need to preserve the social, political and economic achievements made in Afghanistan, particularly by women, after the US invasion in 2001. This included support for going forward with the September 28 elections, despite reservations from some within and outside Afghanistan to prioritise a peace settlement before elections. “To avoid a constitutional vacuum, it's important elections are held in a transparent and democratic manner,” said Germany. Afghanistan’s neighbor, Iran encouraged Afghans to “actively participate in the election” citing the importance of holding a fair and free election which enhance democractic institutions.
Related to these issues, during a previous July 26 briefing on a recent women, peace, and security delegation to Afghanistan led by the Deputy UN SG Amina Mohammed, along with with the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and the Executive Directors of the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), WILPF Afghanistan’s Jamila Afghani had reminded the Council that Afghan women’s rights are guaranteed by the Afghan Constitution and international conventions, and that the international community “must stand with us at this crucial moment and ensure that our rights will not be compromised for a political peace deal or after a settlement is reached.” Furthermore she had called on the United States attempts to hammer out a negotiated settlement with the Taliban with “a clear absence of meaningful participation by women and other actors in the peace process, alarming many who know that an inclusive delegation for peace is critical to ensuring the success of the process and the sustainability of any settlement.” This has led to the marginalization of Afghan women in any contracted destiny for themselves and their country.
The UNAMA mandate will be renewed in mid-September. As the international community prepares to provide the assistance mission a new mandate in Afghanistan, and as UNAMA will continue to support the peace process in the country, it is imperative that the Council and Member States improve concrete support for and actively facilitate the following:
Call for an immediate ceasefire and an end to violence against civilians
Support the meaningful participation of women and women’s civil society in all aspects of the peace process, including by: requesting powerbrokers take concrete action for women’s meaningful participation in any peace process by engaging women’s meaningful participation and ensuring that Afghan women’s expertise and priorities are reflected in all aspects of peace and security processes and address the sustained violence against Afghan women leaders and human rights defenders (CEDAW/C/AFG/CO/1-2)
Recognise the gendered impact of arms, and encourage arms exporting countries and the Afghan government to identify and regulate the influx of arms to and within the country, including by urging the addition of a provision to UNAMA’s mandate that calls on the mission to actively support the Government’s efforts in implementing its National Action Plan (NAP) on Resolution 1325 (2000), including in the development of institutional and accountability structures to implement and monitor the NAP (S/RES/2242 (2015), OP 2).
Call for the international community to strengthen accountability and justice, including for sexual and gender-based violence, including by urging the Afghan government to conduct prompt investigation and prosecution of cases of violence against women by referring criminal offices to the criminal justice system and never to traditional dispute resolution mechanisms and ensuring that judges and prosecutors are fully trained, resourced, supported and empowered to carry out their mandated functions.
Insist on space through enhanced security for women voters and candidates and for networks between government, civil society, and other stakeholders to promote women’s participation in elections as voters, candidates, and electoral observers in the run up to September 28
Inquire information on measures taken to ensure the security and protection of women officials and leaders, women’s rights activists, women human rights defenders, and journalists.
At the center of peace and democractic institutions is the full and meaningful participation of women in political, social, and economic life. This requires prioritisation and protection of women’s fundamental human rights. A significant and meaningful inclusion of women, civil society, and marginalized communities in formal and informal peace tracks from negotiation, implementation, and monitoring of any ceasefire and a peace deal with the Taliban is a critical imperative. The Taliban continue to use horrific violence to push their agenda forward without respect for human life and dignity. Member states who speak in support for a peace settlement, women’s participation, and an end to the violence must put words into action and work to require parties to resist the use of violence and negotiate a human rights-sensitive sustainable peace.