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Afghanistan

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

The information below on relevant human rights dimensions is provided ahead of the mandate renewal of UNAMA by 17 March 2023 and a briefing from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNAMA, Ms. Roza Otunbayeva. It should also be relevant for the Human Rights Council's dialogue with the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Richard Bennett, on 6 March 2023.


Please pardon us for the longer than usual note, in view of the many developments and breadth of engagement on the topic. We hope reading is facilitated by the division into sections, with links to jump to the desired section.


Key topics below

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  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, ahead of dialogue in Human Rights Council (6 March 2023).

  • Report of OutRight International on LGBTIQ Afghans (14 February 2023).

  • Comments by the Deputy-Secretary-General during visit with UN Women and DPPA executives (20 January 2023).

  • Comments by CEDAW, UN experts and the High Commissioner for Human Rights on latest restrictions on women (29 December and 21 December 2022).

  • Comments by UN experts on public floggings and executions (16 December 2022).

  • Comments by the ASG for Human Rights with reference to dissolution of human rights oversight mechanisms (10 October 2022).

  • Human Rights Council resolution extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur (7 October 2022).

  • UN Women and UNAMA's work with Afghan women and the latter's recommendations, conveyed by the NGO WILPF (12 September 2022).

  • General information (provided by the Head of OCHA).

  • Women, peace and security (recommendations by the NGO Working Group and an Afghan journalist, Ms. Zahra Nader).

  • Children and armed conflict (recent recommendations by the NGO Watchlist).

  • Joint Security Council stakeout by the signatories to the WPS Shared Commitments and the US (13 January 2023).

  • Joint letter to the President of the Security Council by Switzerland, the UAE and the UK (6 January 2023).

  • Security Council briefing with the heads of UNAMA and OCHA (20 December 2022): Albania, Brazil, China, Gabon, Ghana, Russia and the UK.

  • Security Council meeting on women and peace and security (20 October 2022): Malta.

  • Two Human Rights Council discussions (12 September 2022): Albania, Ecuador, France, Russia, Switzerland, the UAE, the UK and the US.

  • Resolution 2626 of 17 March 2022, extending UNAMA's mandate.

 


Relevant information for the Security Council to consider [1,199 words]

  1. On 6 March 2023, the Human Rights Council will hold a dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, Mr. Richard Bennett. ** UPDATE: 7 March 2023 ** In his statement on 6 March, the Special Rapporteur stated: "The abysmal treatment of women and girls is intolerable and unjustifiable on any ground, including religion. Moreover, there must be consequences for those responsible for serious human rights violations." "No country can function with half its adult population effectively imprisoned at home." He noted that poverty has doubled and 6 million Afghans live in famine-like conditions, not for lack of food in the markets, but lack of cash. Short-term humanitarian assistance is needed, but it cannot and should not replace a functioning economy [that does not prevent half of the population from working]. The Special Rapporteur indicated his intention to dedicate his next thematic report to the situation of the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. ** END UPDATE ** In his latest report (A/HRC/52/84) he noted that since the presentation of his initial report, the human rights crisis in Afghanistan has worsened. The systematic violation of the human rights of women and girls has deepened even further. He was however encouraged that senior de facto officials held substantive discussions with him. The Special Rapporteur stated that the discriminatory denial of women and girls’ fundamental human rights may amount to gender persecution, a crime against humanity. This reiterated comments in his joint statement with other UN experts of 25 November 2022. In his report, the Special Rapporteur noted with profound concern the rise in sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls that is occurring with impunity and with minimal support for victims. Human rights defenders, who peacefully protest the increased restrictions on women and girls, are at heightened risk and have been increasingly beaten and arrested. The Special Rapporteur also noted alarming trends with regard to minorities in Afghanistan, relating to violence and threats, marginalization in decision-making processes and forced evictions. The Special Rapporteur has received credible reports about an estimated 1,855 grave violations committed against children between January and September 2022. He had also received reports indicating a significant increase in the recruitment and use of children as soldiers over the past year. He was extremely concerned about the mental and physical well-being of children and adolescents, especially girls, many of whom are in desperate need of mental health support. There is an urgent need to scale up the child protection response for children. He was also gravely concerned about the reports of arbitrary detention of children, including with adults, without due judicial processes. The Special Rapporteur also noted particular concerns regarding 5.9 million internally displaced persons; LGBTQ+ Afghans living in constant fear; and the high number of persons with disabilities, experiencing gaps in the legal protections of their rights and diminishing assistance.

  2. On 14 February 2023, the NGO OutRight International published a report including testimonies of LGBTIQ Afghans. They indicated systematic persecution by Taliban security officials, subjecting LGBTIQ people to physical and sexual assault, including public flogging, as well as arbitrary detention. “Their safety should be paramount, yet LGBTIQ Afghans’ voices and concerns continue, inexplicably, to be excluded — in UN human rights reporting, in negotiations, in humanitarian planning,” said Neela Ghoshal, Outright’s Senior Director of Law, Policy and Research. The report included recommendations to the Security Council [p. 10], as well as UNAMA and the Special Rapporteur [p. 8], among others.

  3. On 20 January 2023, the Deputy-Secretary-General, Ms. Amina Mohammed, said during a visit to the country with the Executive Director of UN Women and ASG of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, that while they recognized the important exemptions made by the Taliban, those restrictions presented Afghan women and girls with a future that confined them in their own homes, violating their rights and depriving the communities of their services.

  4. On 29 December 2022, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) strongly condemned the decisions by the de facto authorities in Afghanistan to exclude women and girls from universities and ban them from working for non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The exclusion of women and girls from secondary schools and universities amounts to a direct violation of the country’s binding legal obligations to uphold the fundamental human rights and freedoms guaranteed in customary international law and human rights treaties to which it is a party, including the Convention (CEDAW). On the same day, UN experts denounced the Taliban's ban on women working in NGOs. It is a clear violation of the non-discriminatory practice that should guide all humanitarian aid. The recalled that the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee had noted that while agencies will endeavor to continue to deliver time critical lifesaving aid, many activities would be paused as they could not deliver principled humanitarian assistance without female aid workers. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Volker Türk, expressed similar sentiments. On 21 December 2022, UN experts condemned in the strongest terms the Taliban's decision to exclude women and girls from universities, a further violation of their human rights and the application of multiple irrational restrictions that may amount to gender persecution, a crime against humanity. It is also a serious challenge to the United Nations’ WPS agenda, they said.

  5. On 16 December 2022, UN experts called on the Taliban to immediately halt public floggings and executions, as they violate universal principles prohibiting torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Afghanistan is a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture (CAT), which prohibit torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. They also raised doubts about the fairness of the trials preceding these punishments, which appear not to satisfy basic fair trial guarantees, in violation of international human rights law.

  6. On 10 October 2022, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ms. Ilze Brands Kehris, reiterated that the Taliban have deprived women and girls of their human rights, removed women from spheres of public life, and undone women’s agency. She noted that the Taliban have dissolved human rights oversight mechanisms, such as the Afghan independent Human Rights Commission and dismantled specialized courts for gender-based violence and victims support services. >> In view of the above, it may be expected that in UNAMA's mandate renewal resolution, the Security Council would call on the Taliban to enable full access for human rights monitors, ensure the meaningful participation of women in the justice and security sectors, and hold perpetrators accountable, in addition to requesting UNAMA to continue monitoring and reporting on women’s rights violations and sexual violence.

  7. On 7 October 2022, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 51/20, led by the EU, extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and including in his mandate a child’s rights perspective and the responsibility to document and preserve information relating to human rights violations and abuses. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 29-3 with 15 abstentions, including several Security Council members: In favor: Brazil, France, Japan, the UAE, the UK and the US; Against: China; Abstained: Gabon.

  8. On 12 September 2022, UN Women reiterated its readiness to work with Member States to support efforts aimed at securing the return to the full spectrum of women’s rights in Afghanistan. It committed to continue supporting women-led organizations and women human rights defenders. A later report on the situation in Afghanistan and the implementation of UNAMA's mandate (S/2022/916) noted that UNAMA and UN Women had convened in August and September 15 in-country and online consultations in 12 provinces with 207 Afghan women leaders with diverse personal and professional backgrounds. On the same occasion, the NGO Women's International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF), representing Afghan women, offered recommendations, including to urge UNAMA to better implement its human rights and political mandate with the input and guidance of Afghan women, in particular the requirement to support community-based systems on human rights and resilience and the need for better gender analysis particularly on social and economic rights.

 

Information previously considered by the Security Council [433 words]

General information

  1. On 20 December 2022, the Security Council was briefed by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Martin Griffiths, who described the situation. 97% of Afghans live in poverty. 2/3 of the population need humanitarian assistance to survive. 20 million people face acute hunger. 1/2 of the people urgently need access to clean water and sanitation. Some 1.1 million teenage girls remain banned from school. Nearly 7 million Afghan nationals remain in neighboring countries, including as refugees, and there are more than 3.4 million internally displaced people in Afghanistan who have yet to find a way home. He also stated that effective humanitarian assistance relies on the meaningful participation of women, as stated by Afghan women humanitarian workers briefing the Council. "We cannot overstate the importance of their capacities, insight and ability to reach women and girls across the country," he said.

Women, peace and security

  1. In December 2022, the NGO Working Group on WPS issued recommendations for the Security Council to prioritize gender equality, women’s autonomy, agency and inclusion, and the full range of women’s rights as fundamental means to achieve sustainable peace in the country. The NGO referred inter alia to UNAMA, expressing its need to advocate for the protection and promotion of women’s rights, including by calling for the Taliban to uphold their obligations under CEDAW; monitor and report on human rights; meaningfully engage with diverse Afghan women’s organizations and networks; and ensure the transparent, non-discriminatory and equitable distribution of humanitarian aid.

  2. On 20 October 2022, the Security Council was briefed by Ms. Zahra Nader, a journalist, during a meeting on women and peace and security. She encouraged the Council to call on all senior UN leaders to press the Taliban at every opportunity to respect the rights of all women, girls and other marginalized groups, including LGBT people and all ethnic and religious groups. She noted that experts are warning of the risk of genocide against Hazaras. She encouraged the Council to hold UNAMA accountable for women’s rights throughout its work. The Council should ensure the full, equal and meaningful participation of Afghan women civil society in any decision-making. It should support the establishment of an additional UN mechanism to provide accountability for human rights violations.

Children and Armed Conflict

  1. The NGO Watchlist on CAAC offers recommendations towards UNAMA's mandate renewal, including to ensure allocation of sufficient resources to strengthen capacities to deliver on its child protection mandate, including for monitoring and engagement with parties to end and prevent grave violations, and to address threats posed by landmines, ERW, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

 


Comments by Members of the Security Council [1,036 words]

  1. On 13 January 2023, the signatories to the WPS Shared Commitments and the US (11 Security Council members in total) held a joint stakeout. They stated that women are central and critical to operations to relieve the dire humanitarian situation. They reiterated the Council's demand on all parties to allow full, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian actors regardless of gender. A stable, economically viable and peaceful Afghanistan is only attainable and sustainable if all Afghans including women and girls have access to and receive education and fully equally and meaningfully participate in and contribute to the country's future and development in line with UN Security Council resolution 1325, 2593 and 2626. Ahead of UNAMA's mandate renewal, they reaffirmed their strong support for UNAMA, not least in their valuable contribution to gender equality, the empowerment and protection of women and girls, the full protection of the human rights including education, work, and their freedom of movement. The full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all levels and stages of decision-making and governance processes in Afghanistan is necessary for achieving an inclusive political dialogue and participatory governance.

  2. On 6 January 2023, Switzerland, the UAE and the UK addressed a joint letter to the President of the Security Council. They unequivocally condemned the latest restrictions as a direct attack on gender equality, breaching humanitarian principles, and depriving women and girls of their human rights, including their full, equal and meaningful participation across all spheres of society. The continued erasure of women and girls from public life by the Taliban erodes the foundations necessary to build a prosperous, inclusive, stable and peaceful society.

  3. On 20 December 2022, the Security Council held a briefing with the heads of UNAMA and OCHA. Albania said UNAMA must insist that the authorities fully respect the commitments that derive from the treaties to which Afghanistan is a party. An inclusive Government, respect for human rights and a genuine fight against terrorism should be the red line in any engagement with the Taliban. Brazil called to continue to insist on more inclusiveness and on the rights and liberties of women and girls, while recommending to reassess the travel bans and assets freeze. China expressed the expectation that the Taliban make greater efforts in responding to the concerns of the international community. "The rights and interests of Afghan women and girls in education and employment should be guaranteed," it said. Gabon stated that girls’ education and their access to secondary education are crucial, and the international community must continue to advocate boldly for them. Afghanistan is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes the right of every child to education regardless of gender. In conclusion, it stated that a stable and prosperous Afghanistan cannot be built without women, as well as all other segments of society. Ghana called to strongly encourage the Taliban authorities to assume their responsibilities by facilitating the rule of law, promoting inclusive governance, and respecting the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Afghan people, including the right of all girls and women to an education, to employment and to participation in public and cultural life. Russia called to work with the Afghan people to build a State that is politically and ethnically inclusive, respecting and safeguarding the rights of all its citizens, including religious and ethnic minorities, women and girls. The UK highlighted the need for the Taliban to end interference in UN operations immediately and, in particular, give assurances on the safety and access of humanitarian workers, in particular female humanitarian workers. In addition, it highlighted human rights as a priority, noting reports of honor killings and child marriage, floggings and executions among other concerns.

  4. On 20 October, the Security Council held a meeting on women and peace and security. Malta referred to the Taliban’s human rights violations of women, girls and LGBTIQ persons.

  5. On 12 September 2022, the Human Rights Council held two discussions on Afghanistan. Albania and Switzerland shared the Special Rapporteur's assessment that the human rights situation in Afghanistan calls for stronger accountability mechanisms to address impunity, provide redress for survivors and victims, and bring perpetrators to justice. Switzerland reiterated this call on 6 March 2023. Afghan civil society, including women human rights defenders, repeatedly reiterate this call to the Human Rights Council, which is currently in session. Switzerland called for practical measures that facilitate humanitarian assistance and protection, as well as respect for the rights of women and girls and minorities and their full participation in public life. Ecuador condemned the institutionalized and systematic oppression of women and girls. It encouraged the international community to strengthen humanitarian assistance and security conditions for people in vulnerable situations, especially situations of violence and discrimination against women and girls, including those belonging to ethnic and religious minorities. France stated that no political solution could emerge without respect for women's and girls' rights. Russia criticized the Special Rapporteur, stating that he placed all responsibility for the situation on the Taliban, rather than the US, UK and their allies. Instead, Russia welcomed efforts to stabilize the situation, while noting the importance of basic human rights. Russia excused the suspension of school education with procedural difficulties arising from the separation of girls and boys, and posited that unfreezing assets could solve the problem. The UAE expressed interest in the Special Rapporteur's report, with special concern about the continued restriction of the rights of women and girls to access education, the workplace and participation in public life. It called for the abolition of the decision to deprive girls of secondary education, and the full and equal empowerment of women to achieve social balance, stability and sustainable peace. The UK noted, among other concerns, that media freedoms have been restricted and there were all too frequent reports of peaceful public dissent being violently repressed. It also noted that with girls kept out of school, and as parents struggle to feed their families, the risk of child, early and forced marriage increases. The US expressed concerns about attacks against former government officials, human rights defenders, journalists and ethnic and religious groups. It noted that the voices of Afghan women, members of the many at-risk communities, including LGBTQI+ persons, and civil society are critical for lasting peace.

 

References in Security Council outcomes (not verbatim) [463 words]

  1. On 27 December 2022, the Security Council released a press statement, referring to the latest restrictions on women. The Council's members were deeply alarmed by reports that the Taliban had suspended access to universities for women and girls, and reiterated their deep concern of the suspension of schools beyond the sixth grade, and their call for the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women and girls in Afghanistan. They called on the Taliban to reopen schools and swiftly reverse these policies and practices, which represent an increasing erosion for the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms. They were furthermore profoundly concerned by reports that the Taliban had banned female employees of NGOs and international organizations from going to work. >> Following up on its press statement, it may be expected that in UNAMA's mandate renewal, the Security Council would seek to address the additional restrictions imposed on women in the past 12 months.

  2. On 16 December 2022, the Security Council adopted resolution 2665, extending the mandate of the team monitoring sanctions against individuals and entities associated with the Taliban. The Council expressed its serious concern about the situation of women, girls, marginalized communities and minorities, the erosion of respect for their rights, in particular women and girls’ lack of equal access to education, economic opportunities, participation in public life, freedom of movement, justice, and basic services, the absence of which make peace, stability, and prosperity in the country unattainable. It expressed deep concern over persistent violence against women and girls, including sexual and gender-based violence [PP8].

  3. On 17 March 2022, the Security Council adopted resolution 2626, extending UNAMA's mandate. The Security Council emphasized the importance of the full, equal and meaningful participation of women, and upholding human rights, including for women, children and minorities [PP5]. The Council decided that UNAMA would continue to carry out its mandate in close consultations with all relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders [OP5]. UNAMA would work towards improving the accessibility of the full spectrum of activities by humanitarian and development agencies and personnel, both women and men, across all ethnic groups [OP5(a)]. In this regard, it is also worth noting that the Security Council emphasized in a later resolution that year, that the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance requires all actors to allow full, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access for all humanitarian personnel, including women [2665(2022), PP7]. UNAMA would support efforts to increase accountability, transparency and the effective use of aid without discrimination [OP5(b)]. UNAMA would engage with all stakeholders at the national and subnational levels and civil society and international non-governmental organizations in the protection and promotion of the human rights of all Afghans, monitor, report and advocate on a range of human rights concerns, in particular women's and children's rights [OP5(e, f and g)].

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