The information below on relevant human rights dimensions (and not humanitarian dimensions) is focused on the Secretary-General's Assessment on Afghanistan to support related Security Council deliberations. To recall, our previous update on Afghanistan from 21 September included, inter alia, information about OHCHR's report to the HRC, statements of Security Council members in the HRC, a briefing by the Special Rapporteur in the HRC, UNAMA's reports on detainees and violations against former government personnel, as well as recommendations from Human Rights Watch.
Key topics below
Click heading to jump to section
Report of the Special Rapporteur to the General Assembly (24 October 2023).
Developments in Geneva, including HRC resolution, HRW recommendations for UPR and joint statement by UN experts (August-October 2023).
Information familiar to the Security Council [944 words]
The Assessment: Recommending engagement and humanitarian assistance which are principled [our emphasis].
WPS: Women's recommendations for principled and inclusive engagement, including the codification of gender apartheid in international law.
CAAC: SG's key findings of violations and a link to recommendations by Watchlist.
Comments by Members of the Security Council [187 words]
Rome joint statement rejecting normalization and upholding human rights (18 October 2023).
Kazan Declaration following Moscow Format Consultations, calling for truly inclusive government and protection of human rights (29 September 2023).
References in Security Council resolutions [336 words]
Relevant information for the Security Council to consider [520 words]
Report of the Special Rapporteur to the General Assembly
On 24 October 2023, the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, Mr. Richard Bennett, presented his report to the General Assembly (A/78/338). His report included detailed recommendations to the de facto authorities, as well as to the international community. Chief among them were: > Ensuring a united approach based on human rights and humanitarian principles in engaging with the de facto authorities; > Consulting with Afghan women inside the country and in the diaspora; and > Ensuring that any delegations engaging with the de facto authorities or visiting Afghanistan are gender-balanced and integrate into all discussions an insistence on respect for human rights standards, including the equal rights of women and men.
During the dialogue in the Third Committee, the Special Rapporteur reiterated the principle of non-refoulement and urged Pakistan to abandon plans that may result in the mass deportation of 1.4 million Afghans. On 28 November, Human Rights Watch reported widespread abuses by Pakistani authorities forcing Afghans to leave.
While the Special Rapporteur welcomed the Taliban's prohibition of forced marriage, the representative of Taliban's former government expressed concern over increased child marriage.
The Special Rapporteur noted that the door to rescind women's and girls' suspension from education was still technically open as it was presented as a temporary measure. He also recalled Muslim States' condemnation and that there was no religious justification. In this regard, it is worth noting a 19-page report published by Human Rights Watch, noting that schools are failing boys too. This includes the dismissal of female teachers, increased use of corporal punishment, and regressive changes to the curriculum.
The Special Rapporteur noted that there are already accountability avenues, including the International Court of Justice and States' universal jurisdiction. He further noted that reports by UNAMA, other mandate holders and treaty bodies also supported accountability. Spain noted that it launched the “Hear Us” initiative to give Afghan women in the diaspora a safe voice in international legal frameworks, including the ICC and ICJ.
Developments in Geneva
On 11 October 2023, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 54/1 without a vote, renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan. The resolution detailed the expectations of the international community with regard to human rights, accountability [PP7, PP12 and OP11] and an inclusive political process [OP12]. It also requested the High Commissioner to present to the HRC a comprehensive report in September 2024, including a stocktaking of accountability options.
Also on 11 October, Human Rights Watch published its submission for the Universal Periodic Review of Afghanistan. The submission included concise recommendations related to women's rights; sexual orientation and gender identity; arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances and summary executions; freedom of expression and media freedom; the economic and humanitarian crisis; attacks on civilians; and international crimes, impunity and the ICC. The UPR session is scheduled to take place between 29 April and 10 May 2024.
On 14 August 2023, UN human rights experts delivered a joint statement worth recalling, as it rejected the idea of a "reformed" Taliban. They detailed six expectations of the Taliban and seven recommendations to the international community.
Information familiar to the Security Council [951 words]
First among the recommendations in the Assessment (S/2023/856) of the Special Coordinator, Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioğlu, is "building confidence by addressing the immediate needs of Afghans." [pp. 10-11] This seems to be aligned with a current focus of the Security Council on humanitarian aspects of the situation. However, for those prioritizing a human rights-based approach, it would be important to ensure that humanitarian assistance and engagement with the Taliban go beyond interests and needs. A part of that is encouraging and assisting activities that help Afghans realize their rights (p.11, priority area d). But more broadly, it would be worth emphasizing the following suggestion in the report [p. 10]: "Throughout, adherence to principles of non-discrimination and inclusion, respect for women’s rights and efforts toward their meaningful participation, and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms of all Afghans should be ensured and advanced."
The organization Security Council Report points out that "the roadmap for the reintegration of Afghanistan into the international system outlined in the report is founded on two components: adherence by the Taliban administration to Afghanistan’s international obligations and the establishment of an intra-Afghan political dialogue." Those are detailed in pages 14-15 of the Assessment. However, the response of the Taliban absurdly portrays a rosy situation for Afghan women, claims that the [de facto] Government represents the "diversity of Afghans," rejects the international community's call for an intra-Afghan dialogue, and requests "pragmatic pathways" to removing sanctions, asset freezes and banking restrictions. The Secretary-General has also noted that the divide between the Taliban's policies and the international normative framework is most greatly felt in Taliban policies that severely circumscribe the rights of women and girls, as well as in the lack of an inclusive system of governance [S/2023/678, para 67].
The author of the Assessment aimed to offer a way forward and a coherent engagement architecture. His stated objective was "a future where the State of Afghanistan is fully reintegrated into the international system without passing through a further cycle of violence while respecting all legal obligations." [p. 3]
On 26 September 2023, the Head of UNAMA, Ms. Roza Otunbayeva, briefed the Security Council and supported engagement: "It is time to support strengthened engagement with the relevant components of the de facto authorities through appropriate means to increase their knowledge and further compliance of law enforcement actions with international norms."
The Assessment provides an overview, including the Taliban's perspective, of the situation of human rights, in particular the rights of women and girls [pp. 3-5], as well as the matters of inclusive governance and rule of law [pp. 8-9], among other areas.
Women, Peace and Security
UN Women Executive Director, Sima Bahous, briefed the Security Council on 26 September.
She noted that women in Afghanistan continue to demand: > That the international community provide spaces for them to speak directly with the de facto authorities; > That international actors do not meet with the Taliban without women in their own delegations; and > That international actors continue to use all means at their disposal to leverage and pressure for change, including the use of sanctions, without exceptions for travel, and the issue of non-recognition.
She noted that 46% of women consulted think that recognition should not happen under any circumstances, and 50% think that it should only be granted after the Taliban end rights violations related to women’s education, employment, and participation in inclusive government.
Among her recommendations, she cautioned not to frame the situation in Afghanistan purely as a humanitarian crisis. It is not. It is an economic crisis, it is a mental health crisis, it is a development crisis, and much more. And the thread that connects these different facets is the underlying women’s rights crisis. This must be the primary lens through which we understand what is going on and what we must do.
UN Women's Executive Director also called to explicitly codify gender apartheid in international law. This was articulated in detail by the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan and the Working Group on discrimination against women (A/HRC/53/21, paras 92-96). Ms. Karima Bennoune, an international legal expert who also briefed the Council, stressed the need to utilize both concepts, gender apartheid and gender persecution, to hold the Taliban accountable, as they are distinct and complementary. She did not call to isolate Afghanistan, but maintain a principled and non-discriminatory approach to humanitarian aid delivery.
The NGO Working Group on WPS included in its recommendations a call to ensure that all follow-up to the Assessment require protection of the full scope of women’s human rights, swift reversal of any policies and practices that restrict the enjoyment by women and girls of their human rights and fundamental freedoms as per Resolution 2681 (2023); and further, ensure the full, equal, meaningful and safe participation of diverse Afghan women and LGBTIQ people, especially human rights defenders and peacebuilders, in all discussions and outcomes by the Security Council, UN or international community about Afghanistan’s future. Further, the creation of any future mechanisms for international engagement on Afghanistan, including a UN Special Envoy, must prioritize women’s human rights, and include robust expertise on human rights and gender.
Children and Armed Conflict
The organization Watchlist on CAAC offered recommendations and pointed out that according to the SG’s September report on Afghanistan (S/2023/678), the Country Task Force on Monitoring and Report (CTFMR) verified 393 grave violations against children between April and June 2023. The most prominent violations were killing and maiming, recruitment and use, and the denial of humanitarian access. Children continue to be particularly vulnerable to harm from explosive remnants of war (ERW) and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which were the primary cause of civilian casualties during the reporting period, including at least 65 children.
Comments by Members of the Security Council [187 words]
On 18 October 2023, the Special Representatives and Envoys for Afghanistan from Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, the UK, and the US met in Rome. Subsequently, they released a joint statement calling not to normalize relations with the Taliban and stressing the importance of support for the rights of every citizen of Afghanistan, particularly the right of women and girls to education, employment, and public participation. They also urged all States to uphold their obligations regarding refugees, including their protection from being forcibly returned [paras 5-7 and 11-12].
On 29 September 2023, Russia hosted its fifth meeting of the Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan in Kazan, including Special Representatives and senior officials from China, Russia and other States in the region, as well as a UAE representative as one of the guests of honor and the Taliban's Acting Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi. They released the Kazan Declaration (https://mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/1906997), which reiterated demands that the Taliban form a “truly inclusive government” and protect equal rights and freedoms to all Afghans, including equal access to work, education, and justice, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, or religion.
References in Security Council outcomes (not verbatim) [336 words]
On 27 April 2023, the Security Council adopted resolution 2681(2023) by consensus. It condemned the unprecedented decision by the Taliban to ban Afghan women from working for the United Nations in Afghanistan [OP1]. It also called for the full, equal, meaningful and safe participation of women and girls in Afghanistan, and it called upon the Taliban to swiftly reverse the policies and practices that restrict the enjoyment by women and girls of their human rights and fundamental freedoms including related to their access to education, employment, freedom of movement, and women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in public life [OP2].
On 16 March 2023, the Security Council adopted resolution 2679(2023) by consensus, which mandated the assessment. It emphasized the importance of the full, equal and meaningful participation of women, and upholding human rights, including those of women, children, minorities, and persons in vulnerable situations [PP4].
On 17 March 2022, the Security Council adopted resolution 2626(2022), with Russia abstaining. In addition to elaborating the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), it included some provisions in the preambular which reflect what should be the continued expectations from the Taliban. It emphasized the importance of the establishment of an inclusive and representative government [PP5]. It also emphasized that the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance requires all actors to allow full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for all humanitarian personnel, including women, for United Nations agencies, international and national non-governmental organizations, and other humanitarian actors [PP6]. It expressed its serious concern about the situation of women and girls, the imposition of restrictions on their participation in public life, and the erosion of respect for their rights, in particular through their lack of equal access to education, economic opportunities, justice and other services [PP7]. It expressed its deep concern about the number of reported serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses across the country, and stressed the importance of sustained efforts to reduce violence and that perpetrators of such violence must be held accountable, [PP9].