UNAMA chief highlights human rights concerns, urges international engagement in Afghanistan

Roza Otunbayeva, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), addressed the Security Council on Wednesday, emphasizing the critical human rights situation in Afghanistan, including systemic discrimination against women and girls, and the urgent need for continued international attention.

In her speech, she expressed gratitude for the Security Council’s ongoing focus on Afghanistan amidst multiple global crises, noting that many Afghans fear being forgotten. She stressed that her role and UNAMA’s mission are to prevent this neglect.

“Our future approach must be guided, I believe, by two factors. First, a durable and more detailed international consensus on Afghanistan. I hope we can achieve this at the planned next Special Envoy’s meeting. Second, making far greater use of the de facto authorities’ willingness to engage in dialogue with members of the international community. Dialogue does not legitimize. It can be used to express disapproval yet encourage change. We have often spoken of the need to learn lessons from our engagement since August 2021. One lesson, I believe, is that there has simply not been enough of it. There must be more direct engagement with the de facto authorities, including in Kabul,” she said.

Otunbayeva recalled the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Afghanistan was an original signatory. However, he highlighted the current human rights situation in Afghanistan as troubling, with instances of systemic discrimination, repression of free speech, lack of minority representation, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture. Despite the recent release of two women activists, many human rights defenders and media workers remain detained, she said.

She pointed out the absence of progress in human rights as a key factor in the current impasse. She emphasized that adherence to international norms and UN Treaties ratified by Afghanistan remains a non-negotiable condition for its participation in the United Nations.

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan was another focal point, with over 20 million people dependent on aid as the country enters another winter, she said, voicing concern over the reduced funding and assistance, increasing vulnerabilities compared to the previous year.

She acknowledged the Taliban authorities’ maintenance of security but raised concerns about unexploded ordnance, especially harmful to children. She noted improved relations between the de facto Directorate of Mine Action Coordination and the UN.

Highlighting the disproportionate risks faced by the Shia community, she mentioned recent attacks claimed by ISIL-KP. She also addressed regional concerns about threats from Afghanistan, particularly Pakistan’s concerns over the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan.

“The Shia community remains at disproportionate risk of harm. Three recent attacks against Shia communities killing 39 people were documented in the period covered by the Secretary-General’s latest report. All these attacks were claimed by ISIL-KP. Three further targeted attacks on Shia clerics in Herat killed nine members of the Shia community,” she said.

Otunbayeva discussed her recent visit to Islamabad, where he raised the issue of the expulsion of undocumented Afghans from Pakistan. She emphasized the need for both countries to work on common issues to prevent further deterioration in relations.

The UNAMA chief expressed concerns about the quality of education in Afghanistan, emphasizing the need to reverse the ban on girls’ education and improve the overall quality and access to education.

On climate change, Otunbayeva regretted Afghanistan’s exclusion from COP28 due to accreditation issues, emphasizing the country’s vulnerability to climate change and the importance of including Afghanistan in global conversations on this topic.

She also highlighted successful counter-narcotic efforts by the de facto authorities and the need for international support in this area.

The UNAMA chief concluded by welcoming the Independent Assessment by Ambassador Sinirlioğlu and urged all stakeholders to focus on the larger objective of reintegrating Afghanistan into the international system without further violence, in accordance with international law. She called for more direct engagement with the de facto authorities and stressed the importance of technical assistance in various areas directly affecting millions of Afghans.

“UNAMA has a dialogue on human rights with the de facto authorities. In some areas there are openings, such as on the treatment of detainees. We see that many of the de facto authorities are open to further engagement with UNAMA and to seek an awareness of human rights standards. Dialogue and direction is furthered through the findings and recommendations of the UNAMA human rights reports, the most recent of which is how the de facto authorities respond to complaints of gender-based violence against women and girls,” she said.

In her commitment to encouraging stakeholders towards compromise, the UNAMA chief reaffirmed his dedication to using all available resources to address the challenges in Afghanistan.