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High Commissioner for Human Rights Urges Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Afghanistan to Establish a Dedicated Mechanism to Closely Monitor the Evolving Human Rights Situation in Afghanistan

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24 Август 2021

24 August 2021

The Human Right Council this morning opened its special session on "the serious human rights concerns and situation in Afghanistan", hearing the High Commissioner for Human Rights urge the Council to establish a dedicated mechanism to closely monitor the evolving human rights situation in Afghanistan.

In her opening remarks, Nazhat Shameem Khan, President of the Human Rights Council, outlined the proposed extraordinary modalities for the session. She urged all participants to participate with the dignity inherent to the discussion.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said there were credible reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses taking place in many areas under effective Taliban control such as summary executions of civilians, restrictions on the rights of women, including their right to move freely and girls' right to attend schools, recruitment of child soldiers, and more. Many people now feared reprisals by the Taliban against those working with the Government or the international community; people who had worked to advance human rights and justice; or those whose lifestyles and opinions were simply perceived to be opposed to the Taliban ideology. Over the recent weeks, the Taliban had pledged to respect and protect human rights, such as women's right to work and girls' right to attend schools, within the Taliban's interpretation of Islamic law. The onus was now fully on the Taliban to translate this commitment to reality – they must ensure fundamental human rights and the provision of public services to all.

Ms. Bachellet strongly urged the Taliban to uphold human rights. The Taliban's treatment of women and girls would represent a fundamental red line and ensuring the provision of secondary education to girls was a key indicator of their commitment. There must be no reprisals against human rights defenders. She urged the Council to take bold and deliberate action by establishing a dedicated mechanism to closely monitor the evolving human rights situation in Afghanistan, including, in particular, the Taliban's implementation of its promises, with a focus on prevention.

Anita Ramasastry, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, stated that the actions of this Council would set the course for the future of Afghanistan, representing a test case for the United Nations Charter – urgency and moral clarity was required. Right now, the protection of vulnerable groups had to take priority.

Shaharzad Akbar, Chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said the draft resolution tabled today was a travesty. The Taliban's current crimes were well documented – they were not isolated to the past. Afghan activists on the ground faced direct threats to their lives. They demanded better from the Council.

Afghanistan, speaking as a country concerned, expressed deep concern for the future of Afghanistan and the region at large. Millions feared for their lives, and a humanitarian crisis was unfolding. The lives of thousands of human rights defenders, journalists, academics, professionals, and members of civil society were at risk. Women and girls had lost their basic rights. Over 4 million internally displaced people currently lived with little to no humanitarian support. All of them deserved the support of the Council. The situation on the ground was uncertain and required serious attention. This session may fail to establish a fact-finding mission, but Afghanistan still hoped that it would deliver a strong message that abuses of humanitarian law and human rights law had consequences. All States had to keep their borders open to those Afghans most at risk.

In the discussion that followed, speakers called for the immediate restoration of security and civil order, and a return to constitutional rule and the protection and respect for civilian life, dignity, and property throughout Afghanistan, stressing each State's responsibility to protect its population. Concern was expressed about Afghan women and girls, their rights to education, work, and freedom of movement. They were vulnerable to violence and should be protected. The lives of journalists, media workers and human rights defenders were at risk, while ethnic and religious minorities lived in fear of persecution. Some speakers noted that the Taliban had repeatedly expressed their willingness to solve problems and build an inclusive government, as well as their commitment to protect women's rights and freedom of speech. Expressing hope that the Taliban would put these commitments to practice, speakers called on them to stop all kinds of terrorist activities.

Speaking in the urgent debate were Gašper Dovžan, State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia; Jeppe Kofod, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Denmark; Lord Ahmad, Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth of the United Kingdom; Benedetto Della Vedova, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy; Jose Manuel Albares, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Spain; Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia; and Uzra Zeya, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights of the United States.

Also taking the floor were Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Bahrain on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, China, Netherlands, Libya, Uruguay, Argentina, Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, India, Republic of Korea, Venezuela, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Russian Federation, Brazil, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Namibia, Poland, Mexico, France, Ukraine, Philippines, Cuba, Japan, Pakistan, Chile on behalf of a group of countries, Spain on behalf of a group of countries, Qatar, Canada, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Portugal, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Liechtenstein, Belgium, Albania, Finland, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Peru, Ireland, Malta, Greece, Turkey, Colombia, Sovereign Order of Malta, Holy See, New Zealand, Iran, Paraguay, Viet Nam, Israel, Croatia, United Nations Population Fund, Kazakhstan, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Botswana, Ecuador and Tajikistan.

The following national human rights institutions and civil society organizations also took the floor: Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions, Australian Human Rights Commission, International Commission of Jurists, World Evangelical Alliance, and Minority Rights Group.

The Council will next meet this afternoon at 3 p.m. to continue the discussion and take action on the draft resolution before closing the special session.

Opening Remarks by the President of the Human Rights Council

NAZHAT SHAMEEM KHAN, President of the Human Rights Council, opened the first meeting of the thirty-first special session of the Human Rights Council by outlining the proposed extraordinary modalities for the session. These modalities would only apply to this special session, as they had been defined due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and should not serve as a precedent. She urged all participants to participate with the dignity inherent to the discussion.

Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that the people of Afghanistan looked to the Human Rights Council to protect their rights at this time, making this an essential meeting. The rapid seizure of much of Afghanistan, including the capital, by the Taliban had raised grave fears of a return to past patterns of human rights violations. The High Commissioner's Office had received harrowing reports of violations and abuses of human rights. There were credible reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses taking place in many areas under effective Taliban control such as summary executions of civilians, restrictions on the rights of women, including their right to move freely and girls' right to attend schools, recruitment of child soldiers, and more. Many people now feared reprisals by the Taliban against those working with the Government or the international community; people who had worked to advance human rights and justice; or those whose lifestyles and opinions were simply perceived to be opposed to the Taliban ideology. This situation was aggravated by sustained drought and the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 270,000 people had been forced to leave their homes since January 2021, bringing the total displaced population to more than 3.5 million and further fuelling the internal displacement crisis. Fundamental human rights were in the balance.

Over the recent weeks, the Taliban had pledged to respect and protect human rights, such as women's right to work and girls' right to attend schools, within the Taliban's interpretation of Islamic law. The onus was now fully on the Taliban to translate this commitment to reality – they must ensure fundamental human rights and the provision of public services to all. Significant advances in human rights over the last two decades had given the people of Afghanistan a strong stake in a society that valued and defended human rights. In 2021, 27 per cent of members of parliamentarians were women, and 3.5 million girls were attending schools. A plurality of voices was reflected in a diverse media. A generation of young people had grown up with hope for a new future. For the development and prosperity of any country to be sustainable, people had to live without fear. Ms. Bachelet strongly urged the Taliban to uphold human rights. The Taliban's treatment of women and girls would represent a fundamental red line and ensuring the provision of secondary education to girls was a key indicator of their commitment. There must be no reprisals against human rights defenders. She urged for the provision of open access to humanitarian assistance and the protection of humanitarian personnel, as well as stronger efforts to take in Afghan refugees, including the immediate halting of the deportation of Afghans seeking protection. Ms. Bachelet urged the Council to take bold and deliberate action by establishing a dedicated mechanism to closely monitor the evolving human rights situation in Afghanistan, including, in particular, the Taliban's implementation of its promises, with a focus on prevention.

Keynote Speakers

ANITA RAMASASTRY, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, stated that the actions of this Council would set the course for the future of Afghanistan, representing a test case for the United Nations Charter – urgency and moral clarity was required. Right now, the protection of vulnerable groups had to take priority. Freedom of movement and the right to be free to leave the country had to be ensured. Masses of civilians seeking safety had trekked to the airport pleading for their lives, a trek that had resulted in death, injury, and traumatisation. International action was required to secure the airport, ensuring the continuation of civilian flights, granting visas and visa waivers to ensure Afghans were able to leave the country. The situation was dire: child casualties for the first half of 2021 were the highest number ever recorded for such a period by the United Nations in Afghanistan. Thousands of families were displaced due to Taliban military campaigns. Data showed that violations of women's rights remained central to Taliban ideology, mirroring their past practice. Despite the situation, Afghan women sought to continue their activities, only to be turned away from their places of work. An oversight accountability mechanism to be deployed urgently on the ground to investigate human rights abuses in Afghanistan must be established, and the High Commissioner must be mandated to provide regular updates on the situation.

SHAHARZAD AKBAR, Chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, highlighted that many had been talking about the urgent need of the Human Rights Council to respond to the situation in Afghanistan for months. It was time for action to follow words. The future of the country was uncertain, the fundamental rights of women and girls were being repressed, and tens of thousands were fleeing the country. The least this session could do was illustrate that the world would not look away and document the ongoing abuses in the country. Ms. Akbar stated that the draft resolution tabled today was a travesty. The Taliban's current crimes were well documented – they were not isolated to the past. For the past 20 years, Afghanistan had been the site of many war crimes. Afghan activists on the ground faced direct threats to their lives: they demanded better from the Council. To be frank, the Council was failing them. The Council Members today had a chance to redeem themselves by ensuring that this session had a credible and strong outcome.

Statement by Country Concerned

Afghanistan, speaking as a country concerned, thanked the Human Rights Council and its members for organizing and supporting this special session, expressing deep concern for the future of Afghanistan and the region at large. Millions feared for their lives, and a humanitarian crisis was unfolding. The lives of thousands of human rights defenders, journalists, academics, professionals, and members of civil society were at risk. Women and girls had lost their basic rights. Over 4 million internally displaced people currently lived with little to no humanitarian support. All of them deserved the support of the Council. The situation on the ground was uncertain and required serious attention. A high number of serious documented violations of international humanitarian law and human rights were there for all to see on the Internet. The Taliban had already begun to stifle civil society, carry out door-to-door searches and restrict the rights of women. This was a key moment for the Council to extend its preventing role. This session may fail to establish a fact-finding mission, but Afghanistan still hoped that it would deliver a strong message that abuses of humanitarian law and human rights law had consequences. All States had to keep their borders open to those Afghans most at risk.

Discussion

Speakers called for the immediate restoration of security and civil order, a return to constitutional rule and the protection and respect for civilian life, dignity, and property throughout Afghanistan, stressing each State's responsibility to protect its population. Concern was expressed about Afghan women and girls, their rights to education, work and freedom of movement. They were vulnerable to violence and should be protected. The lives of journalists, media workers and human rights defenders were at risk, while ethnic and religious minorities lived in fear of persecution. Some speakers expressed their support for the establishment of a fact-finding mission. They noted that there was no majority support for such an instrument and expressed hope that a Special Rapporteur with the mandate to monitor, advise and publicly report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan could be agreed. Other speakers noted that the peace process must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, supported by international assistance. The international community had a duty to protect the Afghan people and to avoid further suffering: all States, international agencies, and donors must mobilise urgent humanitarian support.

It was important to respect the will of Afghan people – the current task was to restore order and peace. Some speakers noted that the Taliban had repeatedly expressed their willingness to solve problems and build an inclusive government, as well as their commitment to protect women's rights and freedom of speech. Expressing hope that the Taliban would put these commitments to practice, speakers called on them to stop all kinds of terrorist activities. Some speakers said that Western countries often imposed their own will on countries with completely different societies and cultures – this must not be repeated, there was no military solution to this situation. Imperial hubris and external military occupation protected by the shameful silence of the complicit media had directly led to the current situation, leaving a legacy of destruction and death. Other speakers expressed deep concern about attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure that may amount to war crimes, noting that Taliban promises were already being broken. It was important to tackle the negative spill over in the wider region, as speakers called for bilateral and multilateral support for Afghanistan's neighbours.

The future development of Afghanistan must preserve the tremendous gains made by Afghan women and girls, ensuring their full and equal participation. Some speakers noted that the Taliban had already introduced order, confirmed security guarantees for foreign missions, and introduced an amnesty for Governmental officials and citizens who had worked for the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces. Other speakers said that countries must open their borders to welcome Afghan refugees fleeing the crisis, provide visas and waivers, and ensure that Afghans were able to leave the country in a safe and orderly manner. It was regrettable that the tabled resolution would not establish an independent mechanism to monitor and report, gather evidence of violations and abuses, and advance accountability. Speakers expressed shock and horror at the crisis – the international community had hard lessons to learn from its rapid evolution. This Council must send a clear message that cooperation with Afghanistan was conditional on a peaceful and inclusive settlement, and respect for the fundamental rights of all Afghans. It must not turn away from the Afghan people; words of concern were not enough.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/08/une-ligne-rouge-fondamentale-sera-la-facon-dont-les-taliban

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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