While the choices available in Afghanistan are “not comfortable” ones, continued international engagement and unwavering commitment to the country’s people can help steer the situation to its best possible outcome, the UN’s senior official in Kabul told the Security Council on Thursday.
In particular, Deborah Lyons, UN Special Representative and head of the UN’s assistance mission in Afghanistan, said the world will urgently need to devise a “modus vivendi” to allow billions of dollars in frozen donor funds, to flow into Afghanistan’s fragile economy.
Citing credible reports of reprisal killings, crackdowns on women’s freedoms and other rights violations by the country’s new Taliban-led administration, she added that the UN will also need to decide how to engage with high-level members of the Taliban’s de facto Government – including the newly named prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and foreign minister – who are currently on UN sanctions lists.
In the new reality that followed the fall of Kabul on 15 August, the world witnessed first scenes of chaos, and then images of protests around Afghanistan.
“These scenes, watched around the world … show that the Taliban have won power, but not yet the confidence of all the Afghan people,” said Ms. Lyons.
As the Council and the global community now ask themselves how to respond, she stressed that there are no “comfortable” answers.
“Those who hoped for, and urged, inclusivity will be disappointed,” she said, noting that no women, minority representatives or non-Taliban individuals have been named as part of the de facto Government.
In addition, several high-ranking officials in the new administration – including the man named Prime Minister, Mullah Hasan Akhund, are currently on UN sanctions lists.
A mixed picture has emerged in the weeks since the Taliban took power. The UN premises has largely been respected, but there have been worrying reports of harassment and intimidation against its national staff.
Ms. Lyons also expressed concern that, despite many Taliban statements granting general amnesties to former members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and officials of the administration of former President Ashraf Ghani, reports are emerging of house-to-house searches and seizures by Taliban officials.
And while they have provided many assurances of assuring the rights of women, there are new reports that women are being prohibited from working or appearing in public places without male chaperones.
Women and girls
Amidst additional reports that girls’ access to education is once again becoming limited, the Security Council also heard an urgent briefing by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist, Nobel Prize recipient and founder of the Malala Fund, who reminded delegates what life for women and girls was like under past iterations of Taliban rule.
“I saw my home transformed from a place of peace to a place of fear in just three years,” she said.
Describing her experience of running from gunfire and explosions on the street, she said her childhood 15 years ago was marked by public floggings, schools that closed their doors to girls and banners in shopping malls declaring that women were not allowed.
“This is a story that many Afghan girls may share if we do not act,” she warned, calling on the Council to send a clear and unequivocal message to the Taliban that upholding the rights of women and girls is a precondition of any working relationship.
Shaping the new reality
Emphasizing the UN’s commitment to stay and deliver assistance and support to the people of Afghanistan, Ms. Lyons said that means it must engage with the Taliban, including on ways to allow money to flow into Afghanistan.
A high-level international funding conference is slated for 13 September to help donors meet the country’s rising needs
An additional, looming crisis is the billions of dollars in assets and donor funds that has been frozen by countries in an attempt to deny them to the Taliban.
“The inevitable effect, however, will be a severe economic downturn that could throw millions into poverty and hunger, may generate a massive wave of refugees from Afghanistan, and set Afghanistan back for generations,” the Special Representative warned.
Citing her initial engagement with certain Taliban leaders, she said they clearly stated their need for international assistance, which provides the global community leverage over their actions.
“We can still shape this new reality into a more positive direction,” she stressed.
Torture, killings, lawlessness, still blight Burundi’s rights record
The people of Burundi continue to endure serious human rights violations including possible crimes against humanity, the majority committed by those with links to the ruling party, UN-appointed independent investigators said on Thursday.
Despite a pledge by President Evariste Ndayishimiye to address the situation in the country after years of violent repression, crimes including arbitrary detention and execution, torture and intimidation, have not stopped, according to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.
“Not only have grave human rights violations continued to occur, but in some respects the situation has deteriorated”, since President Ndayishimiye’s took office in June last year, Commission chair Doudou Diene told journalists in Geneva.
These abuses happened against a backdrop of “multiple armed attacks” by opponents of the Government since August 2020, Mr. Diene explained.
“While seeking persons allegedly involved in the armed attacks or collaborating with rebel groups, the security forces targeted mainly members from the main opposition party, the National Congress for Liberty (CNL), former members of the Tutsi-dominated Burundian Armed Forces (ex-FAB), returnees and some of their family members. Some were executed, others disappeared or were tortured while detained arbitrarily.”
The Commission noted that although the level of political violence in the Great Lakes nation decreased immediately after the 2020 elections – and with the country appearing to be “on the road to normalization” – the human rights situation remains “dire”.
The national poll was held after the death of President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose decision to stand for a controversial third term in 2015 sparked major protests and mass displacement, and ultimately the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry by the Human Rights Council, in 2016.
The political climate today is “highly intolerant of dissent”, the Commissioners maintained in their fifth and final report to the Human Rights Council, highlighting how members of opposition parties – notably the CNL – have been targeted, in particular since June 2021.
Many security officers and others linked to the ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, continued to go unpunished for their crimes, they added, pointing to agents of the National Intelligence Service (SNR), police officers – including from the Mobile Rapid Intervention Groups (GMIR) – and the Imbonerakure youth-league, whose brutality has been documented in previous Commission of Inquiry reports.
Individuals belonging to these groups are “the main perpetrators of those violations, some of which could amount to crimes against humanity”, the Commission of Inquiry report said. “They continue to enjoy widespread impunity for their actions, as has been the case since 2015.”
Justice reforms lacking
Highlighting the lack of promised structural reforms to promote accountability in the country, Commissioner Françoise Hampson said that the “rule of law in Burundi continues to erode, despite the stated intention of President Ndayishimiye to restore it”.
In common with the Commission’s previous findings, Ms. Hampson noted how testimonies gathered for its latest report pointed to an organized campaign “against those elements of the civilian population that were seen as or thought to be hostile to the government in power” – a potential crime against humanity. “Some of the violations that this year’s report detail, seem to be a continuation of that policy,” she added.
In Burundi, the judicial system could not be relied upon “to curb or remedy human rights violations”, Ms. Hampson continued, warning that the newly elected Government “has only been strengthening its control over the judiciary”.
For the past five years, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi has documented, monitored and reported alleged human rights violations in Burundi.
It has conducted more than 1,770 interviews, including remotely, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, as well as Burundi.
The Commission is scheduled to present its report to the Human Rights Council on 23 September, 2021.
COVID crises highlight strengths of democratic systems
The UN Secretary-General, on Wednesday, urged the world to “learn from the lessons of the past 18 months, to strengthen democratic resilience in the face of future crises.”
In his message for the International Day of Democracy, António Guterres explained in the wake of COVID-19, this meant identifying good governance practices that can counter all kinds of emergencies, whether public health, environmental or financial.
“It means addressing the egregious global injustices laid bare by the crisis, from pervasive gender inequalities and inadequate health systems to unequal access to vaccines, education, the internet and online services,” he said.
For the UN chief, along with the human toll carried by those most deprived, “these persistent historical inequalities are themselves threats to democracy.”
Participation of all
The Secretary-General argues that strengthening democracy also means embracing participation in decision-making, including peaceful protests, and giving a voice to people and communities that have traditionally been excluded.
“The silencing of women, religious and ethnic minorities, indigenous communities, people with disabilities, human rights defenders and journalists is an impediment to creating healthy societies,” Mr. Guterres said.
For him, “democracy simply cannot survive, let alone flourish, in the absence of civic space.”
In his message, António Guterres also stresses the importance of phasing out emergency powers and legal measures by governments, which in some cases have become repressive and contravene human rights law.
He explains that some States and security sector institutions rely on emergency powers because they offer shortcuts, but cautions that, with time, “such powers can seep into legal frameworks and become permanent, undermining the rule of law and consuming the fundamental freedoms and human rights that serve as a bedrock for democracy.”
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Secretary-General warned that “every crisis poses a threat to democracy, because the rights of the people, in particular those most vulnerable, are all too quickly ignored.”
It is for that reason that protection of rights in times of crisis is a key element of his Call to Action for Human Rights, issued in February of last year.
As the world starts to look beyond the pandemic, Mr. Guterres called on the international community to “commit to safeguarding the principles of equality, participation and solidarity”, so that it can better weather the storm of future crises.
Gender equality ‘champion’ Sima Sami Bahous to lead UN Women
Secretary-General António Guterres described Sima Sami Bahous of Jordan, as “a champion for women and girls”, announcing on Monday her appointment to lead the UN’s gender equality and empowerment entity, UN Women.
The UN chief said she would also champion gender equality and youth empowerment, as well as being a “keen advocate for quality education, poverty alleviation and inclusive governance”.
Ms. Bahous brings to the job more than 35 years of leadership experience at the grassroots, national, regional and international level.
She has expertise in advancing women’s empowerment and rights, addressing discrimination and violence, and promoting sustainable socio-economic development, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the UN chief said in a statement.
The news came following consultations with Member States and the Executive Board of UN Women.
Most recently, Ms. Bahous served as Jordan’s UN ambassador in New York.
Prior to that, she was the Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) from 2012 to 2016 and Assistant Secretary-General and Head of the Social Development Sector at the League of Arab States, from 2008 to 2012.
The new UN Women chief has also served in two ministerial posts in Jordan as President of the Higher Media Council from 2005 to 2008 and as Adviser to King Abdullah II from 2003 to 2005.
She has also worked for UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, and with a number of UN and civil society organizations, as well as teaching development and communication studies at different universities in her native Jordan.
She is fluent in Arabic and English, and proficient in French.
Tribute to outgoing head
The UN chief said he was “deeply grateful” to outgoing Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa, for the “commitment and dedicated service” she exhibited as head of UN Women.
He also extended his appreciation to the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, who will continue to serve as Acting Executive Director until Ms. Bahous is in post.
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