UN's new Afghanistan mandate focuses on equality, inclusion

The Norwegian-drafted resolution was adopted by a vote of 14-0, with Russia abstaining

Published - March 18, 2022 01:22 am IST - UNITED NATIONS

Afghan women march to demand their rights under the Taliban rule during a demonstration near the former Women’s Affairs Ministry building in Kabul. File

Afghan women march to demand their rights under the Taliban rule during a demonstration near the former Women’s Affairs Ministry building in Kabul. File | Photo Credit: AP

The U.N. Security Council on Thursday approved a robust mandate for its political mission in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover last August. The new mandate authorizes the mission to promote gender equality, empowerment of women and girls, human rights of all Afghans and an inclusive and representative government.

The Norwegian-drafted resolution was adopted by a vote of 14-0, with Russia abstaining.

Norway’s U.N. Ambassador Mona Juul said the Security Council sent a clear message that the U.N. mission, known as UNAMA, “has a crucial role to play in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan and in supporting Afghan people as they face unprecedented challenges and uncertainty.”

The U.S. deputy ambassador, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, called the vote “an important step” that underscores the U.N.’s commitment to the Afghan people as they face “urgent and mutually reinforcing challenges.”

But Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia criticized the council for not consulting “the host country” on the U.N. presence, saying it is important for “more substantive cooperation” between UNAMA and the Taliban, which would help the U.N. achieve its objectives and guarantee security for U.N. personnel.

“We wish the mission every success, but we don’t want to bear any responsibility if it ends up that it is not able to fulfill all of the tasks that it faces,” he said.

The resolution, which extends UNAMA’s mandate until March 17, 2023, does not mention the Taliban by name. But it does authorize the mission and the U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, to carry out their work “in close consultation with all relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders, including relevant authorities as needed.”

The council authorized UNAMA to reach out and use its good offices “to facilitate dialogue between all relevant Afghan political actors and stakeholders, the region and the wider international community. “

The focus, it said, should be “on promoting inclusive, representative, participatory and responsive governance” at the national, provincial and local level without any discrimination based on gender, religion or ethnicity.

After the Taliban takeover Aug. 15 as U.S. and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, the country’s new Taliban rulers promised an inclusive government. However, the Taliban-appointed Cabinet remains overwhelmingly Pashtun and without women.

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, they denied girls and women rights to education and barred them from public life. The Taliban are now allowing girls to go to elementary school and have pledged to reopen schools for girls of all ages later this month. While women are still restricted in the jobs they can do, they have returned to work in the health and education sectors and at the airport in Kabul, working in passport control and customs.

The resolution orders UNAMA to “integrate gender mainstreaming” and also “promote gender equality, women’s and girls’ empowerment and the full protection of their human rights, including education, and the full, equal, meaningful and safe participation, engagement and leadership of women in all levels and stages of decision-making.”

The Security Council expressed deep concern at “the dire economic and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan” where the economy has been in a tailspin since the Taliban takeover. The U.N. mission’s mandate also includes coordination and delivery of desperately needed aid.

Lyons, the U.N. envoy, told the council in early March that the economy was heading toward “a point of irreversibility” and that the international community has not done enough to revive it. The United States said it is the responsibility of the Taliban rulers to create conditions for economic stability.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward said over 20 million Afghans need urgent assistance. The United Kingdom, Qatar, Germany and the U.N. humanitarian office are co-hosting a pledging conference on March 31 to raise funds for the country’s growing humanitarian needs.

“Beyond the humanitarian crisis,” she said, “we are particularly concerned by reports of reprisals against former government officials, as well as attacks and intimidation against minority groups and civil society” and detentions and enforced disappearances.

And although civilian casualties have dropped, “the Taliban need to demonstrate that extremist groups are no longer able to flourish in the country,” she said.

DeLaurentis stressed that UNAMA can now not only advocate for the empowerment of women and girls but “engage with them as vital partners in its work.”

“Afghanistan cannot prosper if half the population is denied access to education or is not permitted to work,” the U.S. envoy said. “The United States is closely watching the Taliban’s actions."

DeLaurentis said the U.S., as Afghanistan's single largest humanitarian donor, is committed to UNAMA’s work to facilitate the delivery of aid and continues “to support measures to help address the enormous challenges facing Afghanistan’s economy.”

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