49th Session of the Human Rights Council
28 February - 1st April 2022
Interactive Dialogue on HC Report on the Accountability of All Perpetrators of Human Rights Violations and Abuses in the Afghanistan Conflict and Presentation of HC Country Report on Situation in Afghanistan and the Technical Assistance Achievements
7th & 30th March 2022
By Ardya Syafhana / GICJ
During the Interactive Dialogue on the Human Rights situation in Afghanistan, which took place at the 49th Session at the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet delivered a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan on 15 August 2021. After six months of governance, the Taliban is the main actor in numerous allegations of killings and dreadful intimidation, discrimination against women and girls, and arbitrary restriction on freedom of expression, opinion and peaceful assembly. The delegates strongly condemned the allegations and called upon the Taliban to fully comply with human rights obligations under international law. States and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) raised concern over the necessary humanitarian assistance required to aid Afghan people. Several state representatives also recommended the cessation of international economic exclusion of Afghanistan.
During the 53rd Meeting of Human Rights Council at the 49th Regular Session, the presentation focused on the fruitful result of cooperation between UNAMA and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). This meeting was attended by the representative of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights and Field Operations and the Technical Division of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to discuss the achievements of technical assistance in the process of human rights development in Afghanistan before and months after the Taliban seized power. In comparison to the previous report on the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Afghanistan, UNAMA and OHCHR had contributed to several aspects of human rights development in Afghanistan, including but not limited to freedom from torture. The Permanent Representative of Afghanistan for the United Nations joined the meeting to recall such achievement and to invite international support for future assistance in Afghanistan.
Following years of deployments, the United States of America and the North Atlantic Treaty organisation announced the withdrawal of the military forces on 14 April 2021 from Afghanistan. This left a power vacuum as the Taliban gained effective control over the country on the same date the President of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani fled the country on 15 August 2022. In addition to prolonged instability prior to the Taliban’s conquest, Afghanistan later faced devastating economic and human rights crises under the new system of governance.
Pursuant to Human Rights Council Special Session resolution S-31/1, the OHCHR was assigned to present a comprehensive written report on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, focusing on the accountability of all perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses in the conflict. From August 2021 to February 2022, the report describes the Taliban leadership and its connection to human rights violations, discrimination and details the accountability process required to remedy these issues.
On a separate framework, the OHCHR was requested to present another report concerning the Mission’s Human Right Service in Afghanistan under the mandate governed in decision 2/113 and resolution 14/15 of the Human Rights Council. Covering the period of 1 December 2020-30 November 2021 the report highlights the human rights development under the Afghanistan Government: the protection of civilians and children in armed conflict, elimination of violence against women and the promotion of women’s rights, prevention of torture and promotion of respect for procedural safeguards and civic space and the integration of human rights into peace and reconciliation processes in Afghanistan.
Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
On the 7th of March 2022, the High Commissioner presented her report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan with a focus on the accountability process of human rights violations and abuses from August 2021 until February 2022. The report detailed a total of 1.153 civilian casualties, including 397 deaths--despite the incline of hostilities in the country—attributed to the attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant- Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP). The report highlighted that Afghan people still face a devastating humanitarian crisis and degradation of fundamental human rights at the hands of the Taliban Authority. Notwithstanding the general amnesty commitments announced since the beginning of its ruling, the Taliban has been linked to extra-judicial killings against suspected ISIL-KP members and former Afghanistan state officials. The humanitarian crisis was a catalyst for sanctions imposed by the international community against Taliban following their takeover since 15 August 2021. Civilians now have limited access to food, health supplies, and education. Accordingly, the people in Afghanistan have resorted to harmful means to survive, including unsustainable debt burdens or worse measures including child labour, marriage, and the sale of children. Women and girls were highlighted as the most vulnerable group in the middle of this humanitarian crisis, in addition to discrimination and gender-based violence targeting them. Discrimination against women can be seen in the composition of the de facto administration which comprises of only male members and the dissolution of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs on 18 September 2021. As de facto authorities, the Taliban imposed restrictions on fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and movement in civil society which has been enforced strictly against women in particular. After all these atrocities, there is no sign of an accountability process and administration of justice designated by the Taliban’s administration. De facto authorities have established a “commission for the purification of the ranks” to alter the complaints of abuse of power by Taliban members and over 4000 members have been expelled. Most judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers from the previous administration have been excluded and substituted by the de facto ministry of justice which seized authority in the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association. On a positive note, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)/Office of the High Committee of Human Rights (OHCHR) has designed a mechanism to exchange documents on human rights violations with the de facto ministry of interior. The International Criminal Court (ICC) also petitioned to resume its investigation in Afghanistan as there has been no prospect of effective domestic investigation in Afghanistan.
On the 30th of March 2022, another report was presented by the High Commissioner’ concerning the human rights situation in Afghanistan and the achievements of technical assistance in human rights for the period of December 2020 to 30 November 2021. The report focuses mainly on the monitoring and technical assistance by UNAMA and the OHCHR before the Taliban’s takeover on 15 August 2021. The civilian casualties reached at least 8300 with 2400 deaths resulting from hostilities between Anti-Government elements (predominantly Taliban and ISIL-K) and pro-government forces (Afghan National Defence, Security Forces and International military forces). UNAMA and OHCHR attributed more than half of the casualties to the Anti-Government forces, primarily through attacks using improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers in civilian-populated areas. There had been attacks against the hors de combat, schools and health care facilities, although it must be noted that the widespread hostilities mainly ceased after Taliban gained control over the country. Contrastingly, the Afghanistan Government received criticism over allegations of torture of persons held in custody by the Afghan National Police and the National Directorate of Security. After the long journey to promote peace and reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghanistan Government, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has ceased to function since the seizure of its office by Taliban on 15 August 2021. This national human rights institution had been coordinating with UNAMA and OHCHR to develop policy options on the accountability and transitional justice process in Afghanistan, particularly for victims of the conflict.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, conveyed her disappointment and concern over civilian casualties following the military takeover of the country. She also highlighted the worrying levels of extra-judicial killings of citizens and former government personnel, as well as the decree of de facto minister of interior on the prohibition of the use of firearms at checkpoints and the obligation to obtain court orders before the search of private residences. She emphasised the humanitarian and economic crisis in the country which undermines the fulfilment of Afghan people's economic, social and cultural rights. The High Commissioner urged de facto authorities to commit to protecting the Afghan people's human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially women and girls.
The Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN, Mr Nasir Ahmad Andisha, expressed his appreciation in welcoming the report of the High Commissioner and International Support of Afghanistan. He reaffirmed the devastating reality in Afghanistan and the deterioration of human rights at the hands of the Taliban in comparison to the previous Afghanistan governance. He called on the international community to bear in mind that the Taliban and its affiliates remained terrorist groups. He underscored that the normalisation and recognition of de facto authorities will serve as a “carte blanche” for other violent groups to follow their dangerous precedent. In the same vein, the representative invited humanitarian assistance from other countries through reliable pipelines to prevent its misuse and guarantee the rights of all people of Afghanistan. The representative concluded his statement by calling for immediate engagement from the Special Rapporteur to pursue their mandate.
The European Union, represented by Ms Lotte Knudsen, noted with deep concern, the oppression of civil and political rights in Afghanistan, particularly freedom of expression, opinion and right to peaceful assembly human rights defenders and women and girls and minority groups. The European Union affirmed its commitment to cooperate with relevant actors in respect of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and neighbouring states by holding the Taliban accountable for its commitment to and obligations under international law.
The Delegate of Pakistan, Mr Khalil Ur Rahman Hashmi, spoke on behalf of the organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The delegate recognised that the crisis in Afghanistan today is a result of a sequence of conflicts and instability over the past decades. OIC supported the Human Rights Council’s call for furthering the humanitarian assistance of Afghanistan and endorsed the cessation of the freezing of financial assets of Afghanistan. OIC also recalled its engagement with de facto authorities through a humanitarian trust fund and food security program.
Latin American Countries were represented by the delegate of Mexico, Ms Francisca E. Mendes Escobar, who drew attention to gender inequality issues. The delegate emphasised women's participation in public life (humanitarian processes, peaceful dialogue and governance) and access to education for girls. The representative condemned the restrictions directed at associations dedicated to promoting the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan and called on de facto authorities to respect freedom of expression and association.
On behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries, the representative of Iceland Mr Harald Aspelund, condemned discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan, most notably in access to education and their exclusion from political and social affairs. The delegate underlined the arbitrary killings, violence and intimidation targeting the peaceful protestors, journalists and media workers, not to mention human rights defenders and people associated with the previous government and ethnic, religious and sexual minorities.
The representative for UN Women, Ms Adriana Quinones, also attended the meeting and expressed appreciation for the special attention paid to women and girls in the Afghanistan crisis. The representative called for urgent action from the international community to support the Afghan women's movement, such as the advocacy program of the relevant organisations. The representative for UN Women promoted monitoring systems in the country including investigations and evidence collation on women’s rights as a step to ensure accountability under human rights law in Afghanistan.
The delegate of China, Mr Jian Duan stated that the United States of America is responsible for the ongoing Afghanistan crisis due to its withdrawal of troops and seizure of national assets. China urged the United States of America to immediately halt the unilateral sanctions by returning Afghanistan’s assets and contributing to helping Afghan people with concrete actions. Conversely, the representative for the United States of America, Ms Michele Taylor focused on the allegations of human rights abuses by Taliban forces, especially the derogation of civil and political rights impacting Afghan People and restriction of access to information reporting on cases of human rights abuses. Lastly, the representative urged de facto authorities to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur for the future documentation, monitoring and reporting mechanism with the United Nations in Afghanistan.
Delegates of the United Kingdom and Australia, expressed deep concern about the erosion of human rights for women and girls and the allegations of extra-judicial killings subsequent to the Taliban’s announcement of a general amnesty.
The delegate of Saudi Arabia, Mr Abdulaziz M.O. Alwasil, articulated a different approach to the international community. The representative affirmed that for the purpose of security and stability in Afghanistan, there is a need to maintain territorial integrity, sovereignty and prevention of foreign intervention. Saudi Arabia urged the international community to aid Afghanistan with humanitarian assistance and relief and called on all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to respect the life of Afghan people and to comply with international legislation especially the rights of women in terms of education and work, as indicated in the Islamic Sharia law.
Non-governmental organisations condemned discrimination against women and girls and minority groups in Afghanistan. In addition, there was also a call to unfreeze Afghanistan's assets and its financial sanctions. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission reminded the delegates, that despite all the deterioration of human rights, the Taliban has not officially announced its intention to fully comply with national and international legal obligations.
Finally, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ms Ilze Brands Kehris, delivered the final remarks to give clarification on delegates' inquiries and concerns. She stated that in respect of the plan to coordinate with Taliban, the international community needs to develop a consistent message in any form of engagement yet calibrate the mission with the performance of Taliban in the Human Rights issues. Additionally, while acknowledging the impact of international economic sanctions on Afghanistan, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights also appreciates the measure taken by the United States of America in releasing some funds for the humanitarian agencies. In responding to the issue of accountability, the Assistant Secretary-General noted the development of discussions between UNAMA and Taliban. The accountability process in Afghanistan remains a critical issue in Human Rights Council reports, especially the need for a comprehensive transitional justice system in the middle of dysfunctional domestic efforts. She emphasised that the ICC would continue to investigate international crimes under its framework.
Presentation of technical assistance achievements in the field of human rights
On 30 March 2022, the Director of Field Operations and Technical Division of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Christian Salazar Volkmann, gave a presentation on the human rights situation of Afghanistan pursuant to Report of the High Commissioner Number 49/90 and technical assistance in Afghanistan pursuant to Decision no. 2/11 and Resolution 14/15. The technical assistance before August 2021 had been meaningful to develop the protection and fulfilment of human rights of the Afghan People. UNAMA and OHCHR had been fully cooperative to support Afghanistan's previous government in different activities along with the Trust Fund on Universal Periodic Review implementation, Treaty-Body Capacity Building Programme and Regular Bidget for technical cooperation. After the Taliban took control of the country, the technical cooperation activities switched their focus to monitoring and reporting systems on the human rights situations in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan as the country concerned, represented by Mr Nazir Ahmad Andisha, highlighted the contrast of the human rights situation in Afghanistan before and after the Taliban’s rule. The delegate further emphasised that in spite of the drawback to human rights standards caused by Taliban, there is still hope and aspiration for Afghan People. Finally, the delegate called the international community to support the facilitation of available and potential resources to minimise the degradation of human rights in Afghanistan.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) welcomes the two reports presented by the High Commissioner concerning the Afghanistan humanitarian situation. We are deeply concerned by the number of civilian casualties even after a decrease in the level of hostilities in Afghanistan. All conflicting parties, most importantly de facto authorities, must adhere to applicable international humanitarian law in preserving civilians and other protected objects. We condemn the undermining of human rights by the Taliban in relation to extrajudicial killings, threats to personal security and discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan. We call upon de facto authorities to realise their commitment to giving amnesties to the former government officials and equal human rights fulfilment to the minorities group, especially women and girls. We also urge all states and non-governmental entities to halt the international blockade and reestablish humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people as they are in urgent need of such help. GICJ supports the immediate participation of the Special Rapporteur in facilitating communication between the Taliban and the International Community to address the human rights violations in the hope of future accountability and a reconciliation process in the country. The achievement of the past collaboration between the former Afghanistan Government, OHCHR, and UNAMA proved that there is always light for Afghan People throughout those darkest moments - if only all parties are willing to cooperate.
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