7 April 2000


Press Release
SC/6840



NO REASON FOR OPTIMISM ABOUT EARLY CEASEFIRE IN AFGHANISTAN SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD DURING OPEN BRIEFING

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It was not possible to be optimistic about an early ceasefire between the warring factions in Afghanistan, John Renninger, Officer-in-Charge of the Asia and Pacific Division of the Department of Political Affairs, told the Security Council this morning, as it held an open briefing on the situation in that country.

While severe weather and the observance of the holy month of Ramadan had forced both sides to reduce the intensity of the fighting, it had not come to a halt, he said. In fact, there was every indication that the parties were preparing for a full-scale offensive in the spring. Humanitarian conditions continued to worsen and living conditions were so precarious that easily treatable diseases accounted for the deaths of 180,000 children a year.

While noting limited progress in the improvement of the situation of women and girls, the overall situation remained unacceptable and warranted the sustained attention of the international community, he continued. While women’s access to education, health and employment was severely restricted since the Taliban takeover, there was evidence from the field indicating a shift in the Taliban's position on women in the last 18 months. Also, restrictions once imposed on female staff of United Nations agencies had been eased.

Angela King, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said that further progress in Afghanistan was likely to be as slow as the modest progress achieved over the past two years, unless there was a strong negotiated peace. Unfortunately, the issue of gender was usually very low down on the list of priorities, or often not even a factor. The Council must continue to press for the full enjoyment of the human rights of women in Afghanistan.

Council President and Foreign Minister of Canada Lloyd Axworthy, speaking in his national capacity, said Afghanistan had joined the small but growing number of countries where the State had disintegrated, leaving a vacuum. “The Taliban claim to be a bona fide government, but behave as a criminal gang, harbouring international terrorists and allowing their country to become the world’s largest exporter of illegal opiates. The acceptance they crave must be earned, through national reconciliation, the formation of a broad-based and representative government, the end of tolerance for terrorism and drug trafficking and, above all, through respect for human rights, including women’s human rights”, he said.


Security Council - 1a - Press Release SC/6840 4124th Meeting (AM) 7 April 2000

Several speakers this morning condemned the Taliban’s attacks on United Nations personnel, most recently in Kandahar, and requested that the adequate guarantees be provided for their safety. Speakers were also disturbed in the increasing amount of outside interference, particularly the direct involvement of foreign fighters and mercenaries.

Afghan affairs were and still remained today in the hands of the Pakistani army, which had begun training camps for terrorists, stated the representative of Afghanistan. Pakistan still hoped for a military solution to the conflict and the military regime continued to use religious groups for their own purposes. Such a policy was not only harmful to the Afghan people, but would be a major obstacle to peace and security in Pakistan.

Also this morning, the Council expressed its condolences at the passing of Habib Bourguiba, leader and former President of Tunisia, following which the representative of Tunisia made a brief statement.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Argentina (both in his national capacity and as Chair of the Sanctions Committee on Afghanistan), Russian Federation, France, United States, Bangladesh, China, Netherlands, Namibia, United Kingdom, Mali, Malaysia, Ukraine and Jamaica.

The meeting, which was convened at 11:45 a.m., adjourned at 2:30 p.m.



Security Council - 3 - Press Release SC/6840 4124th Meeting (AM) 7 April 2000

Council Work Programme

The Security Council met this morning to hear a briefing on the situation in Afghanistan. It had before it the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security (document A/54/791-S/2000/205), which covers developments from 16 November 1999 to 6 March 2000 and provides regular information on the main developments in the country, including those in the humanitarian and human rights fields. In addition to Council requests, the Secretary-General was also requested by the General Assembly to report every three months on the progress of the United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan (UNSMA).

According to the report, following his appointment on 12 January as the Secretary-General's Personal Representative and Head of UNSMA, Francesc Vendrell embarked on his first visit to Afghanistan as well as to several countries in the region and beyond, including members of the "six plus two" group (China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Russian Federation and United States). The two Afghan parties stated their readiness to cooperate with him in the search for a political solution to the conflict. Both expressed their opposition to terrorism and their commitment to progressively eradicate drug cultivation.

They also stated their respective positions regarding the establishment of a broad-based, multi-ethnic and representative government, the report continues. On the issue of a ceasefire, neither side ruled out a new offensive in the spring or summer; the Taliban because it had not given up hopes of a military victory and the United Front because it might aim at regaining the territory it had lost to the Taliban.

The Governments of the "six plus two" group expressed concern at the absence of a political solution to the Afghan conflict and at the likelihood of renewed fighting once winter was over. They all confirmed their commitment to work with the United Nations, which they considered should continue to play the central role in international efforts to achieve a peaceful and lasting settlement to the Afghan crisis. Many criticized the Taliban for its apparent determination to seek a military solution, which, those Governments asserted, was an unachievable and unacceptable option.

The report goes on to say that those Governments conveyed their interest in strengthening the role of the "six plus two" group as a means of bringing the parties to the negotiating table and assisting in the search for a lasting political settlement. A reflection of that commitment was the meeting of the group held on 28 February focusing on the issue of illicit drugs.

Following the acceptance by the Taliban authorities of the deployment of the UNSMA Civil Affairs Unit, the report states, four civil affairs officers have been assigned to Kabul, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. The political component of UNSMA will be increased to its full capacity by the end of June, by which time the new Tehran office should have been opened. It was also envisaged that by then the Mission's presence in Kabul will have been enlarged.

Although fighting was limited during the reporting period, states the report, it had never come to a complete halt. The flow of weapons and other war-making materials into Afghanistan has continued throughout the period, enabling both sides to prepare for spring offensives.

With regard to the humanitarian situation, since the last report there has been an increase in the number of displaced persons in Kabul. The combination of a poor harvest, the tightening of border controls and a harsh winter with little precipitation has exacerbated food insecurity for the majority of Afghans. Those conditions have contributed to the 45 per cent increase in the price of wheat across the country since October 1999.

Education in general, and in particular for girls, remains extremely problematic, states the report. While education is one of the priorities for discussion at the Joint Consultative Committee meetings between the Taliban authorities and the United Nations, little progress has been achieved at the policy level. However, non-formal home-based schools for girls and boys have emerged in many locations and are being supported by a number of assistance agencies, including non-governmental organizations. In rural areas, the Taliban is often more responsive to the demands of local communities for formal education.

According to the report, a significant characteristic of recent offensives is the deliberate targeting of civilians and the destruction of their assets and means of survival. Civilians continue to be subjected to a wide range of human rights violations. There are continued reports of summary executions, arbitrary detention and forced labour of those in detention.

There has been some easing of restrictions in some parts of Afghanistan on the mobility of women and girls, particularly in terms of their access to the limited health care and educational facilities that are available. United Nations agencies are continuing to pursue these and related issues in Joint Consultative Committee discussions and at the local level.

Statements

Briefing the Council, JOHN RENNINGER, Officer-in-Charge of the Asia and Pacific Division of the Department of Political Affairs, said that the Afghan conflict had entered its twenty-second year without any solution in the foreseeable future. Its negative effects had now spread to its neighbours, including a flood of refugees, arms smuggling and drugs.

He first wanted to update the Council on recent political activities aimed at resolving the situation. The talks held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, under the auspices of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), between the Taliban and the United Front had not resulted in either side changing its positions. The OIC would be resuming those talks in Jeddah soon. The “six plus two” group had also been active in recent months, having convened a high-level meeting at Headquarters in February. It was not possible to be optimistic about an early ceasefire between the warring factions.

Turning to the military situation, he said that a stalemate had persisted on the battlefield during the winter. Severe weather and the observance of the holy month of Ramadan had forced both sides to reduce the intensity of the fighting, but had not brought it to a halt. There had been continuous clashes, particularly after mid-January. Fighting was steadily on the rise and there was every indication that parties were preparing for full-scale fighting in the spring. It had appeared that the Taliban and the United Front had started tactical moves to capture strategic points. The UNSMA had received reports of movements of forces and equipment, as well as of heavy clashes between both sides north of Kabul.

The Secretary-General, he said, had noted repeatedly that external interference was one of the main obstacles to achieving a peaceful settlement. There had been reports that non-Afghan fighters were being recruited in religious schools in Pakistan. In past weeks, thousands of additional fighters had arrived in Afghanistan. The growing reliance on foreign fighters indicated difficulties in recruiting soldiers in the country itself.

With regard to the humanitarian situation, he said that the population still suffered from war and economic collapse. Conditions in urban areas were particularly miserable, with rising unemployment. The plight of displaced civilians was a particular problem for the international community. Atrocities against civilians had compounded human suffering. Southern Afghanistan was now suffering drought conditions, which might lead to an increased outbreak of disease. He hoped that the Taliban would provide the necessary security guarantees to enable the return of United Nations staff to Kandahar.

The human rights situation in the country, especially with the onset of another season of fighting, must continue to receive the priority attention of the international community, he said. Living conditions were so precarious that easily treatable diseases accounted for the death of 180,000 children a year. With another season of fighting about to begin, there was every reason to believe that direct attacks on civilians would continue. Recent killings included alleged executions of elders.

He said that recently the international community had been intensely engaged with the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. The abhorrent conditions imposed on them had been condemned in numerous United Nations resolutions. Women’s access to education, health and employment was severely restricted since the Taliban takeover, with their banishment from all public activities. Evidence from the field indicated that in the last 18 months there had been a shift in the Taliban’s position regarding the access of women to education, employment and health care. The assistance community had been instrumental in preparing the ground for that shift.

Restrictions once imposed on female staff of United Nations agencies had been eased in practice, he continued. In 1999, about 40 female medical students were allowed to finish their education. Also, a nursing school had been opened in Kandahar for 50 female and 50 male nurses. Community-based schools for boys and girls had been established in some communities. Currently, there were no formal economic sectors and agriculture and home-based crafts offered the only opportunities for women’s employment. Women had no access to markets, due to their confinement. Women in areas controlled by the United Front suffered from inaccessibility to education, health care and employment. While noting limited progress in the improvement of the situation of women and girls, the overall situation remained unacceptable and warranted the sustained attention of the international community.

ARNOLDO M. LISTRE (Argentina), speaking as Chairman of the Sanctions Committee on Afghanistan, said that the Committee had adopted guidelines for its work and sent letters to Member States requesting more information on implementation of resolution 1267 (1999). The Committee had received over 50 responses from Member States in that regard and issued a report containing them as S/2000/282, which would be updated as more communications were received. The Committee had updated the list of aircraft mentioned in the resolution and authorized one airline flight out of Afghanistan to transport sick children.

It had also authorized 360 flight segments from Kandahar and Kabul to Jeddah, so that 12,000 Afghan pilgrims could undertake the Hajj, he continued. Last week, the return flights transporting those pilgrims back was begun and it was hoped that it would be concluded by 23 April. The Committee had received significant cooperation from the Taliban authorities on the Hajj trip. In the future, the United Nations must directly earmark resources to allow the Committee, and other such committees to fulfil their responsibilities. The $20,000 required for the Hajj project was taken from the funds earmarked for travel expenses of the Committee Chairman.

The Committee was now dealing with paragraph 4(b) of the resolution, which pertained to the freezing of funds in the control of the Taliban, he said. Once the Committee had completed the designation phase, it was hoped that the Secretariat would issue a report on that matter. In any sanctions regime, success depended on implementation and compliance. He appealed to all Member States to fully implement resolution 1267.

Speaking in his national capacity, he said that it was timely that the Council should deal with the situation in an open briefing. He was concerned about the new offensives about to be launched. It was intolerable that the population should be subject to continued human rights violations. The situation of food security was particularly alarming, especially since it might worsen due to the impending drought. The scourge of drugs fueled the conflict and he regretted that the Taliban had not complied with resolution 1267. He urged all Afghan parties to further their efforts to resume diplomatic negotiations and reject a military solution. He also called on neighbouring countries to stop providing forces to the conflict.

SERGEY LAVROV (Russian Federation) said that the Council’s consideration of the situation in Afghanistan was very timely. The Taliban was to blame for the situation in that country. It was still violating resolutions of the Council and the General Assembly and was not planning on abandoning their illegal and destructive policies. He strongly condemned the escalation of fighting, which postponed any hope of a peaceful settlement and contributed to the people’s suffering. He also condemned the Taliban’s attacks on United Nations personnel, most recently in Kandahar. Their claim to ethnic and religious domination of the country was doomed to failure. Only direct talks, under United Nations auspices, would lead to an end to the conflict. Only by establishing a multi-ethnic government could the human rights of all Afghans be ensured.

The Council, he said, must strongly warn the Taliban against preparations for an upcoming full-scale offensive. He was seriously disturbed about the increasing amount of outside interference, particularly the direct involvement of foreign fighters and mercenaries. Neighbouring countries must not allow their territories to be used for recruitment and training. He was concerned about the fact that the Taliban had refused to turn over Usama bin Laden, as well as with the mercenary activities of the Taliban. The Council must do more to ensure that the Taliban did more to comply with all the terms of resolution 1267 (1999). Up to 40 per cent of the heroin entering Europe and North America as well as Central Asia and Russia, originated in Afghanistan. The “six plus two” group had attempted to address that problem when they last met in February.

The international community had to speak out against the Taliban’s continued defiance of calls for the respect of human rights, he said. The Council must take the necessary measures to help resolve the situation in the country. The “six plus two” group remained the primary machinery of the United Nations to resolve the conflict. He expected that the adoption of an agreed presidential statement would help to ensure better coordination of the efforts of the international community.

JEAN-DAVID LEVITTE (France) said there were many aspects of deep concern about the situation in Afghanistan, notable among them the threats of renewed fighting, the hindering of humanitarian assistance, violations of human rights -- particularly those of women -- support for international terrorism, and an increase in the production and trafficking of illicit drugs. In all those areas, the Security Council had voiced a firm position. It was important to point out that the presidential statement on Afghanistan that was being issued reflected the unanimity of the Council. The statement recalled the principles of the need for a peaceful settlement of disputes as well as the need for a fully representative government. He expressed the hope that the particularly strong signal being sent by the Council to the parties, in particular, the Taliban, would be heard and acted upon.

The report noted that fighting had resumed in early March and that there were threats of further and larger offensives. He was particularly worried the reports of the involvement of foreign elements in the fighting. Most of those foreign elements were fighting on the side of the Taliban. He supported the Council’s call for a halt to that outside interference. He supported the efforts of the Secretary- General’s Personal Representative, Mr. Vendrell, and current efforts to reach a political settlement. The Rome process, in particular, was important.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE (United States) said Afghanistan was one of the horror stories of the post-cold-war period. Its tragic and seemingly endless civil war exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation, draining resources that could be used to alleviate privations, hindering international assistance and preventing Afghanistan from developing its potential. It also created conditions of lawlessness and disorder in which terrorism and trade in illicit narcotics flourished.

He quoted United States First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said that abuses of fundamental freedoms “are not customs. They are not religious practices. They are human rights violations.” The United Nations Human Development Index ranked Afghanistan among the world’s lowest, while it’s Gender Disparity Index, based on female life expectancy, education and income, ranked Afghanistan dead last. Due to the efforts of the United Nations and the non-governmental organization community, there were signs of modest improvement, at least in terms of informal educational opportunities for girls and a trend towards improved access to medical treatment for women and girls. Regrettably, though, the Taliban’s official policies remained unchanged.

He asked Ms. King about the restrictions on the public role of women in Afghanistan. What could be done to ensure that women in Afghanistan were given a place in civil society?

Last year, United States humanitarian aid to the Afghan people totaled over $70 million, making the United States the world’s single largest aid provider to Afghanistan. This year’s effort would be of comparable value. Stating that the United States had expanded its resettlement program for persecuted Afghans, he called upon other nations to accept a share of the responsibility to provide refuge to Afghans, joining Pakistan, which hosted by far the largest fraction on its territory, and Iran, another major country of refuge.

Humanitarian operations in Afghanistan must be allowed to proceed unhindered, he said. Terrorism, narcotics and Afghanistan’s continuing civil war also demanded attention. The efforts of the international community to persuade the Taliban to stop supporting international terrorism complemented, rather than conflicted the humanitarian interest in Afghanistan.

Concerning Security Council resolution 1267 on Usama bin Laden, he highlighted the obligation of Member States to implement sanctions on Taliban assets and flights effectively and promptly. Stating that narcotics trafficking was also of very serious concern, he encouraged the efforts of the “six plus two” in working toward solutions to the problems.

SHAMIM AHMED (Bangladesh) said it was regrettable that there had not been much progress so far in narrowing the differences among the parties on the establishment of a broad-based, multi-ethnic and representative government. The threat of a resumption of a large-scale military offensive was a matter of serious concern. The Secretary-General’s report mentioned the flow of weapons and war-making materials into Afghanistan had continued throughout the winter, enabling both sides to prepare for a fresh spring offensive. It was now necessary to concentrate all efforts in persuading the parties to enter into a process of dialogue that could lead to a verifiable ceasefire and eventually an agreement on a broad-based, multi-ethnic and representative government.

He expressed deep concern that the United Nations had to withdraw its staff from Kandahar. He joined others in calling for a clear and categorical expression of disapproval of the violation of the safety and immunity of United Nations staff. He also expressed concern at the disastrous socio-economic conditions in Afghanistan. There had been little progress in the education sector and health conditions remained extremely precarious. On the issue of refugees, he expressed the hope that the repatriation process that started at the end of last month would continue and that the returning refugees would receive the necessary international assistance. The United Nations had and should continue its central role in the international efforts to achieve a lasting settlement to the Afghan crisis.

CHEN XU (China) expressed his disappointment in the continuing situation in Afghanistan. If negotiations did not resume soon, the world could witness a large- scale military offensive in the coming months. The people of Afghanistan longed for a cessation of war and turbulence and longed for peace. Only by establishing a broad-based and representative government could peace be achieved. He appreciated the efforts of Francesc Vendrell and that of UNSMA. The international community should work harder to break the vicious cycle of war. He urged all sides, including the “six plus two” group and neighbouring countries, to work towards that end.

Illicit drug production and trafficking posed serious consequences for neighbouring countries and had become a means for financing the war, he said. His country was deeply disturbed by the deterioration of human rights and the humanitarian situation in the country. Of great concern was that civilians had become targets of attacks. Women and girls continued to suffer exceptionally. He urged all factions to implement their commitments to ensure the safety of United Nations and other international personnel working in the country.

PETER VAN WALSUM (Netherlands) said that trying to settle the conflict in Afghanistan by military means prolonged the conflict, carried the risk of further regionalization, increased the suffering of the Afghan people and would not contribute to a process of reconciliation in the future. "No one can win this war, but all can destroy the country", he said. The warring parties were responsible for finding a political solution, and the neighbouring countries should strictly adhere to the Tashkent declaration and not provide military support to any Afghan party.

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan remained alarming, he continued. The offensive of the Taliban on 1 March had led to another stream of displaced persons, and once again women and children were the primary victims. For many people in Afghanistan, international humanitarian assistance was a lifeline. The forced entries by Taliban armed groups into the United Nations premises in Kandahar had resulted in the suspension of humanitarian assistance in southern Afghanistan, and was therefore a matter of concern.

The rigid social code imposed by the Taliban caused many restrictions for women and girls with regard to employment, education and health care services, he said. The way in which many Afghan women and girls had become victims of gender specific human rights violations, such as rape, assault, forced marriage and prostitution, should be strongly condemned. It was criminal to exclude women from mine-awareness training, he stated.

Although there had been signs of modest relaxation of Taliban rules on access of women and girls to certain services, he said, the exclusion of girls from education remained a matter of grave concern. Due to employment restrictions for women and the fact that a large part of the teaching corps once consisted of women, the education for boys was stagnating as well. The prospects for social and economic development were, therefore, weakening. He appealed to the Taliban to bring their rules on access to employment, education and health care more in line with those of the international community, including the rest of the Islamic world.

MARTIN ANDJABA (Namibia) said that the magnitude of the suffering of the people of Afghanistan because of the war was comparable to that of situations in Africa. It was, therefore, important that solutions were sought to achieve peace in Afghanistan. The war had devastating effects for civilians, who already had to battle other extreme elements, such as the harsh winter conditions. A lasting political solution of the Afghan conflict had to be found.

Only a negotiated political settlement aimed at the establishment of a broad- based, multi-ethnic and fully representative government acceptable to all Afghans could lead to peace and national reconciliation, he said. He welcomed the renewed commitment of members of the “six plus two” group to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the Afghan conflict, as well as efforts by the OIC to promote peace.

He was struck by the magnitude of the problem of drug cultivation and production activities in Afghanistan and the role it played in the continuation of the conflict. Efforts by the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, as well as initiatives by the “six plus two” group, should curtail the cultivation, production and trafficking of drugs in Afghanistan, he said.

STEWART ELDON (United Kingdom) said his country deplored the recent forced entry by Taliban armed groups to United Nations premises in Kandahar and the consequent intimidation of United Nations personnel. The Taliban must recognize that their actions fell far short of internationally acceptable behaviour. He called upon them to stop such practices and urged them to guarantee the safety of United Nations and other personnel in Afghanistan. Such actions completely undermined their arguments for international recognition.

According to the reports, the long-suffering people of Afghanistan were in for another long summer of misery, he said. Yet, a military victory was not possible. A ceasefire followed by a negotiated settlement leading to a broad-based government was the best solution. The United Nations had a crucial role in brokering that deal; hence the Council’s dismay at the violation of United Nations immunity in Kandahar, and its concern over the reports of external interference. He called for an end to that outside interference. He urged a redoubling of efforts of the “six plus two” group.

The litany of discrimination against women in Afghanistan was all too familiar, he said. There also appeared to be an emerging trend of deliberately targeting civilians by the various combatants. That violated any number of international norms and was simply unacceptable. It could not and should not be tolerated. “We have pointed out to the Taliban -- and this I think is a particularly telling point -- that other Islamic societies accord more rights to women”, he said. While he welcomed some positive developments, he said there were nowhere near enough.

Noting that the United Kingdom provided funding for the Islamabad United Nations-based gender adviser post, he asked for an assessment of the activities of the adviser, as well as how they might be developed further.

MOCTAR OUANE (Mali) said he was seriously concerned with the continuing conflict, which caused terrible suffering to the Afghan people. He condemned the new offensive by the Taliban and worried about reports on the arms flow into the country. The Council should demand that fighting be halted. The parties must be convinced of the need to hold talks to achieve a lasting ceasefire. The Afghan parties must understand that there was no military solution to the conflict. Only a peaceful solution, with the establishment of a multi-ethnic government, could lead to lasting peace. The United Nations must continue to play the central and impartial role that it had done so far.

On the humanitarian situation, he said that the Taliban must ensure delivery of assistance to all those in need. He welcomed efforts by neighbouring countries with regard to the protection of refugees. His delegation supported the efforts of the Council to combat such problems as terrorism, and expressed concern at the forced displacement of civilians, forced labour and arbitrary executions. Illicit drug trafficking should be dealt with in a coordinated manner, in order to put an end to the illegal production and export of drugs from Afghanistan. The presidential statement contained a clear and consistent message and Mali fully endorsed it.

MOHAMMAD KAMAL YAN YAHAYA (Malaysia) said that the heavy toll exacted on Afghanistan and its people following the long and debilitating war weighed heavily on the minds of the international community. The impoverished country could ill afford to squander its scarce resources to the war effort. Afghanistan was the most heavily mined country in the world and the situation was further compounded by other social ills, not least of which was the pernicious effects of drugs, guns and violence, and an entire population dependent on handouts from the international community.

It was deplorable that Afghan women had been denied their right to education, as well as the right to earn a living and to enjoy participation in other facets of life, he said. Those rights were very much compatible with Islam. Women had the legitimate right and obligation to play a constructive role in society, including in the realm of nation-building.

It was imperative that Afghanistan's major ethnic and religious groups cooperate among themselves to decide on their own leadership, rather than have one imposed on them. The Rome process, that is, the convening of the Grand Assembly or loya jirgah, could contribute to the overall peace process, he said.

Addressing the sanctions imposed on the Taliban, he said that safeguards were necessary in order to mitigate the unintended consequences to the civilian population. Before additional measures could be considered, the Council should evaluate the impact of ongoing sanctions. Contrary to requirements, no analysis had been made on the possible impact of the sanctions before they were imposed on the Taliban. In the absence of that assessment, it was important that periodic impact assessments be carried out so as to modify the sanctions regime if and when deemed necessary, as provided for in paragraph 6(c) of Council resolution 1267 (1999).

VOLODYMYR YEL’CHENKO (Ukraine) said that over the past few decades, the international community had gained the bitter experience that in any armed conflict it was civil society who bore its greatest burden. The current situation in Afghanistan was yet further proof of that. Citing such issues as the human rights violations and the drug trafficking, he said he was greatly concerned over the deteriorating situation, particularly the humanitarian aspects. There was widespread abuse of human rights, including mistreatment of the civilian population, disappearances and torture.

There were no signs of improvement, he said. To the contrary, both sides seemed poised to resume fighting. The hostile climate created insurmountable difficulties for the implementation of humanitarian assistance and projects. The parties had to be brought to the negotiating table. It was, therefore, timely to reiterate the Council’s position on the situation. The presidential statement reflected the Council’s concern and carried an important message, namely that the Council was prepared to consider other measures. He called upon the members of the “six plus two” countries to continue their efforts to seek a solution.

CURTIS A. WARD (Jamaica) said that the humanitarian situation and the plight of vulnerable populations in areas of conflict required vigilant attention. With regard to Afghanistan, achieving a political settlement would be the first step towards alleviating the humanitarian suffering in that country. It was important for the warring parties to continue their dialogue leading to the establishment of a broad-based and representative government. It was vital for the Taliban to take their seat at the negotiating table. The humanitarian efforts of the United Nations must be supported and provided with the necessary resources. He called on the Taliban to ensure the safety of all personnel working in Afghanistan.

He reiterated that there must be respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. Those who targeted civilians must be brought to justice. The problems faced by women and girls, such as restrictions on access to education, employment and health care, were well known. They also suffered from stress and impoverishment. He requested Angela King to comment on the following issues: the likelihood of further progress in the situation of women and girls; the steps being taken to safeguard the human rights of Afghan women and children; any programmes to create awareness of human rights among women; and the status of the implementation of United Nations recommendations geared at improving their situation. Finally, Jamaica supported the presidential statement to be adopted today.

LLOYD AXWORTHY, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Canada, said the situation of women in Afghanistan was of direct concern to the Council. Their plight demonstrated again how, in today’s armed conflicts, it was civilians who suffered the most. As with all victims of armed conflict, the Council bore responsibility for their protection.

All aspects of the conflict in Afghanistan were reprehensible, but some stood out more than others, he said. Five to seven million anti-personnel mines, which had limited military significance, were strewn indiscriminately across Afghanistan. While the United Nations demining program was making encouraging efforts, the report indicated that new mining was underway. Interference with humanitarian operations imperiled the lives of those who depended on such operations for food or medical care. It was only through the efforts of the United Nations agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and various non-governmental organizations that famine had been averted.

Most disturbing, however, was the Taliban’s systematic pattern of violation of the human rights of half the population -- women and girls -- a violation that the Taliban misrepresent as having a religious foundation, he continued. Women daring to transgress ordinances were subject to harsh punishment, including public beatings and torture. But, those who obeyed were virtual prisoners and still subject to harassment and physical abuse. The restrictions on women, which included access to employment, education and health care, were not a matter of mere neglect, but of active policy and had compound effects on the situation of women and girls. Maternal mortality rates in Afghanistan were the second highest in the world and, while overall literacy rates were estimated at 30 per cent, for females the number was 13 per cent.

He took note of reports that there had been a modest, if localized, amelioration in recent months, with the Taliban permitting home schooling for girls, for example. After pointing out the work of several Canadian non-governmental organizations on the issue, he said that Canada would provide $300,000 through the United Nations Human Rights Trust Fund to support activities that benefited Afghan women and girls.

Afghanistan had joined the small but growing number of countries where the State had disintegrated, leaving a vacuum, he said. “The Taliban claim to be a bona fide government, but behave as a criminal gang, harbouring international terrorists and allowing their country to become the world’s largest exporter of illegal opiates. The acceptance they crave must be earned, through national reconciliation, the formation of a broad-based and representative government, the end of tolerance for terrorism and drug trafficking and, above all, through respect for human rights, including women’s human rights”, he said.

The Secretary-General’s report noted bluntly that certain members of the “six plus two” paid mostly “lip service” to the objectives of peace and continued to support the belligerents. While only the Afghans themselves could bring peace to their country, the members of the “six plus two” could make a difference in their ability to wage war. Among the concrete actions the Security Council could take were: the insistence on access to affected populations by United Nations personnel, the ICRC and other humanitarian personnel, as well as insistence on guarantees for the safety and security of such staff; demand that all parties acquit their responsibilities towards the entire civilian population, with particular attention to restoring the human rights of women; demand an immediate end to hostilities and look for ways to pressure the warring factions to the negotiating table; and finally, consider measures to cut off the supply of weapons to the belligerents.

RAVAN A.G. FARHADI (Afghanistan) said that he supported the contents of the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in his country. Afghanistan and its civilian population were suffering terribly, particularly its women and girls. The military in Pakistan was the main policy maker in Pakistan and also had the upper hand in the previous civil government with regard to Afghanistan. Afghan affairs were and still remained today in the hands of the Pakistani army, which had begun training camps for terrorists. Pakistan still hoped for a military solution to the conflict. The military regime continued to use religious groups for their own purposes, which was a cause of concern for all the countries in the region. Such a policy was not only harmful to the Afghan people, but would be a major obstacle to peace and security in Pakistan.

Afghanistan welcomed today’s presidential statement, he continued, and was ready to agree to a complete cessation of hostilities. There was no military solution to the crisis. He was thankful to Council members who had clearly condemned the Taliban, in a press statement, for its offensive on 1 March. The Taliban and its Pakistani military advisers were busy preparing to launch a new spring offensive. Today’s presidential statement would serve as a timely warning to the Taliban and to their Pakistani supporters. They must be aware that the international community could not remain idle in the face of such a bellicose attitude.

ANGELA KING, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said that the current discussion would not be taking place except for the bold landmark decision of the Council earlier in the year to incorporate concerns about women and children into their deliberations. Responding to questions posed during the meeting, as regards the participation of women in civil society, she suggested that the policy followed by many United Nations agencies, in particular their principle approach to projects, should be continued and fostered. At the community level and particularly in rural areas, there seemed to be less resistance to women’s participation. Some projects at that level had actually involved both men and women, for example in deciding where to place wells or what types of seeds to plant. Some mullahs in Harat and elsewhere were very open to the participation of women and often sought their opinions.

The Security Council and others had kept the issue of women’s rights alive and it must continue to press for the full enjoyment of the human rights of women. In terms of how women might seek employment, she suggested that one strategy might be that more ministries open up to women, as for example with the Ministry for Social Affairs. Such a policy could be expanded to ministries governing health and education. Machinery for the advancement of women should be established. That machinery could serve as the focal point within the existing authorities and for the United Nations agencies.

As far as women seeking treatment, she said that often those who spoke out were subject to retribution and harsh treatment. She urged the Council to think in terms of a holistic solution, that is, seeking employment and seeking rights must be done in an enabling environment. Knowledge of the rights of women under the various international covenants should be emphasized by the United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations in the home-based schools.

United Nations agencies could take the lead and set an example by having more women, including at a high-level, in their dealings with Afghanistan, she said. United Nations agencies should include gender considerations in all projects. She gave, as an example, a blueprint for a project drawn up by the United Nations Drug Control Programme to transform a drug-producing factory into a wool manufacturing plant. The proposal, which anticipated employment for 1,300 people, stipulated that at least 200 of those be women.

Further progress in Afghanistan was likely to be as slow as the modest progress achieved over the past two years, unless there was a strong negotiated peace. Unfortunately, the issue of gender was usually very low down on the list of priorities, or often not even a factor. The Council could not allow that to happen.

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