7 October 1996

Press Release


Following is the text of a statement issued today by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali on the status of women and girls in Afghanistan:

Concern has been expressed in recent days regarding the status of women and girls in Afghanistan. The Chairperson of the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is among those who have expressed alarm at reports that women are being denied access to education and employment. She has observed that this would be a violation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and of the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights, both of which Afghanistan has signed and the latter of which it has ratified. The sorts of restrictions reported would also directly contravene the spirit and letter of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action to which Afghanistan subscribed without reservation. They could also have serious repercussions on the ability of the United Nations to deliver programmes of relief and reconstruction to that country.

As Secretary-General, I have consulted in recent days with the heads of agencies, programmes, funds, and offices and other officials throughout the United Nations system in Afghanistan. We have decided to restate our single, system-wide policy on the question of gender equality. Our goal is to dispel any misunderstanding or obstacles which might arise as we carry on our activities in our respective sectors.

Throughout the United Nations system, the principles embodied in the United Nations Charter are morally and legally binding, including its preambular statement of determination "to reaffirm faith in human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small..." It operates under the proviso that its activities be "for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion..." and that it shall "place no restrictions on the eligibility of men and women to participate in any capacity and under conditions of equality in its principal and subsidiary organs."

In the performance of their duties, United Nations officials seek to cooperate closely with governments in the delivery of all sorts of programmes and assistance. But at the same time, the United Nations system is obliged to be guided by the norms and requirements stated in the Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the related resolutions of the General Assembly. In addition, United Nations employees are forbidden to seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization. The paramount consideration in the employment of staff...shall be...the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity.

It is thus incumbent upon all parts of the United Nations system to design and deliver their activities within this internationally accepted legal framework while respecting to the maximum extent possible any donor or recipient requirements which do not conflict with our stated principles.