Government Committed to Holding Transparent Presidential Elections, Permanent Representative Says, Citing Civil, Security Sector Reforms
The international community must stand with the women of Afghanistan and ensure that their hard-won gains since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001 are not sacrificed in any peace agreement, a leading Afghan human rights activist told the Security Council today ahead of presidential elections in September.
Jamila Afghani of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom-Afghanistan, speaking via videoconference from Kabul, made the appeal as two senior United Nations officials briefed Council members on their visiting mission to Afghanistan on 20-21 July, which focused on women, peace and security.
Emphasizing that today’s Afghan women are not the women of 30 or 40 years ago, she said they know their rights, which are granted by their faith and guaranteed by the Constitution and international conventions. “The international community must stand with us at this crucial moment and ensure that our rights will not be compromised for a political peace deal or after a settlement is reached,” she said.
She added that despite an obligation to ensure women’s participation, the United States’ approach to its talks with the Taliban has led to the marginalization of Afghan women. She urged the Council to ensure clear procedures for engaging Afghan women from diverse backgrounds in peace negotiations and conflict resolution efforts.
Amina Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, who led last weekend’s trip to Kabul, expressed condolences to the victims of the 25 July attacks in the capital and elsewhere. Indeed, Afghan women have paid a high price over four decades of conflict. Under the Taliban, women and girls were denied schooling, health care and protection from extreme violence, but the past 18 years has seen significant progress. “For peace to be sustainable, it will take time and it must be inclusive of the whole country, of women and of victims,” she said.
Rosemary A. DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, who also participated in the visiting mission along with the Executive Directors of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN-Women), said presidential elections scheduled for 28 September must be credible and held on time. “The overriding responsibility for a successful election lies with the political leaders themselves,” she said, urging restraint as campaigning begins.
On the peace process, she said that while direct talks between the United States and the Taliban are ongoing, an intra-Afghan peace conference on 7 and 8 July in Doha marked a key step towards formal negotiations between the Government and the Taliban. “Our interlocutors stressed that peace cannot come at any cost, particularly the democratic gains of the last 18 years,” she said, stressing that women must be fully, effectively and directly involved in the peace process.
In the ensuing debate, speakers emphasized the close connection between women, peace and security in Afghanistan, as well as the lingering threat of illicit drugs and terrorism to the country and the region. Some also noted the work of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which now has more female staff members than in the past.
Belgium’s representative, one of several to emphasize that the Council must send a clear signal of support to women in Afghanistan, said no peace agreement can allow for a deterioration in their situation. It would be a severe injustice if women were made to pay the price for peace. To the Taliban, she said there is no alternative than to condemn terrorism, abandon the military track, choose the political track and invest in the negotiating process.
The representative of the United States underscored her country’s commitment to pursuing a comprehensive peace agreement. “We have been clear that we are not negotiating or will not negotiate with the Taliban on behalf of the Government of the people of Afghanistan,” she said. The United States is pressing the Government and its electoral bodies to be ready for the September polls, and that it will keep placing women at the centre of its diplomatic efforts.
Emphasizing that “by helping women, we are helping the whole of Afghanistan,” the representative of the Russian Federation said the situation remains critical given the latest terrorist attacks. He expressed serious concern over the continued presence of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and influx of foreign terrorist fighters from Syria and Iraq. The peace process must not be turned into a “vanity fair” or a political competition, he said, but rather aim for a unified and ethnically diverse Afghan State.
In the same vein, China’s delegate said the security situation remains a major source of concern. During recent consultations in Beijing, his country along with the Russian Federation, United States and Pakistan, called on all parties in Afghanistan to begin a dialogue. Negotiations should produce a peace framework as soon as possible in order to guarantee the orderly transition of the Afghan Government.
Kuwait’s representative condemned attacks against civilians as “reprehensible and unjustifiable”, stressing that perpetrators must be brought to justice. Political authorities meanwhile must make every effort to avoid partisan divisions. “We cannot talk about political reconciliation without discussing the central role of women,” he said.
At the end of the meeting, Afghanistan’s representative said the momentum for peace is growing, with the Government committed to ensuring an inclusive role for women, and to transparent, free and secure elections. He urged the Taliban to honour their commitment to peace through deeds, not words, particularly following the deadly blasts in Kabul on 25 July. Only a dual-track approach of pressure and incentives can ensure a conducive environment for a successful, comprehensive agreement with the Taliban, he said.
He said the last 18 years have seen the emergence of a new democratic Afghanistan, with reforms in the security and civil sectors proceeding alongside a steady path towards stability and self-reliance. He expressed hope that UNAMA’s mandate, which expires on 17 September, will be extended for at least one year.
Also speaking today were representatives of Germany, Indonesia, France, United Kingdom, Côte d’Ivoire, Poland, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Dominican Republic and Peru.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:04 p.m.
AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, expressing condolences to the Government and people of Afghanistan over the horrific attacks on 25 July, stressed that indiscriminate attacks that kill women and children are an affront to humanity and a crime under international humanitarian law. Having recently returned from Afghanistan, she spotlighted meetings held with Government officials, including with President Ashraf Ghani; field visits; and discussions with civil society, health workers and women and youth leaders.
Afghan women have paid a high price over four decades of conflict, she said, noting that under the Taliban, women and girls were denied access to education, health services and protection from extreme violence. In the past 18 years, there has been significant progress, with more women appointed to senior roles in the Defence, Foreign Affairs and Interior Ministries. Moreover, 27 per cent of the civil service is comprised of women, and there are women serving as mayors and provincial governors. Noting that critical elections are scheduled for September, she pointed out that heads of the Independent Electoral Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission are both women.
In 2018, Afghanistan suffered the highest number of civilian casualties since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) began recording figures in 2009, she continued. In the first five months of 2019, more than 100,000 people were displaced by conflict, and in areas where the Taliban has reclaimed control, there are reports of honour killings, stoning and other attacks on women’s rights. During a field visit to Bamiyan, she heard about incredible demining work that women are doing with the support of the United Nations, risking their lives to bring safety to their communities. “For peace to be sustainable, it will take time and it must be inclusive of the whole country, of women and of victims,” she said.
Since the fall of the Taliban, much progress has been made, she said. More than 3 million children are enrolled back in school, while infrastructure and access to basic services has improved. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development holds great promise for Afghans across the country, with 24 United Nations agencies working in strategic partnership with the Government on issues from food security and clean water to the rule of law. She stressed the need to ensure that women have access to education, health care and decent work. They must be represented in all areas of society — whether political or economic sectors. With 6.3 million people requiring humanitarian aid, and just 27 per cent of the Humanitarian Response Plan funded, “we must increase that level urgently, to provide immediate support and protection to displaced people,” she insisted. “The voices of women, especially the victims, must be heard at the table in the peace process and beyond.”
ROSEMARY A. DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said this is an important year for Afghanistan, with the country — marking 100 years of independence — facing an unprecedented opportunity for peace. Discussing the presidential elections scheduled for 28 September, she emphasized the need for those polls to be credible and held on time. The Independent Electoral Commission is making steady progress in preparations and the Government has committed $90 million to the election budget, with the international community pledging the remaining $59 million. Some 9.6 million people have registered to vote.
Recalling that security is a consistent concern for Afghan elections, often infringing on the right to vote, particularly among women and those in insecure areas, she encouraged the Government and the Independent Electoral Commission to focus on the security of all voters. With campaigning starting this weekend, there are 18 presidential candidates; three of them have women as vice-presidential candidates on their slates. Challenges remain, however, including the recruitment and training of polling staff and deployment of voting equipment and material. There is no room for technical or political delays. Ensuring a level playing field is key. She urged all actors to exercise restraint and show respect for the independence of both the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission. “The overriding responsibility for a successful election lies with the political leaders themselves,” she said.
Turning to the peace process, she said direct talks between the United States and the Taliban continue, while the first intra-Afghan Peace Conference, co-hosted by Germany and Qatar, took place on 7 and 8 July in Doha. The latter event marked an important step towards the start of formal negotiations between the Government and the Taliban for a sustainable peace agreement. More intra-Afghan conferences are planned. Regional engagement to support an Afghan peace process has also intensified, with representatives of China, Pakistan, the Russian Federation and the United States meeting in Beijing on 10 and 11 July, and a fifth round of the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Practical Cooperation Dialogue held in Islamabad on 19 July.
“Our interlocutors stressed that peace cannot come at any cost, particularly the democratic gains of the last 18 years,” she said, adding that she was heartened to see women participating as delegates in Doha. Women must be involved in the peace process fully, effectively and directly if there is to be sustainable peace. Affirming that a political solution remains more relevant than ever, she called on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, ensure humanitarian access and distinguish between combatants and civilian targets. Afghans deserve peace and the right to choose their representatives. The United Nations remains committed to assist Afghanistan in its efforts for peace, stability and prosperity, she said, urging the Council to do the same.
JAMILA AFGHANI, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom-Afghanistan, speaking via videoconference from Kabul, underscored the impact of the conflict on Afghans, who live in constant insecurity yet find themselves on the side lines of peace talks. Since September 2018, the United States and other countries have facilitated efforts towards a negotiated peace, but there has been a clear absence of meaningful participation by women and other actors, notably the direct victims of war. Afghan women must be able to meaningfully participate in decisions that affect them. Through its Women, Peace and Security Act of 2015 and the Women, Peace and Security Strategy of 2019, the United States has an obligation to ensure women’s participation, yet its approach to its talks with the Taliban has led to the marginalization of Afghan women. Women do participate in the High Peace Council, but that is a consultative body that does not contribute directly to the peace process. Afghans remain concerned about the politicization of the peace talks by national, regional and international actors.
Afghan women today are not the women of 30 or 40 years ago, she clarified. They know their rights, granted by their faith and guaranteed by the Constitution and international conventions. “The international community must stand with us at this crucial moment and ensure that our rights will not be compromised for a political peace deal or after a settlement is reached,” she said. Member States must push for women to be publicly and actively engaged in negotiations, and in building the country’s future.
She urged the Council to ensure clear procedures for engaging Afghan women from diverse backgrounds in peace negotiations and conflict resolution efforts, especially as negotiators and religious leaders who can bridge political gaps on the path to peace. She added that the Council should ensure that this year’s elections include enhanced security for women voters and candidates, and for networks involving the Government, civil society and other stakeholders to promote women’s participation. The United Nations must call for an immediate ceasefire and halt to bloodshed, while the Security Council specifically should request information on measures being taken to ensure the security and protection of women leaders, women religious peacemakers, women’s rights activists and rights defenders, and journalists.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) described the country visit as an important signal from the United Nations, spotlighting recent achievements in Afghan women’s rights. “Women are now participating in political life, they have jobs, they are journalists,” he added. Whatever the outcome of the political process, these rights must be safeguarded and guaranteed. Expressing condolences to the victims of the recent attacks, he said women and children continue to be the primary victims of the conflict. “There is still sexual and gender-based violence in the country,” he commented, stressing that “there is still a lot to be done”. Women must have a seat at the table. They must be heard and their rights respected. “The country will not be at peace if women’s rights are not protected,” he said, welcoming that there are more female employees in UNAMA than in years past.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), describing a critical period for Afghanistan as efforts for an intra-Afghan dialogue gather pace and the country moves towards the presidential election in September, said there have been many calls by Afghan women that women’s rights should not be compromised in the name of an agreement. Women’s meaningful participation in building an inclusive and democratic Afghanistan ensures that the rights of all segments of society are equal. The importance of women’s meaningful participation in peace and reconciliation processes cannot be overstated, he said, noting that five women are among the 37 members of the reconciliation council established by President Ashraf Ghani in November 2018. Expressing support for Government efforts to finalize the second phase of its national Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security for 2019 to 2022, he recalled that 35 per cent of the 8.5 million registered voters in the 2018 parliamentary elections were women. He also condemned the 25 July attacks carried out in several provinces.
WU HAITAO (China) said the security situation remains a major source of concern, calling on the United Nations and wider international community to continue supporting Afghanistan’s capacity to fight terrorism, improve the humanitarian situation and bolster economic recovery. Women are often victimized during conflict. They can also play an important role in the political sphere and peace process. He emphasized the need to respect regional and national traditions, along with the principle of national ownership, noting that during consultations in Beijing, the Russian Federation, China, the United States and Pakistan called on all parties in Afghanistan to begin a dialogue. Negotiations should produce a peace framework as soon as possible in order to guarantee the orderly transition of the Afghan Government. The four sides also agreed to maintain the momentum of the consultations, he added.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said the United Nations visit to Afghanistan sent an important message to women and victims of the conflict. Promoting gender equality and women’s participation in Afghanistan is among France’s top priorities. Women are the first victims of conflict and suffer the worst types of violence, especially in Taliban-controlled territories. Afghanistan, with support from UNAMA, must do more to empower women and promote gender equality. To endure over the long-term and respond to the Afghan people’s expectations, the peace process must be all-inclusive, and involve women in the peace talks. It is regrettable that there are no female candidates in the upcoming elections, he said, noting that women face intimidation and lack financing, among other obstacles. He stressed the importance of UNAMA in supporting women and in responding to humanitarian needs.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), noting that her country’s special envoy for gender equality visited Afghanistan recently, said more can be done to involve women in the peace process, but their presence at the intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha was an encouraging start on which to build. She underscored the United Kingdom’s support for Afghanistan’s efforts, as well as those of the United States and its special representative for Afghanistan. She also hoped that the Council can speak up whenever attempts to roll back women’s rights are seen. She emphasized the need for the elections to be timely, inclusive and credible, as well as peaceful, and welcomed the Taliban’s commitment made at Doha to refrain from targeting civilians. To carry out attacks during the elections would be to attack all Afghan people.
TIEMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire) said recent years have seen an improvement in the condition of women in Afghanistan in terms of education, health care and employment. However, despite constitutional guarantees, their contribution to the peace process and political life remains low due to persistent gender equality. He said his delegation hopes that the gains women have made in political life in Afghanistan will be maintained. Welcoming the appointment of women to the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission, he said that well-organized elections will demonstrate the indispensable contribution of women to peace and stability in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation), noting that “by helping women, we are helping the whole of Afghanistan,” said the situation in the country is critical in light of terrorist attacks. He expressed serious concern at the presence of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in Afghanistan and the related influx of foreign terrorist fighters from Syria and Iraq. Drug dollars are supporting terrorism, he added, calling for strengthened international efforts to combat that scourge. While the military and political situation is difficult, there is a window of opportunity for a peaceful settlement and national reconciliation. The peace process should not be turned into a “vanity fair” or a political competition, but rather aim for a unified and ethnically diverse Afghan State with equal opportunity for all, including women. He also underscored his country’s interest in an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned national reconciliation process.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) condemned attacks against civilians as “reprehensible and unjustifiable” and stressed that perpetrators must be brought to justice. Political authorities meanwhile must make every effort to avoid partisan divisions and instead consider the aspirations of the Afghan people. “We cannot talk about political reconciliation without discussing the central role of women,” he continued, citing their important role in society. Women must be empowered to participate in political and reconciliation processes. He urged all parties to engage in diplomacy to preserve peace, underscoring that while the path to peace has difficulties, the starting point should be national and inclusive reconciliation. Regional cooperation is also required. Diplomatic efforts should be accompanied by significant investments in education and infrastructure.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) said that, despite very difficult circumstances, women have managed to prove their significant role in Afghan society and politics. Encouraging their even greater participation in all aspects of the political process, he said Afghanistan has made significant efforts to develop a legal framework enshrining equality between women and men. “This has to be implemented at all levels of society by dismantling the remaining practices that prevent the full and equal participation of women,” he stressed, emphasizing that the future peace agreement cannot be based on arrangements that compromise gains in achieving women’s rights. Noting that the level of violence against women in Afghanistan remains unacceptably high, he urged the security and justice sectors to identify effective responses and eliminate the culture of impunity. In that regard, he voiced support for the United Nations-European Union programme to combat violence against women, knowns as the Spotlight Initiative.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States) said women have a critical role to play in supporting a comprehensive peace process. Recently, the United States President reiterated that there is no military solution to the conflict. Rather, United States efforts will continue to focus on achieving an inclusive political settlement and bringing Afghans together at the negotiating table. The United States does not seek a withdrawal agreement, but rather, is committed to pursuing a comprehensive peace agreement. “We have been clear that we are not negotiating or will not negotiate with the Taliban on behalf of the Government of the people of Afghanistan,” she said. Peace is the top priority and it must not wait for the presidential elections. At the same time, United States continues to press the Afghan Government and all electoral institutions to be prepared to hold the elections in September. Afghan women must have a seat at the negotiating table, meaningful participation and a real role in decision-making. Noting that Afghans are already coming together in support of peace, she recalled that in 2001, conditions for women were dire, with almost no girls registered in school, whereas today, millions of girls attend primary school. Women make up 27 per cent of the civil service. Planning for a timely presidential election remains critical and she urged the Government — and all political stakeholders — to ensure the elections are credible. The United States will continue to place women at the centre of its diplomacy in Afghanistan.
XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa) said the elections will mark an important step in renewing Afghans’ trust in that process and will foster long-term peace and security. Welcoming progress made in achieving women’s meaningful and inclusive participation in the peace process, she spotlighted the National Conference of Afghan Women for Peace earlier in 2019 as a noteworthy event. The Conference resulted in a 15-point declaration on the role of women, which was submitted to President Ghani for consideration at the Consultative Loya Jirga and peace talks, she said, describing that move as a positive step. Welcoming the Government’s launch of a second phase of the National Action Plan for Women and encouraging its comprehensive implementation, she expressed hope that the all-inclusive talks among national stakeholders continue and called for the further incorporation of gender perspectives and the concerns of women in efforts to enhance peace and security in Afghanistan.
NARCISO SIPACO RIBALA (Equatorial Guinea), emphasizing that his country has always paid close attention to the political and reconciliation process in Afghanistan, said he hopes that State institutions tasked with running the elections will, together with political parties and international partners, ensure that the polls are credible. At this crucial moment, Afghan women must play not just a meaningful role, but also a leading one. He encouraged the Government to continue to include women in peace negotiations, as well as in decision-making and reconciliation processes. Women’s rights must be upheld during peace talks, he said, adding that women must also be at the heart of efforts to build lasting peace and security.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium), emphasizing that the Council must send a clear signal of support to women in Afghanistan, said the recent intra-Afghan dialogue was an important milestone, but much more must be done to achieve greater women’s participation. No peace agreement can allow for a deterioration in the situation of women, she stated, adding that it would be a severe injustice if women were made to pay the price for peace. Turning to the elections, she said women everywhere must be able to vote and seek office in safety. Noting that five women were among the seven people killed in the 25 July attack in Kabul, she said no effort must be spared to protect civilians. Belgium’s message to the Taliban is to condemn terrorism, abandon the military track, choose the political track and invest in the negotiating process. There is no alternative, she added.
NAPOLEÓN DAVID BERAS HERNÁNDEZ (Dominican Republic) welcomed the progress in women’s participation, emphasizing the absolute necessity of ensuring that Afghan women contribute to the presidential elections. Their resilience is evident. National authorities must do more to protect women from sexual violence and prosecute the perpetrators. Indeed, Afghanistan is at a critical juncture, with elections and negotiations to take place or currently under way. It is the international community’s duty to support Afghans in these processes and ensure women’s full participation in reconciliation efforts.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said involving women in political life will only strengthen the legitimacy of the Afghan system. Their participation is critical to both resolving the conflict, and to maintaining and building peace. Creating job opportunities and establishing quotas for women’s participation is important, as is the need to tackle impunity and ensure that those responsible for crimes are held to account. The Security Council must strengthen its gender perspective, and the women, peace and security agenda, particularly in the follow-up to recommendations. There is also a need to spotlight the important work carried out by women civil society organizations.
MOHAMMAD WALI NAEEMI (Afghanistan) said the Deputy Secretary-General’s visit underlines the United Nations commitment at a time in which a vital peace process is taking place. Indeed, the momentum for peace continues to grow stronger, with the Government committed to ensuring an inclusive role for women in the process and to holding transparent, free and secure elections in September. An elections security plan has been finalized, and more broadly, security forces have kept terrorist groups from making any major gains. Such initiatives continue in parallel to peace negotiations, he said, calling on the Taliban to honour their commitment to peace through deeds, not words, particularly following the deadly blasts in Kabul on 25 July. Only a dual-track approach of pressure and incentives can ensure a conducive environment for a successful, comprehensive agreement with the Taliban.
Despite the challenges, the last 18 years have seen the emergence of a new democratic Afghanistan, he said, pointing at reforms in the security and civil sectors that are following a steady path towards stability and self-reliance. Such efforts as fighting corruption, empowering youth and women, promoting economic growth and developing stronger, more efficient public institutions, alongside regional steps within Afghan-led platforms, have allowed the country to emerge as a catalyst for economic and regional cooperation. He expressed hope that UNAMA will be renewed for the minimum of a year, retaining the core priority issues and incorporating new developments, notably the forthcoming elections and peace process.