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SC/14603
16 August 2021
8834th Meeting (AM)

Secretary-General Urges Security Council to ‘Stand as One’, Ensure Human Rights Respected in Afghanistan, as Delegates Call for Protection of Civilians

Permanent Representative Warns Kabul Residents Living in ‘Absolute Fear’, amid Reported Door-to-Door Searches, Targeted Killings

In an emergency Security Council meeting on Afghanistan following the Taliban’s seizure of the capital city, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today sent a firm message that the world body will not abandon the people of the war-torn country, and its personnel will stay and continue to deliver critical services.

“The world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead”, he said, urging all parties, especially the Taliban, to exercise utmost restraint to protect lives and ensure that humanitarian needs are met.

Pointing to a huge influx of internally displaced persons into Kabul, the capital, from provinces around the country, he urged all countries to receive Afghan refugees and refrain from any deportations.  “Now is the time to stand as one,” he said, calling on the international community to use all available tools to uphold human rights in Afghanistan.

Voicing concern over accounts of mounting violations against women and girls who fear a return to “the darkest days”, and stressing that their hard-won rights are protected, he said the international community must also unite to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used as a platform or haven for terrorist organizations.

Noting that the humanitarian crisis affects 18 million people — half of the population — he said United Nations personnel will stay and deliver support to them in their hour of need.  “We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan,” he declared.

Afghanistan’s representative, taking the floor on behalf of millions of people whose fate hangs in the balance, warned against gruesome images of mass executions carried out by the Taliban in Kandahar and other large cities.  “We cannot allow this to happen in Kabul,” the last refuge for Afghans fleeing violence and revenge attacks, he said.  “Kabul residents are living in absolute fear now,” he added, citing reports of door-to-door searches, targeted killings and looting in the capital.

He implored the Council and the Secretary-General to use “every means” at their disposal to call for an immediate cessation of violence and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.  They should also call for the establishment of a representative transitional Government that includes all ethnic groups and women’s representatives, while preserving the gains made over the last 20 years, especially for women and girls, he said.

Moreover, the Council and the Secretary-General should stress that the United Nations will not recognize any Government that gains power through force and state unequivocally that the United Nations does not recognize the restoration of an Islamic emirate, as reaffirmed in past Council statements.  International guarantees should be established for the implementation of future political agreements, he demanded.

In the ensuing debate, Council members urged the Taliban to end the violence, save civilian lives and allow humanitarian workers safe and unhindered access to people in dire need.

Indeed, how the Taliban conduct themselves will matter “a great deal” in how willing the international community will be to support a new Afghan Government in which the Taliban participate, Norway’s representative stressed.  His delegation has taken “careful note” of the group’s assurances that the safety of all Afghans, diplomats and humanitarian workers will be guaranteed, and that women and girls will have access to work and education.

The United States, its representative said, will respond with a “swift and strong” military action to any attempt that places its mission and personnel in Kabul at risk.  She insisted that all Afghan nationals and international citizens who wish to leave the country be allowed to do so safely.  “The United States promises to be generous in resettling Afghans in our own country,” she assured, expressing concern that some 500 tons of aid are now being held up at Taliban-controlled border crossings.

The Russian Federation’s representative emphasized that his country will interact with the Taliban, depending on the evolving situation, and its embassy in Kabul is operating normally.  Underscoring that the sharp turn of events took everyone by surprise — including those who made pronouncements about the effectiveness of the Afghan security forces — he said the main players and wider international community must pool their efforts to help the country achieve national reconciliation.  He pointed to the important role played by his own country, China and Pakistan, as well as to the potential contribution of Iran.

Some Council members expressed concern that Afghanistan could again become a hotbed for terrorists, with India’s representative, Council President for August, stressing in his national capacity that the situation is of particular concern to his country as a neighbouring State.  There must be zero tolerance for terrorism, he warned.

Mexico’s representative said that despite international efforts over the years, the door is open once again to make Afghanistan a haven for terrorists.  Any future scenario must ensure that this does not happen.  For its part, the Council must insist that the use of force is unacceptable, and that those countries with direct contacts with the Taliban call for the swift resumption of constructive negotiations.

Along the same line, China’s representative called on the Taliban to make “a clean break” with terrorist groups and to prevent them from taking advantage of the current chaos.

Also speaking today were representatives of Estonia, France, United Kingdom, Kenya (also for Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), Ireland and Viet Nam.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:12 a.m.

Briefing

ANTONIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, emphasizing that the world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead, urged all parties, especially the Taliban, to exercise utmost restraint to protect lives and ensure that humanitarian needs can be met.  Noting a huge influx of internally displaced persons into the capital city from provinces around the country where they felt insecure or fled during fighting, he urged all countries to be willing to receive Afghan refugees and refrain from any deportations.  “Now is the time to stand as one,” he said.  The international community must use all available instruments to ensure that it speaks with one voice to uphold human rights in Afghanistan.

Calling on the Taliban — and all parties — to respect international humanitarian law and the rights and freedoms of all persons, he voiced concern over chilling reports of severe restrictions on human rights throughout the country and accounts of mounting violations against the women and girls who fear a return to “the darkest days”.  It is essential that the hard-won rights of Afghan women and girls are protected, he stressed.  The international community must also unite to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used as a platform or safe haven for terrorist organizations.  He appealed to the Security Council — and the international community as a whole — to stand together and use all tools to suppress the global terrorist threat in Afghanistan and guarantee that basic rights will be respected.

The United Nations is committed to supporting Afghans, he emphasized, noting that it has staff and offices in areas that have come under Taliban control.  He urged the Taliban to honour the integrity of these facilities and the inviolability of diplomatic envoys and premises.  Further, as the humanitarian crisis affects 18 million people — half of the population — it is vital that basic services continue to be provided, he said, recalling a 15 August Taliban statement acknowledging that they would work with existing institutions.  Civil servant salaries must continue to be paid, infrastructure maintained, airports reopened, and health and education services continue.  He assured that the United Nations presence will adapt to the security situation.  Its personnel will stay and deliver in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need, he stressed, calling for an immediate end to violence, for the rights of all Afghans to be respected and for Afghanistan to comply with all international agreements to which it is a party.  “We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan,” he emphasized.

Statements

GHULAM M. ISACZAI (Afghanistan) said he was speaking today on behalf of millions of people in Afghanistan whose fate hangs in the balance and who face an uncertain future.  The situation in Kabul, a city of 6 million, is extremely worrying to say the least.  “We are extremely concerned about the Taliban not honouring their promises and commitments made at Doha and other fora and through their statements.”  Time and again, the Taliban have broken their promises and commitments.  Recalling gruesome images of mass executions carried out by the Taliban in Kandahar and other large cities, he said “we cannot allow this to happen in Kabul,” the last refuge for Afghans fleeing violence and revenge attacks.  “Kabul residents are living in absolute fear now,” he said, citing reports of door-to-door searches, targeted killings and looting in the capital.

Cautioning against a “blame game”, he said there is still an opportunity to stop Afghanistan from descending into a civil war and becoming a pariah State.  Going forward, the Council and the Secretary-General should use every means at their disposal to call for an immediate cessation of violence and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.  They should call on the Taliban to fully respect their general amnesty offer, cease targeted killings and revenge attacks, and abide by international humanitarian law.  They should urge that no public institutions, including museums and media outlets, be demolished, and they should emphasize that anyone who violates the human rights of Afghan citizens and international humanitarian law will be held accountable.

A humanitarian corridor must be established urgently for the evacuation of those at risk of Taliban retribution and attacks, he continued.  Neighbouring countries must open their borders and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance as well as the exit of Afghans who are trying to escape.  In addition, the Council and the Secretary-General should call for the establishment of an inclusive and representative transitional Government that includes all ethnic groups and women’s representatives, leading to a dignified and lasting solution to the conflict, while preserving the gains made over the last 20 years, especially for women and girls.

The Council and the Secretary-General should stress that the United Nations will not recognize any Government that gains power through force, or which is not inclusive and representative of Afghanistan’s diversity, he insisted.  They must further state unequivocally that the United Nations does not recognize the restoration of the Islamic emirate, as reaffirmed in past Council statements.  International guarantees should be established for the implementation of future political agreements.  He went on to say that urgent humanitarian assistance must be mobilized, particularly for those displaced by the conflict.  In that regard, the international community must respond to the 2021 Afghanistan humanitarian appeal, which so far is only 40 per cent funded.

ANDRE LIPAND (Estonia) said that the Taliban, having declared control over Afghanistan, bear responsibility and accountability for the safety and security of all people in the country.  He called on those in power — and those in positions of authority in Afghanistan — to adhere to international law, in particular international humanitarian law, and to uphold human rights norms and standards.  What has not changed is that more than half the population needs humanitarian aid, he said, underlining the critical importance of ensuring that humanitarian access is unimpeded and safe.  Calling on all parties to allow immediate access for United Nations humanitarian agencies and other actors providing assistance, he said this is the time for building, repairing and healing, not retaliating, looting and profiteering.  Pledging support for the Afghan people, he said Estonia’s cooperation with any future Afghan leadership will be based upon its willingness to uphold the achievements of recent decades and act by the norms and standards of international law.  Political and financial support continues to be conditional upon the preservation of Afghanistan’s human rights and democratic achievements, he said, thanking UNAMA and the Special Representative, adding that the Mission’s efforts are now more important than ever, as is the safety and security of its staff.

ODD INGE KVALHEIM (Norway) said Afghans are facing a multi-layered crisis amid ongoing violent conflict, drought and food uncertainty, as well as suffering due to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.  “We — the Security Council and the entire international community — need to show our continued commitment to them in both words and actions,” he insisted, calling for an immediate end to the violence, restoration of civil order and urgent talks to resolve the crisis of constitutional authority.  Norway has taken “careful note” of recent Taliban assurances that the safety of all Afghans, diplomats and humanitarian workers will be guaranteed, and that women and girls will have access to work and education, he said, stressing that how the Taliban conduct themselves will matter “a great deal” in how willing the international community is to support a new Afghan Government in which the Taliban participate.  Restoring law and order in Kabul must have the utmost priority, he said, calling on all parties to ensure that Afghan and foreign nationals can leave the country in a safe and orderly way, and more broadly, to immediately restore safe access to vital services.  Expressing deep concern over reports of human rights abuses, he pressed all parties to respect their international humanitarian law obligations, including to protect civilians.  He urged the new Government to be united, and to include women in a full, equal and meaningful manner, expressing deep concern about the safety of peacebuilders, human rights defenders, journalists and media workers and their family members who have faced marginalization, reprisals and targeted violence.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said that in this uncertain and crucial period, the international community must speak clearly and with a unified voice.  Attacks on Afghan civilians or civilian objects must stop and the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Afghan citizens — especially women, girls and members of minority groups — must be respected.  All parties must prevent terrorism and the international community must ensure that Afghanistan can never again be a base for terrorism.  Emphasizing the impact of COVID-19 and drought on Afghanistan, she called on the Taliban to permit humanitarian organizations to pursue their vital work.  “We are deeply concerned that right now, aid is not flowing to people in crisis,” she said, adding that according to the World Food Programme (WFP), more than 500 tons of aid are now being held up at Taliban-controlled border crossings.  She went on to say that that all Afghan nationals and international citizens who wish to leave the country must be allowed to do so safely.  Any action that puts United States personnel or its mission in Kabul at risk will be met with a swift and strong military response.  “The United States promises to be generous in resettling Afghans in our own country,” she said, adding that the wider international community must do more “and the time to step up is now”.

NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) said that the future of Afghanistan is more uncertain than ever.  Sharing the Secretary-General’s concerns, and condemning acts of violence and breaches of human rights and international humanitarian law, she warned that peace in the country and the region are now in jeopardy.  France calls for an immediate ceasefire, she said, adding that all parties must respect their commitments, particularly regarding the protection of civilians.  Those who built today’s Afghanistan, including its women, must be protected.  Perpetrators of human rights abuses must be brought to justice and the Council must carefully monitor the situation.  Twenty years of progress must not be wiped out and peace can prevail only if everyone participates.  Turning to the humanitarian situation, she said assistance must be available to all and that international support for the Afghan people will be decisive in the coming months and years.

JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom), describing the situation in Afghanistan as a “tragedy”, stressed that peace can only be achieved through a negotiated settlement.  Recalling that during peace talks in Doha the Taliban had pledged to engage in good faith, he deplored that their actions on the ground have betrayed that promise.  He urged the Taliban to immediately end the violence and hostilities, ensure the safety of civilians, and prevent the country from becoming a terrorist safe haven, pressing it to respect the human rights of all Afghans, including women and children and expressing grave concern about reports of minority groups being persecuted in Taliban-controlled areas.  The Taliban must also ensure that humanitarian aid workers have safe, unhindered access to those in need.  Recalling that the United Kingdom has been a leading aid provider to Afghanistan, he said it will work closely with partners in the Council, the Human Rights Council and the region, and use its Group of Seven (G7) presidency to forge a single message of support for the country.

MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), speaking also on behalf of Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Tunisia, said the consequences of recent developments will be felt for years to come within the region and internationally.  Deploring the violence, human rights abuses and loss of life, he called on the United Nations to strengthen its response, in order to meet the dire humanitarian needs currently unfolding.  Expressing concern about the rise and spread of terrorism, he reiterated recent requests for a peace process that provides a lifeline to the Taliban to disassociate themselves from Al-Qaida, ISIL/Da’esh and other terrorist groups.  As such, the Council must carefully consider its future decisions regarding parties linked to terrorism, he said, pledging support for all efforts to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), drawing attention to the rapid Taliban takeover and chaos unfolding at the Kabul airport, stressed that “we cannot say that we were not warned of this possible outcome”.  The Council has heard many worrying alerts, not least in the courageous testimony of members of Afghan civil society.  “Sadly, and tragically for so many, we failed to heed those warnings,” she said.  Condemning the appalling violence and indiscriminate attacks against civilians, she echoed calls for the “utmost restraint” to protect lives, adding that reliable humanitarian access must be guaranteed, and the work of humanitarian actors facilitated without exception.  Human rights workers in Afghanistan must not be abandoned, she insisted, calling on the Council to agree that women’s rights must be a non-negotiable principle in all future discussions about Afghanistan.  Indeed, the future governance of Afghanistan can only have the support and endorsement of the global community if it guarantees women’s full, equal and meaningful participation, includes minority groups and youth, upholds human rights and fundamental freedoms, and ensures adherence to the rule of law.  Addressing Afghan women directly, she declared:  “We hear you, and we hear your pleas to the international community at this dark time.”

ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico) emphasized that Afghanistan’s institutional framework must be respected and its future decided democratically by all its citizens.  Reports of summary executions, attacks on women, beatings and censorship are all alarming signs for the international community.  The highest price is being paid by the most vulnerable, with many Afghans — including women and girls — facing increasingly precarious conditions.  She called on the international community to seriously evaluate the transfer of weapons that could wind up in the wrong hands.  So long as such proliferation continues, the Taliban and others will have the means to achieve their ends by force.  She added that despite international efforts over the years, the door is open once again to make Afghanistan a safe haven for terrorists.  Any future scenario must ensure that this does not happen.  For its part, the Council must insist that the use of force is unacceptable, and that those countries with direct contacts with the Taliban must call for the swift resumption of constructive negotiations.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that clearly, the sharp turn of events in Afghanistan took everyone by surprise, including those who made pronouncements about the effectiveness of the Afghan security forces.   Moscow is closely monitoring the situation and “currently, we believe there is no point in panicking”.  The main players and the wider international community must pool their efforts to help the country achieve national reconciliation.  He underscored the important role being played by the Russian Federation, China and Pakistan, as well as the contribution that Iran could make.  Going forward, the Russian Federation will interact with the Taliban, depending on the evolving situation.  Its embassy in Kabul is operating normally.  He went on to emphasize the threat posed by terrorist groups, including ISIL/Da’esh, which could threaten security in Central Asia.  The outflow of refugees will not only create an additional burden for neighbouring States, but also make it possible for terrorists to infiltrate other countries.   He concluded by saying that the Russian Federation still wants to see a peaceful settlement of the Afghan conflict, as an end to many years of war would benefit Afghanistan, the region and the world.

DINH QUY DANG (Viet Nam) expressed concern about reports of civilian casualties and the repercussions of events unfolding in Afghanistan on neighbouring countries.  The utmost priority is to protect civilians, especially the most vulnerable groups, such as women and children, he stressed, urging the Taliban to respect international humanitarian and human rights laws.  He also called for ensuring the safety of personnel working for the United Nations and other international organizations, as well as aid workers.  All parties must engage in dialogue, seeking national reconciliation and long-term peace.  Urgent measures are needed in order to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, he said, urging the United Nations and its partners to redouble their efforts.

GENG SHUANG (China) stressed that after over 40 years of war in Afghanistan, the pressing tasks are to restore peace, stability and order as soon as possible, and to avoid unnecessary casualties and refugees.  He called on parties to ensure the rights and safety of diplomatic personnel and foreign nationals, as well as the safe and orderly evacuation of foreign citizens.  Reiterating that the political solution is “the only way out”, he expressed hope that the Taliban will commit to ensuring a smooth transition and work with all parties and ethnic groups to establish a broad, inclusive political structure.  Pointing out that terrorist groups such as ISIL/Da’esh, Al-Qaida and ETIM (Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement) have posed serious threats to peace and security in the last 20 years, he emphasized that Afghanistan must not again become a terrorist haven.  He called on the Taliban to make a clean break with terrorist groups and to prevent them from taking advantage of the current chaos.  He also called on the international community to upscale humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and its neighbors, and to provide better pandemic prevention and control.  Underscoring the important role of UNAMA, he expressed hope that the Secretary-General will make proper arrangements to ensure the safety of its personnel and provide recommendations on the future presence of the United Nations in Afghanistan.

T. S. TIRUMURTI (India), Council President for August, spoke in his national capacity, noting the widespread panic unfolding among the people of Afghanistan.  While the security situation remains precarious, a grave humanitarian crisis is unfolding.  “It is time for the international community, in particular, this Council, to act and ensure an immediate cessation of violence and contain any possible crisis and mitigate its consequences,” he stressed, noting that the situation is of particular concern to India as a neighbouring State.  Expressing hope that the new dispensation will address the humanitarian and security challenges and represent all parts of Afghan society, he said the voices of women and the rights of minorities must be respected.  There must be zero tolerance for terrorism, and Afghanistan must not be used by terrorist groups to threaten or attack any other country.  In addition, he called upon the new dispensation to maintain law and order, observe human rights and international law and ensure the safety and security of United Nations, diplomatic and consular personnel.

For information media. Not an official record.