Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
September 13, 2021
The United Nations human rights chief has criticized the Taliban’s record since seizing control of Afghanistan last month as the UN hosts a high-level conference to raise more than $600 million for the war-torn country to avoid a looming humanitarian crisis.
Addressing the September 13 donor conference in the Swiss city of Geneva attended by some 40 ministers from governments around the world, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres insisted that “the people of Afghanistan need a lifeline.”
“After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour,” he added, with basic services now on the verge of collapse.
Afghanistan faced drought, displacement, and a humanitarian crisis even before the Taliban toppled the Western-backed government in Kabul in mid-August, with half the population dependent on aid, according to the UN.
Many countries have expressed a readiness to provide humanitarian aid, but there are concerns about giving Taliban militants, who now control the country, hundreds of millions of dollars. Some say strict conditions should be attached to donations.
The Geneva gathering opened after the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned that Afghanistan was in a “new and perilous phase” with many women and members of ethnic groups and religious communities deeply concerned for their rights.”
“Importantly, and in contradiction to assurances that the Taliban would uphold women’s rights, over the past three weeks, women have instead been progressively excluded from the public sphere,” she told the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
In a stark blow to Afghan and international hopes that the Taliban’s second reign will prove less restrictive than two decades ago, the Taliban has named an all-male government dominated by veteran militants vowing a return to strict Shari’a law.
Bachelet expressed dismay at the “lack of inclusivity” of the government, which she noted includes “no women and few non-Pashtuns,” while pointing to other broken pledges by the hard-line Islamist group.
She cited “credible allegations of reprisal killings” of former members of the national security forces, and cited arbitrary detentions of people who worked for previous administrations, including some who were later “found dead.”
She also decried allegations of house-to-house searches for former officials, raids on offices of civil society groups, as well as “increasing violence against protesters and journalists.”
UN agencies say humanitarian aid would maintain medical services, water supply, and sanitation facilities.
“It’s now a race against time and the snow to deliver life-saving assistance to the Afghan people who need it most,” said World Food Program (WFP) deputy regional director Anthea Webb.
“We are quite literally begging and borrowing to avoid food stocks running out.”
Speaking before heading to Geneva, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was “up to us as an international community to now take responsibility for the people in Afghanistan and provide humanitarian aid where it is so urgently needed.”
“This requires appropriate access for humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan, as well as aid workers not having to fear intimidation and arbitrary restrictions by the Taliban in their work.”
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi warned on September 12 that a “resurgence of fighting, human rights violations or the collapse of the economy and basic social services” could lead many more Afghans to flee abroad.
The United States and its allies evacuated more than 100,000 Americans, at-risk Afghans, and third-country nationals out of Afghanistan ahead of the U.S. military withdrawal on August 30 after a 20-year deployment.
Officials at the UNHCR office have expressed concerns that many Afghans could try to seek refuge in neighboring Pakistan and Iran, which both have large populations of Afghans who had fled their country earlier to escape war and violence.
About a third of the $606 million being sought would be used by the UN, which found that 93 percent of the 1,600 Afghans it surveyed in August and September were not consuming sufficient foods, mostly because they could not get access to cash to pay for it.
The financing would also provide for measures to support women and children and set up education projects. It could also be used to fund emergency shelters for an estimated 3.5 million people who are internally displaced.
The World Health Organization seeks funding to shore up hundreds of health facilities at risk of closure after donors backed out.
Guterres last week called on the international community to inject cash into Afghanistan to avoid an economic meltdown that would play into the hands of terrorist groups.
The UN chief’s remarks came after UN special envoy on Afghanistan Deborah Lyons warned that freezing Afghan assets to keep them out of Taliban hands would inevitably spark economic problems.
Much of the Afghan central bank’s $10 billion in assets parked overseas have been frozen since the Taliban came to power last month.
Meanwhile, Grandi arrived in Kabul on September 13 for a visit aimed at assessing the country’s acute humanitarian needs and the situation of 3.5 million displaced Afghans,” including over 500,000 who have been displaced this year alone.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to appear before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee later on September 13, and the next day he will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as lawmakers promised “aggressive investigations” into the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.
With reporting by dpa, AP, AFP, and Reuters
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