UN experts urge immediate action to prevent 'slaughter of civilians' in Afghanistan

UN experts urge immediate action to prevent 'slaughter of civilians' in Afghanistan
SSGT Jeremy T. Lock, USAF

More than two dozen independent experts appointed by the United Nations' Human Rights Council on Monday called for countries around the world to take swift diplomatic action "to prevent the slaughter of civilians, the destruction of essential civilian infrastructure, and the undoing of decades of human rights, rule of law, and gender equality work" in Afghanistan.

"The work undertaken in partnership over the last 20 years by the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the international community with Afghan human rights defenders, women's groups, other civil society organizations, and the Afghan people is under grave threat," the special rapporteurs declared in their statement, which came amid reports that multiple people were killed at Kabul's international airport while attempting to flee the war-torn country as the Taliban reconsolidated control.

"The Taliban's military offensive," wrote the independent experts, pointing to a recent statement from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, "has been marked by a relentless campaign of direct targeting of civilians, civil society, and journalists, summary executions, assassination of human rights defenders, mass executions of civilians, and unlawful restrictions on the human rights of women and girls."

The special rapporteurs continued:

We adamantly reiterate that it is unacceptable for states to stand on the sidelines when a United Nations Security Council-listed terrorist organization overruns the territory of Afghanistan and engages in acts that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. In parallel, we identify the particular responsibilities of states who have led and engaged in a peace process with the Taliban, where the most basic of commitments made in the current agreement, namely, a commitment to engage in an intra-Afghan dialogue, rather than pursue a military offensive, is being broken with impunity...
... Reports from 16 provinces continue to show that the majority of women are experiencing the same rights violations as 20 years ago at the control of the Taliban, including the forced wearing of a Burka, forced marriage, restriction on freedom of movement and required use of a mahram, prohibition on working, and restricted access to healthcare, education, and more. Some 80% of nearly a quarter of a million Afghans forced to flee since the end of May are women and children.

"To date," said the human rights experts, "the Security Council has issued one statement and hosted one emergency meeting on Afghanistan. The [Security] Council has been unequivocal in rhetoric, recalling resolution 2513 (2020) and reaffirming that 'there is no military solution to the conflict' and declaring that 'they do not support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate.'"

"Now, as the Taliban has entered Kabul, the last stronghold of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the [Security] Council must now be unequivocal in action," the special rapporteurs added. "The people of Afghanistan deserve better than to endure the silence and by-standing of the member states of the United Nations at this perilous moment."

After reiterating the Security Council's proclamation that "there is no military solution to the conflict"—an assessment shared by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the lone member of Congress to vote against the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that was used to justify the American-led war in Afghanistan—the special rapporteurs implored the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and the 10 nonpermanent members of the Security Council to:

  • Take appropriate action under Chapter VII of the charter to safeguard the human rights and humanitarian needs of the people of Afghanistan, including its most vulnerable, and to address the role of member states to prevent acts of terrorism under international law;
  • Apply to the fullest extent and consistent with international law, the international sanctions on designated terrorist organizations, including the obligations of all states to suppress and prevent terrorist acts; and
  • Ensure that civilians have full and free access [to] humanitarian aid as the needs for emergency assistance grow exponentially, including through the imposition of such sanctions.

The special rapporteurs also urged countries around the world "to keep their borders open to receive asylum-seekers from Afghanistan while ensuring adequate protection and humanitarian assistance of Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons."

In this regard, the human rights experts were echoing the International Rescue Committee's recent call for European countries to reconsider denied applications of Afghan asylum-seekers and halt deportations to Afghanistan, as well as new calls from progressive U.S. lawmakers and human rights advocates, who argue that the United States has an obligation to welcome as many Afghan refugees as possible given the disastrous consequences of its 2001 invasion and 20 years of lie-filled occupation.

According to recent estimates from Brown University's Costs of War Project, the past two decades of military operations in Afghanistan have caused more than 241,000 deaths and cost U.S. taxpayers at least $2.26 trillion. In addition, over 5.3 million Afghans have been displaced, including 3.2 million internally, since the U.S. launched its so-called War on Terror by attacking the Central Asian nation.

In their statement, the special rapporteurs also called on the U.N. Human Rights Council "to address in an emergency session the obligations of all states to advance the promotion and protection of human rights." According to the group of experts, appropriate measures include:

  • The speedy establishment of a fact-finding mission to be deployed urgently to Afghanistan to assess the situation on the ground and report back to the [Human Rights] Council on human rights violations and responsibilities, including, but not limited to, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide;
  • Supporting the high commissioner for human rights in her efforts to prevent the further commission of systematic human rights violations and create a mechanism of international accountability for these systemic human rights violations;
  • Engaging U.N. Special Procedure mandates to support fact-finding and accountability on the serious human rights violations occurring in Afghanistan; and
  • Paying particular attention to the protection of the most vulnerable in Afghanistan including children, women and girls, those internally displaced, the disabled, human rights defenders, journalists and the media, educators, and civil society actors using the full capacity of the [Human Rights] Council's diplomatic and political capacity to engage with all stakeholders to protect and support these groups.

The lives of Afghans "are not only at risk, but have already been a casualty of the current state of inaction," said the special rapporteurs. "The lives of over 1,000 civilians killed last month alone must be accounted for. The hundreds of thousands displaced must be accounted for. The rights of the Afghan people to live in peace, with human rights and dignity, must be accounted for."

"We cannot stand idly by as the lives of the Afghan people are treated with contempt, derision, and weariness," the human rights experts continued. "Afghanistan is a test case for the value of the U.N. charter, and the commitment of states to prevent the scourge of terrorism from destroying rights-bearing societies and values."

"We urge all states to stand firm and have the moral courage and clarity to act in order to prevent further violence and harms," they added. "The international community will be judged on our actions, our fortitude, and our willingness to make our words about rights have meaning in this decisive moment."

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