Shaharzad Akbar Chairperson for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission Briefing to the United Nations Security Council

Shaharzad Akbar Chairperson for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission

August 6, 2021

Briefing to the United Nations Security Council

 

Mr. President, Your Excellencies,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the Security Council. I would like to thank India, the President of UNSC, and the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan for inviting me to provide a briefing about the ongoing conflict and the violations of international humanitarian law in Afghanistan. I know many Afghans across Afghanistan are waiting to hear about the messages and outcomes of this special meeting of the council as the Afghan cities and villages are burning up in conflict, civilians are experiencing extreme levels of harm and tens of thousands of families are being displaced.

Since June 2019, this is the third time I have had the honor of addressing this Council. Every time, the situation in Afghanistan is more critical than before. The situation today could not be more urgent. The first six months of 2021 have been the bloodiest six months for Afghan civilians since the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission started recording in 2009. 1677 civilians including women and children have been killed and 3644 are injured.  If the current rates of violence continue, I am heartbroken to note that there might be a grim new record of civilian harm by end of this year.  With districts and now a provincial city falling to the Taliban, millions of Afghans are waiting in terror to see what comes next. Women in particular remember the past and present abuses of the Taliban against their freedoms and their persons, and dread what is to come. As you know, many are joining the ranks of those trying to flee this worsening storm

Taliban advances & escalation of violence has meant that we in the commission are verifying details of horrific war crimes on a daily basis.  Let me give you three examples from our work in recent weeks: In Spin Boldak, Kandahar, our findings confirm that the Taliban dragged out and killed at least 40 civilians associated with government, in a campaign of targeted, extrajudicial killings. Following media and human rights reporting, Taliban imposed strict restrictions and would investigate people traveling to and from Spin Boldak to prevent full documentation of these atrocities. In Malistan, Ghazni province, we can confirm that at least 27 civilians have been murdered in targeted killings by Taliban. In one instance, Taliban sought the help of an unarmed guard to move the bodies of civilians and then killed the guard in an attempt to eliminate witnesses. Meanwhile, in Helmand, as I speak to you now, residents of Lashkargah are stuck between Taliban attacks and government airstrikes, fearing for their lives every minute and deprived of access to their basic rights. 

Also, as I speak to you today, I am mourning another attack on Afghanistan’s youth. Dawa Khan Mena Pal, a government official working on communications and a man known for his poetry, humor and generosity, was shot in broad daylight in Kabul today. His terror sent a chilling reminder to all civilian government employees as well as journalists and human rights defenders, about the frequency of targeted killings in the midst of raging war. It is also a brutal reminder of Taliban’s refusal to acknowledge government employees as civilians and continue to target and kill them in Kabul, Kandahar, Ghazni and across Afghanistan.  This ongoing storm of atrocities has already cost lives and has spread widespread terror and uncertainty, taking us further away from the possibility of peace.

In addition to daily violations of the laws of conflict, Afghanistan’s human rights gains is under attack and rapidly shrinking as the conflict expands. One major, deeply concerning example is the rights of women and girls in areas captured by the Taliban. Women’s access to education, to markets, to basic health services is limited and shrinking. Their basic human rights denied and repressed. Afghan women across Afghanistan are either reliving the nightmare of Taliban area or live in the fear and trauma of reliving it soon, if the tide doesn’t turn and we don’t have an opportunity at negotiations and meaningful participation in them. We have an equally concerning situation with access to information and freedom of expression. As media are under pressure by both sides to the conflict, independent media in different provinces are shutting down as more districts fall to Taliban. In this context, it is important to reiterate to Afghan government its obligations on protection of independent media, freedom of expression and all fundamental human rights

I said earlier that if the violence continues, much worse is to come, for Afghans and subsequently for the region and the world. But the violence need not continue. This Council and its members still have the leverage to stop the bleeding of Afghans and prevent catastrophes. This Council can save lives.

We will need the council to utilize the full range of political, diplomatic, human rights and humanitarian tools and interventions to save lives and prevent further and more horrific atrocities. We urge the Council, the United Nations and international human rights mechanisms to respond with a greater sense of urgency to the Afghan calls for civilian protection, ceasefire, an end to violence and meaningful & inclusive political process.

 

Following the horrific attack on a girls’ school in Kabul on May 8th, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission called for a Fact-Finding mission to investigate the targeted attacks on civilians in Afghanistan. In July, international and national human rights organizations urged the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet to take action to support this call. In her public statement to the Council, the High Commissioner noted deterioration and called for a “preventative mechanism”. The European Parliament has expressed support.  The Afghan government has now called for a special session of the council and a fact-finding mission. We support this request to recognize the urgency of the situation and to act now.

 

These are some of the most important things a Fact-Finding Mission would offer the Afghan people:

  • Offer a deterrent to ongoing atrocities
  • Highlight the urgency of the threat to civilians, including femicide, massacres of religious and ethnic minorities, threats to girls’ education and targeted killings of HRDs; 
  • Keep victims and civilians centre stage as Afghanistan heads towards a human rights and humanitarian crisis post withdrawal; 
  • Establish the facts, identify perpetrators, preserve evidence with a view to ensuring accountability;
  • Propose remedies for victims and effective prevention mechanisms;

 

My family and I sought refugee in Pakistan when I was a child escaping conflict and Taliban’s repressive regime. 24 or so years later, millions of Afghans are looking for a way out of Afghanistan as they do not see a future here. We cannot wait and watch the history repeating itself. I apologize if my remarks to this council were lengthy, repetitive or less than coherent, I speak to you exhausted and in mourning, hoping that this time, speaking to this forum will make a difference. Afghans are watching, amidst fear and despair, if this Council and the international community will do all it can to revive our hope in peace. 

Thank you

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