GENEVA: The UN has voted to create a new special rapporteur on Afghanistan to probe violations carried out by the Taliban and other parties to the conflict, amid growing concerns for the erosion of civil rights as the country transitions to an “Islamic emirate”.
The UN Human Rights Council on 8th October passed a resolution brought by the European Union to have a special rapporteur working on the ground in March 2022, supported by UN experts in legal analysis, forensics and women’s rights.
The resolution was voted in favour of by India and the European Union states but opposed by China, Pakistan and Russia, Eritrea and Venezuela.
The resolution passed on Thursday, October 8, with 28 votes in favour, 14 abstentions and five negative votes, has been approved only a month after the Council had unanimously adopted an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation-sponsored resolution at the special session on Afghanistan.
The previous resolution, drafted and steered by Pakistan, had been severely criticised by several countries, UNHRC officials and human rights activists for being deliberately diluted and not having any oversight mechanism. The special session had taken less than two weeks to convene after the Taliban’s complete victory in Afghanistan, following the withdrawal of foreign troops and the sudden departure of President Ashraf Ghani.
India voted in favour of the latest EU-sponsored resolution on Afghanistan, although it usually abstains or votes against country-specific resolutions.
Earlier in the day, India had voted against the resolution to extend the war crimes investigation by UNHRC in Yemen. It was the first time that a UNHRC resolution had been defeated in the 15-year-old history of the UN body.
There were no explanations given for India’s vote on the resolutions on Yemen and Afghanistan. But generally, India’s stance has been not to support resolutions that are not backed by the country concerned.
The resolution on Afghanistan had been co-sponsored by European Union and the recognised Afghan representative for the UN in Geneva. The Afghanistan permanent mission continues to be manned by diplomats appointed by the previous Ashraf Ghani government, as UN member states have decided to defer any decision to recognise the Taliban regime.
Under the latest resolution, Council has appointed a Special Rapporteur to monitor the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and present a written report to the UNHRC and UN General Assembly in the latter half of 2022.
Further, the resolution “encourages” the UN human rights chief Michele Bachelet to update the Council “as deemed necessary, and in any case” before the end of 2021. It was in addition to the oral update to be presented in the Council’s fiftieth session next year.
The five negative votes on the resolution were cast by China, Russia, Pakistan, Venezuela and Eritrea.
Stating that the draft resolution had “serious defects”, China had introduced five amendments, all of which were rejected by a vote. India had also voted against the Chinese amendments. The Chinese diplomat had then called for a vote on the draft resolution.
China, Russia and Pakistan took the floor to express their disappointment that the adoption of the resolution which they said would be unhelpful towards normalising the situation in Afghanistan.
The three countries together have been pushing for greater engagement with the Taliban regime in the face of the West’s reluctance to accord recognition to the new dispensation.
Earlier, on 25th August, India said the current situation in Afghanistan is of “great concern” to it, hoping that it does not pose a challenge to its neighbours and the country is not used by terrorist groups such as LeT and JeM. In his address at a special session of the UN Human Rights Council, Indian ambassador Indra Mani Pandey said a “grave” humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the country and everyone is concerned about the increasing violations of fundamental rights of the Afghan people.
Pakistan terms resolution as “ill-timed”
Pakistan has rejected as “ill-timed, ill-advised and potentially counter-productive” a European Union-sponsored resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council to install a special rapporteur to probe alleged abuses in Afghanistan, saying the move duplicates the existing monitoring and reporting process.
Underscoring that Afghanistan today was at an “inflection point”, Ambassador Khalil Hashmi told the 47-member Council that shaping international responses to the situation in the war-torn country required “prudence, proportionality and a strategy of engagement that accords primacy to the legitimate needs and aspirations of its people.”
“Amidst several justifiable concerns, there is also a real window of opportunity and a potential path to advancing the shared goals of peace, security, stability, development and human rights in Afghanistan,” the Pakistan envoy said in his national statement before the vote.
“The OIC countries stand with Afghanistan at this critical juncture,” Ambassador Hashmi said in a statement he also made later on behalf of the 57-member Jeddah-based organization.
Speaking for Pakistan, Ambassador Hashmi pointed out that the Human Rights Council has already outlined human rights-related concerns and expectations from Afghanistan, and appointing a special rapporteur would not bring any added value. Instead, he underlined the need for active engagement with Afghanistan. In this regard, the earlier OIC’s initiative to call a special session and to steer an international consensus demonstrated prudence, proportionality, willingness to engage and offer of assistance, he said.
Russia and other partners also criticised that the Special Rapporteur had a “forward-looking mandate” and did not cover atrocities committed by foreign troops. They questioned the timing of the resolution when the earlier one was approved just a month ago and was yet to be implemented.
11 OIC members were absent
Pakistan and other members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) voted against or abstained on the resolution.
Out of the 14 abstentions, 11 were by members of OIC, which had sponsored the resolution adopted during the special session in August. None of the OIC members of the Council, except Pakistan, voted against the resolution.
Afghanistan’s representative had also sponsored the OIC-led resolution but had expressed disappointment that it did not set up any monitoring mechanism.
Speaking on behalf of OIC, the Pakistani envoy also recalled its initiative for a Special Session in August 2021 to shape this Council’s response to various dimensions of human rights concerns in Afghanistan, and noted that the Council joined ranks in adopting a consensus resolution.
“In doing so, this body conveyed a united message of solidarity to Afghan brothers and sisters at this critical juncture,” the OIC statement said.
Afghan representative welcomes
Welcoming the EU-drafted resolution, Afghan representative Nasir Ahmad Andisha said that “initial optimism” of the Taliban regime’s responsiveness to international concerns had waned after the formation of the caretaker government. He highlighted the human rights violations reported from inside Afghanistan and stated that these were the “actions” of the Taliban, who had told their international interlocutors that they would respect the rights of all Afghans.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to the UN, Nasir Andisha, appointed by the former government but still representing the country in Geneva, delivered a strongly worded condemnation of the new Taliban government, which includes only a few non-Pashtuns and no women at all, and which he accused of a “litany of human rights abuses,” including summary killings and ethnic cleansing carried out in the past two months.