On the evening of 30 August, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2593, reaffirming "the importance of upholding human rights, including those of women, children and minorities," and encouraging "all parties to seek an inclusive, negotiated political settlement, with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women.”
Only a week earlier, however, the UN Human Rights Council brushed off a call from Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commissioner Shaharzad Akbar and Michelle Bachelet (pictured above), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, for the establishment of an independent mechanism to monitor human rights abuses and crimes. The member states instead adopted a consensus resolution that merely requests further reports and an update by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in March 2022, adding little to the oversight already in place.
'Lofty rhetoric and cynical inaction'
Years ago, the horrors of Srebrenica gave birth to the 'Responsibility to Protect' and the principles of human rights and humanitarian intervention. To prevent further atrocities and devastation, the international community more broadly must close the gap between lofty rhetoric and cynical inaction and prevent further abuses against a traumatized population.
They must also resist the temptation to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban and concede Afghans as collateral damage of a foolhardy experiment. The two-decade war went on too long, but it was Afghans who bore the brunt of it, with over 65,000 soldiers dying in combat and over 40,000 civilian casualties, not to mention the countless injured.
The dire situation in Afghanistan is only likely to get worse. Even as the Taliban have committed to grant amnesty to the population, reprisals are taking place throughout the country on a daily basis against former government officials, journalists, women and the human rights community. Without the eyes of the world on Afghanistan, this is only bound to get worse.
There is still a small window of opportunity for the international community to protect the most at risk and vulnerable through concrete measures. This should include maintaining and bolstering UNAMA’s human rights mandate when the Security Council reviews the mission’s mandate later in September.
There will also be an opportunity for the international community to push for a robust monitoring mechanism to monitor, document and collect evidence of human rights violations by all parties across Afghanistan when the Human Rights Council meets again this month. This can be done from inside the country but can also be accomplished from outside if access is denied, as has happened in other instances like Syria.
A warning for China
But for any of these steps to happen, it must be backed by key regional actors, particularly China and Russia. Both countries abstained on the Security Council resolution vote. China was also instrumental in weakening the Human Rights Council resolution.
China is leaning heavily in favor of the Taliban, gambling that the insurgency will have the capacity to consolidate power, govern the country and prevent instability from disrupting Chinese economic and infrastructure interests in the region. On 28 June, with the Taliban military offensive in full force, Beijing met with the Taliban at the foreign minister-level, a dramatic shift from years of working with the Taliban through Pakistani intermediaries.
But China should learn a cautionary tale about picking a winner from Soviet and U.S. interventions in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that the Taliban is currently prevailing, its track record in the last ten years of governing sparsely populated parts of the country is spotty at best. Governing the entire country, when the professional class has fled or is in hiding, will be an enormous challenge. Moreover, unless the Taliban delivers on its commitment to adopt a more inclusive and tolerant approach, the Taliban is likely to face mounting resistance from a population accustomed to their rights and freedoms.
China also has a strong interest in ensuring that Taliban rule does not lead to the rise of extremist elements in its backyard. A human rights monitoring mechanism, which would provide some visibility on the ground, would be a far more effective check than relying on assurances from the Taliban. It could also serve as a tool to strengthen the hand of more moderate Taliban forces, who have openly expressed the hope that their forces will stand with the Afghan population against hardline elements.
For the last two years, much of the international community has found it necessary to subscribe to the narrative of the rehabilitated Taliban to justify their exit. Now that the exodus has taken place, they must come together to institute measures to monitor and hold the Taliban accountable, to not only protect and support those most at risk and demonstrate to the population that it is invested in their welfare but to serve as a check on extremist elements and guard against Afghanistan once again becoming a terrorist sanctuary.
Rina Amiri is a former U.S. and U.N. senior official and Senior Fellow at NYU’s Center for International Cooperation.
Hanny Megally is a Commissioner on the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria and a Senior Fellow and Deputy Director at NYU Center for International Cooperation