UN human rights chief warns of escalating crisis in Afghanistan

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, has said she is profoundly alarmed by the escalating humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and called for a dedicated investigatory mechanism to monitor the crisis in the country.

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) has so far not set up such a mechanism, an omission that has been criticised by aid groups and human rights bodies.

Bachelet also repeated her criticism of the Taliban’s human rights record since seizing power in Afghanistan, noting that stated commitments did not match realities on the ground such as the status of women.

“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 HRC in Geneva.

She also expressed dismay at the composition of the Taliban’s new government, noting the absence of women and its dominance by ethnic Pashtun. She said the civil service was also being changed by the Taliban, while credible reports of reprisal killings also existed.

Overall, she warned that the country was entering a new and more perilous phase.

Her remarks come as donors convened in Geneva for a separate attempt to address the worsening crisis in Afghanistan by raising international funds. The UN has said the country is on the brink of collapse. There are concerns that UN and US sanctions may hold up the flow of aid as NGOs seek assurances that they will be not subject to US Treasury fines if they are seen to be helping Taliban-linked organisations, such as government ministries. The US is holding off providing aid unless it gets clearer commitments from the Taliban about its future behaviour.

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China has already provided $30m (£21.6m), and the Russian foreign ministry said on Monday it was planning to send food and medicines shortly.

Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, the most senior politician to visit Kabul since the fall of the capital to the Taliban, has been trying to ensure the flow of aid can be restarted. It has called for humanitarian assistance to be independent from any political progress.

Efforts to prevent a chaotic approach to recognising the Taliban will be made on Thursday at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Tajikistan due to be attended by ministers and security chiefs from Khazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India, and Pakistan, along with Afghanistan, which has observer status at the meeting. Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, was also expected to attend in what will be his first overseas trip since being inaugurated.

With 18.4 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, significant displacement combined with rising levels of Covid-19 and acute food security needs, there is a risk that humanitarian assistance will be badly coordinated.

David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, called for governments to urgently increase funding to the humanitarian appeal in Afghanistan, and ensure funds quickly reach frontline humanitarians. The IRC has nearly 2,000 staff in the country and is seeking assurances about the safety of its female staff, almost all Afghans.

Miliband said: “Afghans must not pay twice over for failures of the international community – first for war and now for neglect. While international attention has been understandably focused on evacuations, 40 million Afghans remain in a country on the verge of a humanitarian meltdown.”

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