UN calls on U.S. to alleviate Afghan suffering 

April 26, 2022 - 17:56

A group of UN-appointed experts have issued a warning over the harmful consequences on Afghans, especially women, as a result of the United States’ freezing of Afghanistan’s assets. 

According to the experts, the Da Afghanistan Bank in Kabul has more than $7 billion in reserves, that have been blocked by Washington, and which could instead be used to provide desperately-needed humanitarian relief to tens of millions of Afghans suffering in their own country. 

The Afghan central bank’s funds have been frozen since August last year as the Taliban took over and foreign forces withdrew.

Since then there have been urgent calls from aid groups and the UN for the money to be used to address the humanitarian crisis that has worsened. 

While noting the ruling Taliban can take more steps to ease women’s rights; the 14 UN independent rights experts have blamed the U.S. government for making life worse for Afghan women by blocking billions of dollars of the central bank assets made up in part of aid money for the country accumulated over decades.

In a statement, the UN-appointed human rights experts said “we are gravely concerned about the growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, which puts at serious risk the lives of more than half of the country’s population, with a disproportionate impact on women and children.”

It said that “while gender-based violence has been a long-standing and severe threat to women and girls, it has been exacerbated by the measures imposed by the U.S., together with the drought”

Analysts say despite the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and its disastrous 20-year occupation that saw poverty levels increase, the American-led withdrawal from the country in August last year has seen Washington still harming Afghans and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis there. 

To make matters worse, in February, U.S. President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order to continue blocking the funds and use half of the money for purposes within the U.S.

Observers note the money belongs to the Afghan people and Washington’s collective punishment of the Afghan nation by blocking access to their money is not something new. 

The White House, regardless of which party is in power, has increasingly resorted to sanctions and asset freezes of other sovereign countries in a common warfare tactic against governments who rule over independent nations around the globe that oppose Washington’s foreign policies. 

However, analysts believe this type of collective punishment by the U.S. the aim of which to try and get the population revolting against their own governments over their economic affairs will backfire on America itself and its currency the dollar.  

In a statement, the UN rights experts appealed to Washington saying that humanitarian exemptions to Afghan sanctions, agreed to by the UN Security Council last December, has led to “no significant progress” in financial or commercial aid to Afghanistan, as many foreign banks were concerned about breaching restrictions.

Gravely concerned about the humanitarian crisis in the country, the experts added that it “puts at serious risk the lives of more than half of the country’s population”.

Echoing the UN Secretary-General, who recently described it as an “epic humanitarian crisis on the verge of a development catastrophe’, the experts urged countries in particular the U.S. to re-assess any adopted unilateral measure and lift all obstacles in providing the necessary financial and humanitarian aid.

In January, the UN launched its largest-ever humanitarian appeal for a single country, requiring more than $5 billion this year to help the Afghan people.

According to international assessments, Afghanistan has now the highest number of people in emergency food insecurity in the world, with more than 23 million in need of assistance, and approximately 95 percent of the population having insufficient food consumption.

Of particular concern is the vulnerability of more than four million internally displaced, including people belonging to minorities and over 3.5 million seeking refuge in neighboring countries, the majority of whom have been provided refugee by authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

Furthermore, the experts highlighted that since the December adoption of Security Council resolution 2651 and the establishment of humanitarian exemptions to existing sanctions, there hasn’t been any progress in financial or commercial flows for development and humanitarian purposes to Afghanistan by States or international financial institutions.

The group said “since the adoption, in December 2021, of the UN Security Council resolution 2651 and the establishment of humanitarian exemptions to the existing sanctions regime, mentioned in our last statement, there has been, unfortunately, no significant progress in the financial and commercial flows by States and international financial institutions for development and humanitarian purposes in Afghanistan. Humanitarian actors face serious operational challenges due to the uncertainty caused by banks' zero-risk policies and over-compliance with sanctions.”

The uncertainty caused by banks’ zero-risk policies and over-compliance with sanctions has left humanitarian actors facing serious operational challenges.

According to the experts, the U.S. Executive Order may “exacerbate the climate of uncertainty among relevant actors...resulting in over-zealous compliance with sanctions,” thus preventing Afghans from “access to basic humanitarian goods”.

The UN experts called on the U.S. to seriously consider the growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and reconsider its position towards the plight of Afghans living in poverty; recalling that countries have an obligation under international human rights law to guarantee that activity under their jurisdiction does not result in human rights violations.

They say “such overly broad formulations may exacerbate the climate of uncertainty among relevant actors, including banks, businesses, and humanitarian donors, resulting in over-zealous compliance with sanctions thus preventing people of Afghanistan from any access to basic humanitarian goods.”

They also called U.S. authorities to take all appropriate action to reverse its unilateral measure toward Kabul and contribute to the international effort in addressing the growing humanitarian crisis in the country.

The experts called on the U.S. to take the matter “into serious consideration”

They added, “we recall that States have an obligation under international human rights law to guarantee that any activity under their jurisdiction or control does not result in human rights violations, and in this regard, we urge the U.S. authorities to take all appropriate action, in line with its international human rights obligations, to reverse this unilateral measure and to decisively contribute to the international efforts in addressing the growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.”

The 14 special rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country's situation. They are independent of any government and are not paid for their work.

They have sent their observations and warning to the U.S. administration saying “prior to the issuance of this press release, we communicated our concerns and recommendations to the U.S. Government, which has, to this day, much to our regret, not responded.”

However, analysts say they are not surprised by Washington’s silence and the lack of empathy it is displaying despite the mounting evidence of a humanitarian catastrophe. 

Critics argue that is very concerning when Washington has further evidence now from independent experts about how it’s sanctions is worsening the dire humanitarian crisis.

This is a crisis that was created by the U.S. itself, yet the Biden administration chooses not to take any action to address America’s responsibility for wreaking havoc in Afghanistan with its  20-year occupation. 

Meanwhile, others say the war in Ukraine has overshadowed the dire humanitarian problems in countries like Afghanistan and Yemen where the U.S. played a direct role in the crises.

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