Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Food Programme and the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Urgent action needed for the people of Afghanistan
Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that the failure to stem the rising violence and human rights violations and abuses was having disastrous consequences for the people of Afghanistan. Civilian casualties continued to mount, and reports of violations that might amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity continued to emerge. Since 9 July, in only four cities, at least 183 civilians had been killed and 1,181 injured, including children. The real figures would be much higher.
The High Commissioner had stated that “parties to the conflict must stop fighting to prevent more bloodshed. The Taliban must cease their military operations in cities.” She urged all States to use their influence to bring the hostilities to an end and reinvigorate the peace process. Peace-related meetings were taking place in Doha that week.
According to reports documented by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), most of the civilian harm was caused by ground engagements, though air strikes had also resulted in civilian casualties. Moreover, since the start of the Taliban offensive in May, at least 241,000 people had been displaced and essential infrastructure had been damaged. The situation in Lashkar Gah – where at least 139 civilians had been killed and 481 injured since 28 July, hospitals were nearly at capacity, the food supply was dwindling and electricity and water were largely cut off – was particularly telling of the impact on civilians.
The Taliban’s sweeping takeover of an estimated 192 district administrative centres, its attacks on provincial capitals and its takeover of at least six provincial capitals had struck fear in the population, and the proliferation of pro-Government militias being mobilized against the Taliban could further endanger civilians.
In contested areas and the areas captured by the Taliban, the Office was receiving reports of summary executions, attacks against current and former Government officials and their family members, military use and destruction of homes, schools and clinics, and large-scale laying of improvised explosive devices. The United Nations was also receiving deeply disturbing reports of other serious violations of international humanitarian law.
The High Commissioner reminded all parties of their obligation to take all necessary measures to protect civilians. Moreover, perpetrators of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law must be held accountable. The High Commissioner was particularly concerned about early indications that the Taliban was imposing severe restrictions on human rights, especially those of women, in the areas under its control. There were reports, for instance, that women and girls were prohibited from leaving their homes without a male chaperone, which would inevitably lead to a cascade of other violations, and that non-compliance attracted harsh punishment, such as flogging. Serious curbs on freedom of expression and the ability of journalists to do their crucial work were also of deep concern.
OHCHR would continue to monitor the human rights situation, in spite of security and other challenges, and the High Commissioner urged the international community to take urgent action, including through the Human Rights Council and the Security Council, to prevent further atrocities.
The full text of the briefing note can be found here.
Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), recalled that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of UNAMA, Deborah Lyons, had briefed the Security Council on 6 August, where she had been explicit about the new, deadlier and more destructive phase the conflict in Afghanistan had entered. She had stressed that the Council must unambiguously call for an immediate end to attacks against cities, that Member States should contribute to the severely underfunded humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan and that members of the regional and international community must put aside their differences and send a strong signal that it was essential to stop fighting and negotiate, otherwise, there would be nothing left to win. He also recalled that Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths had deplored the civilian casualties.
In response to questions from journalists, Ms. Shamdasani said the various parts of the United Nations had their own contacts with the parties to the conflict. UNAMA was in an ongoing dialogue, including with the Taliban. The role of OHCHR was to remain in Afghanistan to monitor the situation on the ground – making it clear that it was doing so – and to push for a return to peace negotiations and for accountability. The State had a duty to protect people in their jurisdiction, including journalists, as did the Taliban in the areas under its control. While it clearly was not a coincidence that unacceptable restrictions were being imposed on women at the same time as the international presence was decreasing, any State with leverage, whether economic or political, had a key role to play in ending the conflict, ensuring that it did not boil over into the region and the world and preventing Afghanistan from being used for political purposes. It was time for the international community to prioritize peace in Afghanistan.
Regarding the question on what countries could have the greatest influence, Mr. LeBlanc said that countries in the region could play an important role in helping to stabilize the country and that there was a need for more regional political diplomacy and economic cooperation. The region had a particular interest in the conflict being resolved given concerns such as refugee and migrant movements, and one of UNAMA’s priorities was to support regional cooperation. To this end, it was also providing direct support to the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy on Afghanistan and Regional Issues, Mr. Jean Arnault.
Replying to a question on threats against a journalist in Mexico, Ms. Shamdasani said it was the duty of the State to ensure freedom of expression and that, where there was an imminent threat, it also had a duty to take protective measures.
Michael Dunford, World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Director for Eastern Africa and Corporate Response Director for the Tigray Emergency, said that WFP had reached over 1 million people in the second round of assistance. It was a massive logistical operation: WFP needed to move 30,000 metric tons of commodities every month, which meant 30 to 40 trucks per week for WFP alone, while the overall humanitarian response required 100 trucks a day. Another challenge were the checkpoints along the road. Beyond that, what was really needed was a far more systematic means of operating and good coordination among all the stakeholders, including the central and regional authorities. WFP was aiming to reach 1.6 million people in the next round and 2.1 million in the one after that, and the onset of the rainy season would only increase needs among an already extremely vulnerable population. WFP echoed Martin Griffiths’ call for a cessation of hostilities and the opening of a humanitarian corridor and appealed for $79 million to sustain its operation until the end of 2021.
In response to a journalist, Mr. Dunford said that once goods had been transported to Mekele, they then needed to be dispatched to outer regions of Tigray by secondary transport. In addition to trucks, that also required 150,000 litres of fuel per week.
UNHCR regains access to Tigray refugee camps
Boris Cheshirkov, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that UNHCR and partners had regained access to the Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps for Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Violent clashes in the area had prevented UNHCR staff from reaching the camps since 13 July. However, access was limited by a complex and fluid security situation, and basic services remained unavailable, with clean drinking water running out. UNHCR was calling for safe passage to allow refugees from the camps to be moved to the new site of Alemwach, some 135 km away. All parties to the conflict must ensure unhindered access to Tigray and the region so that UNHCR and partners could deliver and scale up life-saving humanitarian assistance and protection for tens of thousands in dire need of urgent support.
UNHCR was appealing for $164.5 million to assist 96,000 Eritrean refugees and 650,000 internally displaced people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and up to 120,000 Ethiopian refugees in eastern Sudan. It continued to call on all parties to the conflict to protect civilians in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.
The full briefing note is available here.
Replying to journalists, Mr. Cheshirkov said the two camps were in southern Tigray. Two other camps in the north had been destroyed earlier in 2021. The new site of Alemwach was not in Tigray and thus was safer and had more basic services. Some of the refugees that had fled the destroyed camps in the north had been found in Addis Ababa, where they had been registered and provided with identification documents.
Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that the fifteenth session of the quadrennial ministerial conference (UNCTAD15), where the organization’s work priorities for the next four years would be set and global policy recommendations would be formulated, would take place online from 3 to 7 October 2021. It would be hosted by the Government of Barbados, under the theme “From inequality and vulnerability to prosperity for all”, and would focus on reducing inequality and vulnerability by ensuring that trade worked for all and that development remained high on the global agenda in the context of the decade of action for the Sustainable Development Goals.
The conference would be open to the media. All accreditation requirements were covered in a note to correspondents available in the virtual UNCTAD15 media centre.
The opening ceremony would take place on Sunday, 3 October, at 4 p.m., and several sessions on trade, investment, finance, technology, environment and other development-related topics would be held from 4 to 7 October.
Separate online registration was required for each of the pre-events, including the Global Commodities Forum (13–15 September), the UNCTAD Youth Forum (16–18 September) and the Civil Society Forum (22–24 September), on which further information would be provided in due course.
Also in September, UNCTAD would be presenting several of its main reports, including on trade and development, least developed countries, Palestine and the digital economy.
Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would conduct its virtual review of the report of Lebanon on 10 and 11 August, from 4 p.m. (NB: The treaty bodies were expected to resume in-person sessions as of September.)
On 12 August, at 3 p.m., the Conference on Disarmament would hold a discussion on Youth and Disarmament. Speakers would be: Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs; Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; and three Youth Disarmament Champions.
On 10 August, at 4 p.m., the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener would be briefing journalists in New York.
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The webcast for this briefing is available here: https://bit.ly/unog100821