Two top UN officials called for an end to the long-running conflict in Afghanistan on Monday, telling a major conference in Geneva that normality could only return to the country if there was a sustained ceasefire.
Speaking at the Afghanistan 2020 Conference, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, both listed changes that would improve the lot of ordinary Afghans and prospects for rebuilding the war-torn country.
1/2 Striking & heartening to hear consensus of strong support & commitment from countries of the region to enhanced cooperation to make #Afghanistan peace a reality. Important Regional Cooperation High Level Meeting today at #Afghanistan2020 Conference. pic.twitter.com/9IffAsR9mh— UNAMA News (@UNAMAnews) November 23, 2020
OHCHR chief Ms. Bachelet said she had six “asks” for the people of Afghanistan, beginning with an immediate commitment to protect civilians from harm.
“This can save thousands of families from suffering and lessen recriminations and bolster confidence and trust among negotiators. Parties should look at, and act on, ways to reduce the use of tactics that cause the most harm to civilians. Above all, we need a common clear declared reduction in violence, and ideally a ceasefire”, she told a conference session on sustainable peace building.
Mr. Grandi, who’s appointment for another term as head of UNHCR was confirmed on Monday, said the number of Afghans who had been forcibly displaced was in the millions and growing.
Huge numbers had sought refuge in Iran and Pakistan, and Afghans still accounted for 30-40 per cent of new arrivals in Greece. But there was a historic opportunity to turn round the situation around.
‘No return’ if talks fail
“Much has been said about peace talks, about how they are - or they could be - an opportunity, and this is true also from the perspective of refugees and displaced, but if violence continues as we have seen during the weekend, if peace talks fail, there will be no return”, said the UNHCR chief.
“There will be no point in talking about reintegration because there will be no return. On the contrary there will be more forced displacement requiring more humanitarian assistance in substantive ways and in circumstances that risk being both dangerous and logistically difficult”, he added.
The success of the peace talks could only be measured in terms of the extent to which the rights achieved in the last 20 years, especially for women and girls, were upheld and respected, he added.
70-plus countries taking part
More than 70 countries are expected to participate in the two-day donor conference, which is co-hosted by Afghanistan, Finland, and the United Nations, and aims to coordinate development cooperation for the period from 2021-2024.
Mr. Grandi said he hoped Afghanistan would solve the problem of attribution of land for displaced people, that the growing number of priority areas for return would be prioritised for assistance, that Afghans displaced into neighbouring countries could receive documentation, and that the international community would step up support for Iran and Pakistan.
Casualties continue, despite talks
Ms. Bachelet said the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), had recorded nearly 6,000 civilian casualties between January and October this year, with 2,117 killed and 3,822 injured, and civilian casualty numbers had not fallen since peace talks started on 12 September.
As well as stopping the violence, the Afghan warring parties must vacate schools and hospitals used for military purposes, set up programmes for the release child detainees and reintegration of child soldiers, and prioritise areas for humanitarian demining, she said.
They should also reaffirm their adherence to Afghanistan’s existing international human rights obligations, allow media and civil society to flourish, and ensure women’s meaningful participation in the peace process.
Worries over women’s rights
“There is much discussion as to whether women’s rights will be exchanged or traded at the negotiating table to achieve other political goals”, Ms. Bachelet said. “There is a direct correlation between the participation of women and the sustainability of peace: it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that women have an equal seat at the table.”
Afghanistan also needed to face up to “painful issues” about truth and justice as part of its peace process, and parties to the conflict needed to acknowledge the harm done to victims and address their right to compensation and reparation.
“Victims, women, and minorities are actively advocating for their voices to be heard during the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations, which offers an opportunity for parties to consider and address the irreversible loss and devastating effect the war has had on Afghans, and the real possibility - the hope of a lasting peace for all Afghans”, Ms. Bachelet said.