2020 Afghanistan Conference
Side event: Sustainable Peace Building
Segment A: Safeguarding and strengthening human rights and women’s participation
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
For the people of Afghanistan, this year brought a glimmer of hope with the start of the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations, against a bleak backdrop of severe challenges to daily life: continued armed conflict, natural disasters and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, I take the opportunity that hope offers to make six “asks” for the people of Afghanistan: First – from January to October of this year, UNAMA recorded nearly 6,000 civilian casualties (2,117 killed and 3,822 injured). While hopes for a ceasefire were raised, in the context of the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations and by the UN Secretary General’s call for a global humanitarian ceasefire, civilian casualties have not lessened since the peace talks started on 12 September.
The ‘reduction in violence’ week earlier this year – from 22 February to 28 February and the two three-day Eid ceasefires showed that parties to the conflict can reduce fighting with a positive impact on civilians when there is political will to do so. In the current situation of continued fighting, parties to the conflict can and must do more to protect civilians from harm by taking all necessary measures that prevent and end civilian casualties. My ask – in the context of Afghanistan Peace Negotiations, I urge the parties to make immediate commitments to safeguard civilian life. 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.
Second – almost half the population of Afghanistan is under the age of fifteen. The Afghanistan Peace Negotiations offers an opportunity for parties to agree on confidence building measures around child protection.
My ask – for all parties to cease attacks on, and around hospitals and schools, and to vacate such facilities currently used for military purposes; to prioritise geographic areas for humanitarian demining to protect children from harm; and to set up programmes in communities for the release of child detainees and reintegration of child recruits.
Third – Afghanistan is a party to seven of the nine core international human rights treaties and, as a member State should not withdraw from the International Covenants, or from the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This is the legal framework that guarantees the promotion and protection of the human rights and human dignity of everyone in Afghanistan.
My ask – that all parties at the talks reaffirm their adherence to Afghanistan’s existing international human rights obligations, regardless of what Government is in power. Fourth – There is much discussion as to whether women’s rights will be exchanged or traded at the negotiating table to achieve other political goals. We need to start from the premise that women’s rights are part of the international human rights framework, which is universal, inalienable, and indivisible. Women’s rights are not a separate, disposable aspect of this system. Women’s rights cannot be compromised without undermining all fundamental human rights.
My ask – to all parties at the talks: ensure women’s meaningful participation in the process, through all channels and at all levels of decision-making. What does that mean? Listening to the voices of women, as women, and as individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and expertise – as doctors, teachers, lawyers, mothers, victims and community organizers. Just like men, Afghan women have different and multiple perspectives that should be heard and acknowledged. 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.
Fifth – Afghanistan has a remarkable and vibrant civil society. Civil society actors, human rights defenders, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission staff, journalists and media workers are being increasingly targeted and face threats, intimidation and harassment. Civil society has a crucial role in the promotion and protection of human rights now and will continue do so during and after any peace agreement.
My ask – that media not be stifled, and that the working environment for NGOs not be closed through legislation or intimidation. The people of Afghanistan need a flourishing civic space in the period ahead, perhaps more than ever before.
Sixth – Any sustainable peace is based on the participation, inclusion and rights of everyone in Afghanistan. It is important that harm suffered by families and communities is addressed by the parties now, and considered as discussions on peace move forward. As the UN, we promote ‘victim centred justice’ as an approach that puts victims at the forefront. This also means discussing painful issues about truth, remedy, justice and the prevention of further victimhood.
Transitional justice initiatives have repeatedly shown they can help to address grievances and divisions. I have seen this first-hand. My own experience in Chile convinced me that transitional justice processes that are context-specific, nationally owned and focused on the needs and informed choices of victims can connect, empower and transform societies, and thereby contribute to lasting and just peace.
My ask – for parties to the conflict to acknowledge the harm caused to victims, and to address their rights to truth, justice, 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.