Afghanistan

Media stakeout following SRSG Deborah Lyons briefing to the Security Council, 17 November 2021

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NEW YORK - Media stakeout following the briefing to the Security Council by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons.

TRANSCRIPT
MEDIA STAKEOUT FOLLOWING SRSG DEBORAH LYONS BRIEFING TO THE SECURITY COUNCIL
New York – 17 November 2021
(near verbatim)

SRSG Lyons: Okay, great. Thanks. Thanks very much. Thanks for waiting. And more importantly, frankly, thank you for your interest in Afghanistan. Please, please stay committed and interested in Afghanistan. And if we can help you out. With that, please let me know. I guess it's evening, we've kept you so long. I do want to say that I've had a very productive session with the UN Security Council on the extremely disturbing humanitarian situation that we have in Afghanistan right now. My main message to them was very simple. Now is not the time to turn away from the Afghan people. I've stressed this to the Security Council stressed the need for the regional and the global community to remain engaged in helping the people of Afghanistan as they face this very difficult winter, with huge problems of not just food scarcity, but a crumbling economy.

The Afghan people should not feel abandoned or forgotten by the international community, or any of the regional countries for that matter due to the Taliban takeover. We must find ways to prevent an imminent humanitarian catastrophe and the terrible loss of life that could happen over the winter. And we can prevent it. We're supportive the regional donor regional countries and the donor community. And with the UN agencies and our incredibly implementing partners who are on the ground with us in Afghanistan, we can all make a huge life saving difference. In the past three months, we have already delivered significant amounts of aid to the health sector, and to address the rising food insecurity.

The humanitarian imperative is critical. But it is short term. And the humanitarian assistance is not enough. The international community needs urgently defined more sustainable ways of addressing the pressing needs of the Afghan people beyond the upcoming winter crisis. The UN in Afghanistan stands ready to work with the Member States and the international entities to put in place accountable systems that will enable funds to reach the Afghan people who are most in need and to ensure that these funds will not be diverted.

Without creative, flexible and constructive engagement by the international community with Afghanistan, the economic situation will worsen while poverty and extremism will grow. The Taliban de facto authorities also need to play their part in responding to the concerns of their people, and the international community. It does not have to be this way. We all recognize what is required to prevent the economic and societal collapse. We need now to work to find ways to prevent the millions of Afghans who are suffering and to counter any destabilization in the region. Thanks very much. And I look forward to your questions.

Q: Thank you very much, Ms Lyons. And thank you very much for doing this briefing. I think I can say on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, and we hope you'll come back again soon.

SRSG Lyons: January.

Q: My question is, what is your assessment of how far the Taliban is ready to go to meet the demands of the international community? Specifically on a more inclusive government and restoring the full rights of women, girls and ethnic minorities?

SRSG Lyons: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for that question. Let me know how far will they go? I don't think we know yet. But what we have seen which is really incredibly important, is we have seen that there is some movement, that they are listening, that they are getting the same messaging from the international community, from the donors and from all of the regional countries, that their government must be more inclusive. And we have seen them respond to that by initially just making a few appointments at the deputy minister level. And then when it was clear that this was not enough, they added a number of a few, not a lot, but a minister from one of the ethnic groups, and a number of ministers in health in economy with a particular expertise in those domains as compared to being the regular Taliban. They also increased the number of deputy ministers representing different ethnic groups and different interest groups. Still not enough, but an indication of some movement, which suggests to me that we have to keep pressing on that issue, which all of the regional countries and the international donors are doing. On girls in school and women working, they absolutely are hearing this issue loud and clear. They're hearing it from us on a regular basis, we have girls in elementary school, at long last, we do not have the girls in high school in all the provinces in a few provinces that has happened, but nowhere near to the extent that we will need it. What we're working with the Taliban on now, the de facto authority is this policy that they want to put in place to ensure that they have got the systems necessary, the segregated classrooms, the teachers that they need to have girls in high school and at the universities. What I can tell you is they are hearing the voices of the international community on these issues. They are listening, they have made some small changes, we need to continue to work with them to make bigger changes going forward. And that's exactly what UNAMA is going to be doing along with the rest of the international community.

Don't forget as well, that the issue of [inaudible] free passage is also critical. People being allowed to move freely leave the country. Progress on counterterrorism is another issue that has been spelled out to them very clearly, there are regular meetings that the international community and regional countries are having with them on all of these issues, we are going through a kind of mutually getting to know one another understanding better what the demands are and how much we can move. And clearly, I think we are seeing, the more exposure that the Taliban de facto authority has to these concerns of the international community, the more they understand them, the more consultation and collaboration we have, we are seeing small progress. And that makes me feel like we can get more.

Q: Hi, thank you. My name is Sam ASAN from the daily and Arabic [inaudible] newspaper. So I have a follow up on the issue of schools and salaries. And the fact that you were able actually to deliver some salaries through the health system, why is it not working when it comes to education or other things? And could you please walk us through? What are the main obstacles that you are facing there? Is it only money? Or is it also some UN bureaucracy and have a quick follow up on the on the security issue? You talked about parallel economy and drug dealing on the rise and weapons etc? Does that mean that Taliban is not in control? In all the areas and what does that exactly mean? Thank you.

SRSG Lyons: Okay, on salaries? I'm gonna have to come back to your second question, because I didn't quite get it all. On salaries. Yes, we have been able to provide financial support to doctors and nurses in the healthcare sector. That has been done both through UNDP, WHO and UNICEF, this is part of a program that had been set up originally, outside of the budgetary process of the government money had flowed through NGOs, to support those clinics, and there's hospitals. So we have been able to continue that process and make sure and that covers a large number of the provinces. But it is not enough. We still have to be looking at how do we support the healthcare sector on a broader level, to doctors and nurses in hospitals and institutions that are controlled by the government, similarly with teachers, but these are problematic for us right now. Because we would need to put in place mechanisms to separate that money from any access any diversion by the Taliban. So those mechanisms right now are being put in place to try to assure the donors that continuing to pay for these health care providers beyond the ones that I've just mentioned, through the a separate program. But continuing to do that, and continuing and, and not continuing, but actually initiating the salary payment for teachers is something that can happen outside of the budgetary and government system. In order for that to happen. The right financial mechanisms need to be set up. And we need to continue the conversations with the donors on how that will work. And the extent to which that fits within the framing of humanitarian services. So none of these things are simple, when you're talking about trying to establish a payment system that respects sanctions, respects concerns of the donors, and respects a separate funding mechanism so that monies do not flow to an entity or to individuals that have been sanctioned. What was your second question?

Q: So clarify something you said. On your brief, in the briefing to Security Council you talked about? And I wasn't sure if you're talking about fears regarding that there's more weapon drug dealing, or that you having a parallel economy now developing or is a fear that you're having in the future?

SRSG Lyons: No, no, I think what I was saying just to be clear on that, was that, given the challenging situation that we're facing, we need to respond with more than just a humanitarian response that yes, we have to help people get through the winter. But we have to look at other ways of sustaining the economy of getting livelihoods moving again, of getting the economy moving, again, that if we don't do that, in a formal, organized, constructed way, it will result in people having to resort to the illicit economy. Hi, James

Q: James Bays, Al Jazeera. We heard in the Security Council meeting Russia, China, and Pakistan calling for Afghanistan's financial assets to be unfrozen if that were to happen, how far would that go to alleviate the current humanitarian crisis? And do you support those course?

SRSG Lyons: Unfreezing assets is something that is a decision by the key countries that control those assets. So you'd have to speak to them. What we're focusing on right now is not that area of funding and financial resources, but we're looking at the money that has already been committed by the donors for the humanitarian work, making sure we've got mechanisms in place to have that flowing, and also working with the World Bank to try to address whether or not some of the funding that had been allocated previously under the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund can in fact, be freed up and used to continue the work of both the humanitarian area, but also addressing other basic human needs that Afghans have. So we're focusing on the areas right now, where we know we can get results quickly. On the issue of assets, I would suggest you speak to the countries.

Q: [Inaudible]assets. But my question was, if that money was unfrozen, I know that's not your decision. Would that be a game changer in terms of the humanitarian crisis?

SRSG Lyons: In terms of the humanitarian crisis, it really, I think, the systems that we have in place right now, and these new mechanisms that we're putting in place, are going to scale up to allow us to deliver the humanitarian response needed. Next year, we'll have to see how much progress we've made, and what more can be done. But again, as we move along, we have to be building confidence in the donors. We have to be building confidence in the countries that hold those assets. And we have to be building more engagement with the Taliban and a compromise on everyone's part, that all of this needs to be done to help the greatest victims, the Afghan people.

Q: CBS and that realize, okay, thank you very much. Ms Lyon, thank you for the briefing. As a follow up to the last question by James. Can you clarify, if the sanctions are lifted? Are you discussing ways in which If the sanctions are lifted, they can be channeled through the same mechanisms, like the IMF or the World Bank.

SRSG Lyons: and they being the money or they being the money.

Q: And the second part of the question is, we heard on exiting from the Chinese ambassador saying that, that it's good to talk about the mechanisms, but it's taking a long time. What's your response to that?

SRSG Lyons: My response is that these issues are extremely complicated, that we have to navigate many challenging interests of so many parties to ensure that what we arrive at with these mechanisms, is something that gets the money directly to the beneficiaries has the confidence of the donors, and gets done, what needs to be done, particularly in the health sector and food insecurity. I do not, I mean, I would I like to have it done sooner, of course, I would love to have these mechanisms in place sooner, I'm actually quite impressed that we've been able to do as much as we have, it has only been a few months, and we've already moved 10s of millions of dollars, we will soon be moving hundreds of millions of dollars. As a result of these mechanisms being put in place. I can assure you if any of the permanent reps or ambassadors or others have ideas as to how we could move this faster, we would be happy to do so. But when we're back again, in January, I think we'll be able to talk about the significant amounts of money that we've been able to put into these mechanisms. And the success that we're having and moving them through the system, we're going to be able to get as a result of this third mechanism we put in place. I mentioned the work that UNDP has done the work that WHO has done the work that UNICEF have done in helping the health sector. Additionally, we put in place other mechanisms to bring money in and get it dispersed for food insecurity and to expand the humanitarian response. There's third element, there's third mechanism that we're hoping to have in place in the coming month or two will actually allow us to scale up at a much larger level to put something like this in place. Frankly, I think we're getting it done in record time. Thank you. Very good. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks very much.

END