1990s Boycott of Taliban Was Not Best Option, Elder Emeritus Says, Stressing Urgent Need for Urgent Talks with New Kabul Rulers
The Security Council should proactively use the power of investigation under Article 34 of the Charter of the United Nations to engage before large-scale violence breaks out, Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders — a non-governmental organization of distinguished public figures that promotes peace — recommended today.
Deploring internal political divisions that have unfortunately prevented the 15-member Council from fulfilling its mandates in many instances, Ms. Robinson, former President of Ireland, urged all Council members to recognize that they each have a common interest in upholding global peace, security and stability. That must be a guiding principle for the Council’s work in the years ahead, she added.
Concerning the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, she said the Council could consider making a visit there to focus attention on conditions on the ground and the urgent need for a political, rather than a military, solution. A similar unity of purpose is needed on Myanmar, which, remains in turmoil six months on from the military coup, she emphasized.
Turning to Afghanistan, she described Security Council resolution 2593 (2021), adopted on 30 August, as “a good first step”, calling upon China and the Russian Federation, both of which abstained from that vote, to encourage the Taliban to recognize that the participation of women in society and the education of girls on an equal basis with boys, are non-negotiable and must be respected.
Lakhdar Brahimi, Elder Emeritus and former Foreign Minister of Algeria, also spoke extensively about the Council’s role in Afghanistan, noting that the mandate of the United Nations is to protect the fundamental rights of all Afghans — especially the most vulnerable, including women and girls, the internally displaced, ethnic and religious minorities and human rights defenders.
He emphasized that as a first, extremely urgent step, the Secretary-General — acting with the full support of a united Security Council — should send a Special Representative to Kabul to start a frank discussion with the Taliban leadership. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is needed now more than ever before, he said, proposing that the Council limit its upcoming mandate renewal to a technical rollover of six months and then strengthen it during the new coming phase.
“I have the impression that the international parties involved in Afghanistan realize that boycotting the Taliban in the 1990s was not the best option,” he continued, asking whether Osama bin Laden would have been given the opportunity and protection he needed to execute the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks if the Taliban had enjoyed international recognition.
The Council and the international community should continue to ask themselves such hard questions in the weeks and months ahead, he continued. “Political Islam is now a reality in many Muslim-majority countries,” from Indonesia to Morocco, he pointed out, underlining the need for the various religious, ideological and political families across the globe to put an end to mutual exclusion and live together in tolerance, mutual respect and cooperation.
Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said the occupying Power is still responsible for an overt apartheid situation and for the systematic dispossession of Palestinians. Five years ago, he recalled, the Council adopted resolution 2334 (2016), a landmark decision that set out clearly the obligations of those responsible for addressing the key barriers to peace — including the relentless ongoing settlement of occupied Palestinian territory. It is “high time to put an end to the failed policies” that unjustly betray the rights of the Palestinian people, he stressed.
In the ensuing discussion, several Council members called for reform of the Council.
India’s representative, noting that the world today is significantly different from 1945, when the United Nations was established, said the Council cannot effectively discharge its responsibility without being truly representative of current global realities. He cautioned that burdening the Council with an increasing number of global challenges premised on their perceived connection with threats to peace and security will be self-defeating.
Mexico’s delegate called for limiting use of the veto by the five permanent Council members, urging them to consider joining the France and Mexico to refrain from wielding that power when there is a risk of mass-atrocity crimes.
Norway’s representative said early warning and prevention mechanisms can be institutionalized by tapping Secretariat and national resources and through partnerships with regional and subregional organizations. Informal situational awareness briefings and fact-finding missions are also useful for the Council to engage before conflicts erupt, she added.
Niger’s delegate said the climate crisis has a direct impact on peace and security — as seen in the Sahel region, where his country is located, and in the Lake Chad Basin. “Faced with these challenges, multilateralism should be promoted and strengthened,” he stressed, calling on the global community to bolster its commitment to collective action and preventive diplomacy, with the United Nations at its core.
Ireland’s representative, Council President for September, declared: “Today, climate change is the defining challenge of our generation”. Ireland is using its presidency to consider the concrete steps the Council can take in response to climate security risks, she added.
The Russian Federation’s representative warned that some States are trying to monopolize the international order or impose their own values “as a guiding compass for all of humanity”, adding that those who disagree with them face sanctions or even the use of force. Such a world view does not help to resolve conflicts or reduce tensions, she emphasized.
The representative of the United States, noting that some Council members believe human rights are optional, emphasized: “They are not.” Such a notion flies in the face of the bedrock of the United Nations, she stressed.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Estonia, China, Kenya, Tunisia, Viet Nam and France.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 12:17 p.m.
MARY ROBINSON, Chair of the Elders and former President of Ireland, recalled her visit to Afghanistan as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in early March 2002, saying she witnessed Afghan women launch their charter on International Women’s Day. “It was an important reminder that women’s rights are not Western rights,” she said, noting that hard-won gains in gender equality and women’s rights have since been secured through constitutional, legislative and policy changes. “We cannot allow the women and girls of Afghanistan to be deprived of these rights, including the right to leave the country,” she emphasized, urging Council members not to fail them. Security Council resolution 2593 (2021), adopted on 30 August, is a good first step, she added, calling upon China and the Russian Federation to encourage the Taliban to recognize that the participation of women in society and the education of girls on an equal basis with boys, are non-negotiable and must be respected.
On the coronavirus pandemic, she said the report of the Independent Panel on Pandemic Prevention and Response has set out a pathway for strengthening the multilateral architecture on pandemic prevention and response. The Elders have called on global leaders to make a political declaration during the General Assembly later this month to commit to implementing the report’s recommendations. On the existential dangers posed by nuclear weapons, she warned that recent years have seen the breakdown of arms control agreements, the emergence of dangerous new technologies and cyber warfare capabilities and the serious risk of a new nuclear arms race taking hold amongst the nuclear Powers. Ensuring a successful review conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) should be a top priority for the Council, she stressed, urging the Council to maintain the issue of nuclear weapons actively on its agenda. While the Council has already started to grapple with climate change as a security threat, she said, it should now engage more decisively, with a resolution, as the climate crisis is a core threat to international peace and security.
She went on to urge the Council’s proactive use of the power of investigation under Article 34 of the Charter of the United Nations to engage early in crisis situations before large-scale violence breaks out and hits the international media. Turning to Ethiopia’s Tigray situation, she underlined the need for the Council to incentivize the parties to negotiate a ceasefire, adding that ending the fighting is the only way to end the suffering. The Council could also consider making a visit to Ethiopia, and Tigray, to focus attention on conditions on the ground and the urgent need for a political, not a military, solution. A similar unity of purpose is needed on Myanmar, which, six months on from the military coup, remains in turmoil, she said. The Council must support and strengthen — not hide behind — the role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has been unable to drive implementation of its five-point plan agreed in April. The Secretary—General’s Special Envoy should also be empowered to work with the new ASEAN Special Envoy to find a political solution to that crisis through confidence-building measures and dialogue among all parties, she emphasized. Council members with influence on the Tatmadaw have a duty to encourage them to open up to the possibility of dialogue.
On the Israel-Palestine conflict, she pointed out that the Council has failed to address persistent violations of resolution 2334 (2016), allowing the parties’ actions to undermine prospects for peace and a two-State solution. It should reaffirm its commitment to the resolution’s terms and take strong action to hold parties accountable for violations, she stressed. Member States should also encourage all parties to cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s investigation into the situation in Palestine as part of their commitment to the rules-based international system. She went on to note the real and serious divisions among Council members on many issues, saying internal political divisions have unfortunately led the organ to fall short of its responsibilities in many instances. Every Council member should recognize that they have a common interest in upholding global peace, security and stability, she stressed. That ought to be a guiding principle for the Council’s work in the years ahead.
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, Elder Emeritus, recalled that his first address to the Council three years ago was on the topic of Palestine. Since then, that situation has not improved, he said, adding that the occupying Power is still responsible for an overt apartheid situation and for the systematic dispossession of Palestinians. Five years ago, the Council adopted resolution 2334 (2016), a landmark decision that set out clearly the obligations of those responsible for addressing the key barriers to peace — including the relentless ongoing settlement of occupied Palestinian territory, he noted, emphasizing that it is “high time to put an end to the failed policies” that unjustly betray the rights of the Palestinian people.
Turning to Afghanistan, he noted that the mandate of the United Nations is to protect the fundamental rights of all Afghans — especially the most vulnerable, including women and girls, the internally displaced, ethnic and religious minorities and human rights defenders — and it requires the Council’s support to continue that work. “It will have to establish some kind of system of cooperation with the national and local authorities which, at present, means the Taliban,” he said. In the meantime, Afghanistan’s institutions remain paralysed and its people abandoned. “Famine and despair look like the inescapable fatality for millions of men, women and children,” he added. As a first, extremely urgent step, the Secretary-General — acting with the full support of a united Security Council — should send a Special Representative to Kabul to start a frank discussion with the Taliban leadership, he stressed. A crucial humanitarian programme must be put in place, he said, recalling that the Taliban did not interfere with the work of local staff after internationally recruited personnel were withdrawn in the 1990s. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is needed now more than ever before, he said, proposing that the Council limit its upcoming mandate renewal to a technical rollover of six months in order to strengthen it for the new coming phase.
“I have the impression that the international parties involved in Afghanistan realize that boycotting the Taliban in the 1990s was not the best option,” he continued, noting that the group in its current form is not monolithic. Kept in total isolation, the Taliban had a distorted image of the rest of the world, he said. Asking whether Osama bin Laden would have been given the opportunity and protection he needed to prepare and execute the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks if the Taliban had enjoyed international recognition, he urged the Council and the international community to continue to ask themselves such difficult questions in the weeks and months ahead. “So should the Taliban look back and ask themselves questions,” he stressed, noting that the group does not represent the views of most Afghans. “Political Islam is now a reality in many Muslim-majority countries,” from Indonesia to Morocco, he pointed out, underlining the need for the various religious, ideological and political families across the globe to put an end to mutual exclusion and live together in tolerance, mutual respect and cooperation.
NIANDOU AOUGI (Niger) drew attention to the real threats posed by nuclear proliferation and climate change, “despite the differences among Council members on some of these issues”. Emphasizing the need to listen to all concerned actors and use the tools of negotiation and dialogue, he said the climate crisis has a direct impact on peace and security — as seen in the Sahel region, where Niger is located, and in the Lake Chad Basin. “Faced with these challenges, multilateralism should be promoted and strengthened,” he stressed, calling on the global community to bolster its commitment to collective action and preventive diplomacy, with the United Nations at its core. The Council must continue to act swiftly and effectively to adapt to non-traditional threats and quick-onset crises, such as COVID-19, and make better use of resolutions 2532 (2020) and 2565 (2020), he stressed. “The pandemic has shown us the failure of the global health system and the need to help each other in a world where States are interdependent,” he added, reiterating Niger’s call for international solidarity for the distribution of vaccines and in support of the global truce that the Secretary-General requested in March 2020.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) agreed with other speakers that the Council must urgently respond to new challenges, including climate change and building back better from COVID-19, which will shape the world over the next decade and beyond. “We should not self-censor — where there are clear emerging threats to international peace and security, we should consider them in a timely fashion,” she said, calling for quicker responses to the warning signs of conflict and violence and for earlier action to prevent conflict and escalation. There are numerous ongoing crises where a more nimble, creative Council response would help people affected by conflict, she noted. “Arguably, we did not act quickly enough to respond to the conflict in Tigray, but continued and constructive Council engagement can prevent further escalation” by encouraging the parties to reach political solutions, she added, asking the Elders how the Council can better support the African Union’s efforts in that regard. She also noted the need for continued, unified cooperation on Afghanistan, condemning violence and calling for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
HALIMAH DESHONG (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said the complex web of peace and security challenges facing States today requires a reformed and effective multilateralism that prioritizes the collective good, protects global commons and privileges the rights and perspectives of all nations and peoples. “In far too many contexts, a lack of access to basic public goods […] leads to growing levels of inequality and disenfranchisement,” she said, adding that the erosion of public trust and protracted divisions too often ensue. Calling for renewed efforts to support the most vulnerable, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, she called for a “whole-of-system” approach to conflict‑prevention and -resolution, as well as post-conflict peacebuilding activities and capacity-building, supported by official development assistance (ODA) and the setting of ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions by major polluters. “Reparatory justice for past abuses - including historical injustices that left dreadful legacies of inequity and underdevelopment in their wake — must also form part of any serious agenda for lasting peace and security,” she emphasized.
MONA JUUL (Norway) said the Council often shies away from early action to prevent conflict, adding that an early warning mechanism can be institutionalized by tapping national resources and through partnerships with regional entities. Informal situational awareness briefings and fact-finding missions are also useful in detecting early signs of conflict, she said, noting that inclusion of civil society, including women’s organizations and human rights defenders, makes responses more effective. Emphasizing that women in Afghanistan face extreme uncertainty, she said there is no humanitarian solution without women, no economic growth without women and no peace without women. Reaching out to counterparts regarded as “off‑limits” is also important, she added, recalling that Norway mediated the Middle East peace talks in the past and maintained contacts with the Taliban since 2007. The Council must develop new ways of responding to non-traditional threats, such as climate change, she said, adding that despite the perceived division, it is encouraging that the Council has adopted a range of unanimous resolutions.
T.S. TIRUMURTI (India) noted that the world today is significantly different from 1945, when the United Nations was established. The Council cannot effectively discharge its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security without being truly representative of the contemporary world, he said, emphasizing the need for a Council that is representative of current global realities to be credible, legitimate and effective, rather than one that merely rests on the claim of a bygone era. Issues of social and economic significance are to be dealt by the General Assembly, not the Council, he added. Calling for cooperative functionalism between the Organization’s principal organs, he cautioned that the tendency to burden the Council with an increasing number of global challenges premised on their perceived connection with threats to peace and security will be self-defeating.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) emphasized the Council’s role at the centre of addressing global issues, such as preventing large-scale conflicts, advancing the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and promoting human rights, declaring that “results are undeniable”. Noting that COVID-19 spared no nation, killing 4 million people around the world, she deplored the fact that the pandemic’s impacts go beyond the disease. The United States serves as an “arsenal of vaccination”, offering millions of doses to countries around the world, in particular low- to middle-income nations in Africa with “no strings attached”, she said, adding that the Security Council has a key role in implementing a global ceasefire to fight the pandemic. From wildfires, hurricanes and floods, the world also suffers from the adverse impacts of climate change, she said, adding that the United States aims to reduce emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. It has joined a group of like-minded countries on the security risk posed by climate change, but some Council members believe human rights are optional, she said, emphasizing “they are not”. Such a notion flies in the face of the bedrock of the United Nations, she added.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) noted that the global order is currently undergoing a deep-rooted transformation against the backdrop of increasing polarization and attempts to divide countries by rank. Some States are trying to monopolize the international order or impose their own values “as a guiding compass for all of humanity”, and those that do not agree with them face sanctions or even the use of force, she noted. Warning that such a world view does not help to resolve conflicts or reduce tensions, she said genuine cooperation, in fact, requires the free and equal participation of all States. “Focusing on whose values are better or worse is fruitless,” she said, adding that the international community must strive for collective efforts and the broadest possible agreement. Noting the Council’s unique mandate to maintain international peace and security, she called for a cautious approach to bringing other topics into its work and called for strict adherence to the principles of non-interference and the sovereign equality of States. She went on to caution against attempts to use the Council as a tool against any legitimate Government.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), describing the past two years as extremely challenging for people across the globe, said COVID-19 has interrupted lives, “sometimes dividing us on topics where we needed unity the most”. The pandemic highlighted the need for the Council to keep up with the times, he said, adding that it remains worrisome to see deteriorating human rights situations around the world, most notably in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and in Belarus and Afghanistan. Emphasizing that “it is already too late” when bombs have already exploded and people have lost lives, he called upon the Council to focus on prevention and preparedness rather than dealing with the consequences. “There is an abundance of information for us to act upon; we must be able to find common ground quicker than before,” he emphasized, adding that the Council must address new and emerging security threats — such as malicious cyberattacks — in order to remain relevant and fulfil its mandate. He went on to echo the Secretary-General’s call to make multilateralism “more inclusive and more networked”, with human rights and civil society at its core.
DAI BING (China) described today’s security landscape as a tangle of traditional and non-traditional challenges, all exacerbated by COVID-19. Noting that some developed countries continue to hoard vaccines while doses remain hard to come by in many parts of the world, he urged an end to “vaccine nationalism”, while underlining the need for full respect for the principles of sovereignty and non‑interference. Circumventing the Council’s authority by imposing unilateral coercive measures is a violation of international law and an affront to common decency, he added. He went on to state that the present situation in Afghanistan proves that foreign interference does nothing to ensure peace and stability, but only leaves a raft of humanitarian crises behind. Warning those leaving Afghanistan not to “pass the buck” on to that country’s neighbours, he called for global solidarity to combat the ongoing threat of terrorism without double standards. Turning to climate change, he reiterated China’s support for the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and urged developed countries to support others in the areas of funding, technology and capacity‑building.
MICHAEL KIBOINO (Kenya) noted that never in the history of the United Nations have multilateral solutions and reaffirmation of Charter principles been as sorely needed as they are today. Spotlighting three existential threats facing humanity, he posed questions to the Elders on the challenges of pandemics, climate change and terrorism and violent extremism. Concerning the first, he pointed out that, in 2020, it took the Council three months to agree on resolution 2532 (2020) in support of the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire to fight COVID‑19, asking how members can better promote solidarity, counter misinformation and support vaccine rollouts today. On the second point, he asked what innovative approaches the Council can take to address the impact of the climate crisis in Africa, in small island States and across the globe. Regarding the third issue, he asked how the multilateral system can reconfigure itself to combat the threat of terrorism, and how multilateral approaches can be better utilized to prevent terrorist and militant groups from making further gains.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) said disarmament remains a pending issue, citing former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a member of the Elders, as saying there are no good hands for the wrong weapons. That is precisely what the visionary Nuclear Test‑Ban Treaty codifies, he said, adding that the Council must also pay more attention to the threat posed by small arms and light weapons. During its presidency, Mexico will propose the analysis of measures to restrict the irresponsible transfers of such weapons that fuel conflicts, he said, seeking recommendations from the Elders on that matter. He also called upon the permanent Council members to consider joining the Franco-Mexican initiative to refrain from wielding the veto when there is a risk of mass-atrocity crimes. Noting that there are times when the Council has not lived up to its mandate, he highlighted its slow response to the coronavirus pandemic as such an example. Emphasizing that the General Assembly must act when the Council is paralysed, he recalled that, in April 2020, 179 countries co-sponsored resolution 74/274, sponsored by Mexico, in favour of fair, transparent and equitable access to future vaccines.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) deplored the fact that, despite a high number of resolutions and repeated calls for ceasefires, several conflicts remain on the Council’s agenda. Some regions alternate stability and conflict, wiping out gains made, he noted, asking the Elders to give an objective diagnosis of the Council’s effectiveness in tackling many global issues, including terrorism, climate change and cyberthreats. He also asked their opinion as to what new mechanisms the Council can adopt to tackle problems with greater complexity, especially when its members are not united. He also asked the Elders how the Council can work better with regional organizations, especially those in Africa and the Arab region.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam) said conflict prevention ought to be at the core of the Council’s work. The organ should utilize all tools at its disposal in contributing to prevention, post-conflict recovery and sustaining peace efforts. To make the multilateral system work more efficiently, responsively and in synergy, reforms are prerequisite, he said, adding that the Council is no exception. It is critical to enhance its transparency, democracy, representativeness and effectiveness, and its solidarity and unity must always be prioritized, he emphasized. It is crucial to support the complementary role of regional organizations, such as the African Union, in maintaining international and regional peace and security, he said, noting that ASEAN has affirmed its centrality in the regional security architecture, including in conflict prevention and resolution, and addressing regional and international issues. He then asked the briefers what practical measures are available to enhance the Council’s efficiency and nimbleness in tackling new challenges while maintaining unity and inclusivity.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), condemning Sunday’s events in Guinea, called for the release of President Alpha Condé. Agreeing that the world needs a strong multilateralism and an effective Security Council, he emphasized that unity is a precondition for the success of the United Nations. Peace is now within reach in Libya, he noted, calling for renewed efforts to finally resolve the long-standing crisis in Syria. The Council must also preserve existing non-proliferation norms ‑ at the heart of which lies the NPT — and partners should spare no effort to ensure that the United States and Iran return to their commitments under the 2015 nuclear agreement, he said, stressing that France remains committed to Council reform, including expansion of its two categories of membership, and supports the voluntary suspension of the veto in cases of mass-atrocity crimes. Among other things, he also called for more attention to conflict prevention and for the Council to consider the impacts of climate change as a central element of all responses to future crises.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), Council President for September, spoke in her national capacity, saying the Elders drove home the truth that Council members are bound together by inaction and bear responsibility for the consequences of that inaction. For a small country of Ireland, multilateralism is in its DNA, she added. The threats to peace and security have changed since 1945, she said. “Today, climate change is the defining challenge of our generation.” Ireland is using its presidency to consider the concrete steps the Council can take in response to climate security risks, she stated. Noting that many have mentioned the crisis in Afghanistan today, she said that, as an Irish woman, the words of former President Mary Robinson resonate: “In a society where the rights and potential of women are constrained, no man can be truly free. He may have power, but he will not have freedom.” In the debate on Thursday, and in negotiating the mandate of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, the Council must do everything in its power to promote and protect the human rights of the brave women of Afghanistan, she said, emphasizing that a key measure of the new dispensation in Kabul will be how it treats its women and girls.
Ms. ROBINSON, briefly responding to the comments and questions posed by Council members, welcomed their overwhelming support for a “coherent, integrated multilateral system” and their attempts to reach common ground going forward. To questions about the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, she expressed support for the recent appointment an African Union Special Representative, but cited concerns that he may not be welcomed by all sides. She urged Council members to conduct a visit to Tigray in order to engage more closely with the African Union’s leadership on that issue. Responding to the many speakers who cited the inequalities laid bare by COVID-19, she said the Elders remain focused on the “shocking inequality” in access to vaccines, emphasizing that the coronavirus is not just a health problem, but also an economic and social crisis of massive proportions.
Regarding references to human rights and gender equality, she reiterated that such fundamental freedoms “are not Eastern or Western, or Northern or Southern”, but are, in fact, universal. Indeed, human rights are embedded in countries themselves, as was seen when Afghan women placed them at the heart of their calls for equality, she said. Urging countries that will be dealing with the Taliban in the coming months to bear that in mind, she went on to welcome the today’s many references to climate change and its relationship to security. Council members should think hard about that nexus before passing any specific resolution on the matter, “and make it a strong one”, she said. In addition, she welcomed the many references to the NPT and the importance of the broader nuclear issue. She also welcomed plans by Ireland’s Presidency to raise the issue at a signature Council event later in September.
For information media. Not an official record.