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Oral update on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan

Statement by Mr. Andrew Gilmour,
Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

40th Human Rights Council session
Item 10
Geneva, 21 March 2019

The conflict in Afghanistan continues to dramatically impact the daily life of civilians, restricting the Afghan women and men’s enjoyment of human rights. 2018 saw the highest number of civilians killed in the conflict since the UN started documenting impact of the war on civilians a decade ago. In 2018, we documented 10,993 civilian casualties, including 3,804 civilian deaths. Among civilian deaths were 927 children, the highest number since 2009.

Our methodical documentation has one overriding goal: preventing further bloodshed. With the exception of Daesh/ISKP, all parties to the conflict have introduced measures to mitigate harm to civilians. However, additional concrete steps are immediately required in compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law.

During my visit to Afghanistan last May, I discussed with the Government the need to promote accountability for human rights violations, as well as reparations for victims. I welcome the Government’s formal apology for the aerial operations in Dasht-e-Archi District of Kunduz Province and the continued developments with respect to policies and mechanisms for civilian casualty mitigation.

We are also encouraged by the efforts of Government and civil society to effectively address crimes of violence against women and girls, including the recruitment of more female prosecutors and judges to address such cases and ensure women’s access to justice, as well as a review of the Elimination of Violence against Women Law 2009. We applaud the Government’s accession to the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture, and emphasize the need to adopt further measures to prevent torture of detainees in government detention facilities. The protection of human rights defenders, including journalists, remains an ongoing priority that will help ensure strong civic participation in the development of Afghanistan.

In the midst of conflict, 2018 also saw a glimpse of hope for peace. In February, the Government of Afghanistan proposed unconditional peace talks with the Taliban. This was followed by a 3-day ceasefire to mark the end of Ramadan. The Taliban also announced their own 3-day ceasefire during Eid al-Fitr. The country witnessed a large-scale civic movement, demanding that the armed groups renounce violence and engage in peace negotiations. Civil society and women’s groups also began mobilising around human rights concerns, including human rights of women, pressing for the inclusion and meaningful participation of women in any peace process. Our Office strongly supports their demands.

We call upon parties to the conflict to intensify efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict and for other States to support such efforts, grounded in human rights. The peace talks that began in the last quarter of 2018 are a hopeful sign and must ensure the preservation of the important human rights gains made to date by Afghans, particularly on equality, non-discrimination and women’s rights, as well as the criminalization of torture and Bacha Bazi.

With Afghanistan serving on the Human Rights Council, OHCHR looks forward to enhancing its already very positive engagement with the Government regarding its compliance with international standards, through the provision of technical support on the implementation of recommendations of treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review and promoting accountability and the rule of law.

Thank you.