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Will Taliban Honour UN Treaties Signed by Afghanistan Over the Last 20 Years?

As schools slowly reopen in parts of Afghanistan, it is important to ensure that both girls and boys are able to return safely. Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August, they have made some commitments to uphold human rights. However, their subsequent actions have “sadly contradicted” those promises, the UN rights chief told a side event of the General Assembly on 21 September 2021. Credit: UNICEF

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 6 2021 (IPS) - When the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan receives the political blessings of the 193-member General Assembly– and eventually inherits its seat at the United Nations– it will have to ultimately prove its credentials as a member of good standing by adhering to the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – as all member states do.

But judging by Taliban’s crackdown on women’s rights since it took office after the US pullout on August 30, it has given no indication it will abandon its longstanding policy of repressing women – and have barred them from schools, universities and workplaces.

The Taliban’s UN membership will undeniably give legitimacy to the only – or perhaps one of the few – member states which is ruled by an insurgent group once designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.

But a lingering question remains: will the Taliban, as a member state, honour all those UN treaties and international conventions—guaranteeing both human rights and women’s rights—signed or ratified by the former US-backed Afghan government over the last 20 years?

“With regard to accepting and honouring international human rights Treaties and Conventions– based on what we know today and the public declarations they have made, as opposed to practices on the ground– I would speculate they may declare their observation of Human Rights Treaties ‘within the context of Sharia Law’ which, of course, they will not define,” says one former senior UN official, who served in Afghanistan during the former Taliban regime (1996-2001).

Dr Palitha Kohona, a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section, set the record straight, when he told IPS: “Afghanistan is a member state of the UN, not the Taliban. Being a member state of the UN does not imply that Afghanistan is a party to all UN treaties. Only to those treaties to which it has, as a State, become party. The act of becoming party to a treaty is a conscious, well considered and deliberate act of a State.”

Afghanistan, as a State, will continue to be bound by the treaties to which the State of Afghanistan is a party, he said.

“When a State becomes party to a convention/treaty, the government becomes bound by it too. If Afghanistan is already party to any Human Rights treaty, including women’s rights and child rights, the government of Afghanistan will be bound by it,” he noted.

And there is no squiggling out of such an obligation, declared Dr Kohona, a former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, one of the Articles of the UDHR, described as a milestone document in the history of human rights, points out everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Furthermore, says the UDHR, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

The former Taliban government was described as an oppressive regime that denied some of the basic civil liberties to Afghans and provided a safe haven for terrorists of all political stripes while it also rejected a demand from the UN and the international community to name an inclusive cabinet with representation of women.

“Those who hoped for, and urged for, inclusivity will be disappointed,” said Deborah Lyons, UN Secretary-General’s Representative for Afghanistan.

“There are no women in the names listed,” she said last month.

Lyons also pointed out that the (new) Taliban government in Kabul “contains many of the same figures who were part of the Taliban leadership from 1996-2001”.

Of the 33 appointments, she said, many are on the UN’s sanctions list, including the prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and the foreign minister.

According to published reports, the Taliban has not only dismantled the Ministry for Women’s Affairs but also replaced it with the Ministry for Vice and Virtue, a notorious religious police of a by-gone era known to ruthlessly crack down on women who were seen in public without male relatives.

Dr Kohona, meanwhile, said the current Taliban authorities are not recognised by any other state. In the circumstances could they be considered to be the legitimate successor government to the previous authorities?

For all practical purposes, he pointed out, the Taliban appears to be in full control, including of the territory of Afghanistan and its population.

“The Taliban’s writ applies through most of the country. These elements are critical for the recognition of a government by the international community.”

Already Afghanistan’s neighbours have begun the process of working with the new authorities. Reports suggest that Afghanistan has been invited to join the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, said Dr Kohona.

“Afghanistan’s strategic location and its hoard of precious minerals tempted many before. One can assume that it would only a matter of time before the new authorities are recognised by other important states”.

Recognition of the new authorities in Kabul and efforts to pressure them into abiding by global human rights standards might also open up another can of worms, he argued.

The Afghan authorities could also turn round and seek accountability for the human rights violations and war crimes committed by the occupying NATO and other forces. Allegations abound, he said.

Australia has publicly acknowledged and apologised for the egregious acts committed in Afghanistan by its Special Forces. Many allegations relating to the troops of other occupying forces have also been made, said Dr Kohona.

Addressing the UN’s Third Committee on October 4, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Afghanistan’s human rights situation is “deeply worrisome”.

The Taliban said it will build a more inclusive political order which respects the rights of all persons. But early actions have been inconsistent with those commitments.

“We welcome the UN’s efforts to monitor and report on the human rights situation moving forward. We will judge the Taliban by its actions, not its words.,” she declared.

Meanwhile, the Taliban—represented by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan—last month named its own Ambassador Suhail Shaheen to replace the outgoing office holder Ghulam Isaczai –even as it unsuccessfully staked its claim for a speaking slot at the high-level session, which ended September 25, and a seat at the UN General Assembly.

So far, it failed in all its efforts.

Perhaps the most significant is its attempt to capture a UN seat which has to be approved, first, by the nine-member UN Credentials committee comprising Russia, China, the US, Sweden, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Chile, Bhutan and the Bahamas, and subsequently ratified by the 193-member General Assembly.

A tall order but it is likely to clear both hurdles—sooner or later. As of now, the Credential Committee is expected to meet sometime in November.

Asked about the status of Afghanistan’s membership, the President of the General Assembly Abdulla Shahid told reporters last week: “The General Assembly, as the universal body, makes the decision”.

So, it will be the 193 countries who will decide,” he said, pointing out that the Credentials Committee will review and submit its findings and then the entire 193 member countries “will have the opportunity to decide.

“This has been the past practice and it’s been done many, many times”, he declared.


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