Friday, August 28, 2015

“What’s New in the Field of Humanitarian De-mining?”

Statement by H.E. Zahir Tanin Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations

“What’s New in the Field of Humanitarian De-mining?”


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests,


At the outset, I’d like to thank the United Nations Mine Action Service for their organization of today’s event and we are pleased to co-chair this event with the Permanent Mission of Poland.  I am pleased to be here on this panel today with my distinguished colleagues, H.E. Boguslaw Winid, H.E. Maria Emma Mejia Velez, eeand Director Agnes Marcaillou.    I am grateful for their commitment to eliminating mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW).  The elimination of thousands of mines in my country has only been possible with the support of donor countries such as those that my fellow panelists represent, as well as the commendable work of the Mine Action Program of Afghanistan (MAPA) and its 50 national and international entities including NGOs, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), the Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan, and the Government’s Department of Mine Clearance.


My country was mined heavily during the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, as well as in the subsequent civil wars of the 1990s, and still today by the Taliban and other illegal armed groups.  Mines have been used strategically to protect supply routes, airfields, frontlines, and military posts.  They have been used to terrify communities and innocent civilians. After three decades of conflict in Afghanistan, tragically, over one million people have lost their lives or have been disabled as a result of landmines.  Afghanistan is today the most landmine and ERW impacted country in the world. Approximately half a million Afghan civilians live within 500 meters of landmine contaminated areas. Since the commencement of MAPA, 80 percent of mine contamination has been addressed. However, 4,266 minefields and battlefields in thousands of villages still need to be cleared.


The consequence of landmine and ERW contamination extends beyond the humanitarian space and impedes progress in economics and agriculture as well. Mines and ERWs obstruct access to basic services, facilities and infrastructure.  They render land impossible to use for schools, crops, and other productive activities. The country is still littered with hazardous explosive devices, meaning that even in areas where conflict has ceased, civilians risk death or injury from landmines, ERWs and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


In December of 2012, Afghanistan submitted a request to the States Parties of the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Treaty to extend the deadline by which all antipersonnel mines would be removed from Afghan territory, by ten years.  As part of the extension request, Afghanistan submitted a 10 year work plan which will bring mine free status to the country by 2023.


The presence of Improvised Explosive Devices is another big threat to the lives of civilians. Indiscriminate use of IEDs is a common tactic among the Taliban and other terrorist groups. In 2014 alone, approximately 3,000 civilians were victims of injuries caused by IEDs in Afghanistan.


As we approach the year 2023, together with our partners, Afghanistan is confident we will see a mine free nation. This will be a monumental achievement for our country, a result of the hard work and dedication of the thousands of Afghan de-miners who risk their lives on a daily basis to ensure security for their fellow citizens. This past Saturday, 12 de-miners working for HALO trust, a partner of MAPA, were kidnapped from Logar province. On Monday, all but six were safely freed. We must continue working to ensure the safety and security for these brave men and women.


As we strive for the day when Afghanistan is completely mine free, the continuing support of the international community along with UNMAS, will ensure de-mining activities are conducted safely, efficiently, and effectively. With the end of the transition period and the beginning of the transformation decade, defined by national ownership and leadership, we are entering into a new phase of partnership between Afghanistan and the international community, including the UN. Now, the Government of Afghanistan is engaged in a comprehensive reexamination of the role and activities of all UN entities in our country aimed at strengthening our collaboration and partnerships with the UN. This process will allow the government of Afghanistan to assume its central coordination role in development and humanitarian activities, including de-mining.  We look forward to continuing our close work with UNMAS and other organizations involved in mine clearance. For the success of our de-mining efforts, we call on the international community to continue financial assistance. We also, appreciate the support of member states for the General Assembly Resolution on Assistance in Mine Action, of which we are a co-sponsor. Together, we all seek the noble objective of an Afghanistan free of mines and explosive remnants of war, where our people will live without fear of these senseless weapons.


Thank you.


Statement by H.E. Zahir Tanin Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations Day of Vesak Celebrations


Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,


Let me offer my congratulations as we prepare to celebrate the Day of Vesak, the Day of the full moon. This joyous occasion, celebrated by millions on our continent and throughout the world, is a sacred day to commemorate the life, enlightenment and death of Buddha.


We come from different nations, speak various languages, and respect diverse customs yet, what unites us regardless of our differences is our past, our history and our tradition. Our millennia-old connection is one of a shared culture that extends from the Indian Ocean, to the valleys of the Hindu Kush, from Arab lands and to edge of Eastern Asia. Our commonalities serve as a channel of communication and connection that binds together the great historical regions of our continent.


The beauty and life we celebrate today recalls the major world religions. We are reminded that, these faiths have sought spiritual purity in the calm and contemplative majesty of the region. Afghanistan, in the very heart of Asia, has been a meeting place of many civilizations and great cultural traditions.


The Afghan city of Bamiyan, for more than 1500 years, coveted the greatest religious monuments of all mankind, Solsol and Shamama, two gigantic Buddha statues. These statues defined the historical city of Bamiyan, as the thriving center of religion, philosophy, and art. Located in the middle of the Silk Road, Bamiyan was the crossroads of cultural exchange between the East and West. Afghanistan’s history of mutual understanding of followers of other faiths allowed various cultures to coexist in harmony with great respect for one another.


Juxtaposing the city of Bamiyan’s historical glory, the Taliban, in 2001, tried to obliterate these revered statues with an absolute blindness for the importance of cultural heritage. Their act of destruction is a cultural crime, an act of fanaticism, bigotry, and hatred that shocked the consciousness of humanity. The Government of Afghanistan in collaboration with the international community, particularly UNESCO, is currently working to restore these symbols of shared priceless world history.


Today in an official ceremony, the city of Bamiyan assumed it’s historical role as the First South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s Cultural Capital of 2015. The ceremony welcomed high level members from Afghanistan and all over the world. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs broadcasted that over the course of the next year, several SAARC states will organize various cultural events in Bamiyan including, seminars, exhibitions, and musical performances. This reinvigorates the idea of Bamiyan as the center of the Silk Road. It once again serves the realization of our desire to turn Afghanistan into the Asian roundabout where goods, ideas, and people can flow freely in all directions.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Today Hindu and Sikh minorities in Afghanistan, who have made incredible contributions to the prosperity and progress of our country, celebrate Day of Vesak, as we do here at the UN. Afghan Hindus and Sikhs, who suffered the consequences of decades of war, violence and extremism along with millions of other Afghans, are now working together with all parts of the nations to rebuild and strengthen our country. I am here today to congratulate, all those in our country and the rest of the world, on this jovial celebration.


Today in New York at the United Nations, we come together with our friends, and representatives of countries from all over the world, who are here to take part in these wonderful festivities. As we do so, I would like to highlight how much this celebration today demonstrates the spirit of collaboration that unites all of our countries, at the United Nations and in the world.


Thank you.


Press Release: H.E. Ambassador Tanin Chairs United Nations Roundtable on the Question of Palestine  

From May 20 – May 22, a delegation representing the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People participated in a roundtable meeting on the Legal Aspects of the Question of Palestine. The theme of the Roundtable was “Available mechanisms to ensure accountability for violations of international law”.


The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was established by the General Assembly 1975 with the request that it recommend a programme of implementation to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights to self-determination without external interference, national independence and sovereignty, and to return to their homes and property from which they had been displaced.


H.E. Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations and Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, headed the delegation and Chaired the Roundtable. Other participants included Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the UN, Ambassador Abdelaziz Seifelnasr and Ambassador Samir Diab, representatives of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, Ambassador Haifa Saygeh, representative of the League of Arab States, and other distinguished diplomats and experts. The meeting also served as an opportunity to provide training to young diplomats representing the state of Palestine.


During the three-day long roundtable, participants listened to the presentations of academic experts, practitioners, and high level politicians on themes such as “strengthening compliance with international humanitarian law” and “Israeli settlements as a war crime”.  Ambassador Tanin set the stage for the meeting at its opening. “Today, we have come together to dedicate the next three days to presentations and discussions on implications and opportunities for the Palestinian people and their State vis-à-vis the Fourth Geneva Convention, the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice,” he explained.


The meeting comes at a critical moment in Palestine’s history. After the breakdown of bilateral negotiations last spring and the devastating war in Gaza over the summer, the outlook for a solution to the conflict appears bleaker than ever before. In this context, Ambassador Tanin noted, “The Palestinian people… have every right to use legal and legitimate institutions and their instruments and mechanisms to advance their just cause.”


Members of the delegation representing the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People held several meetings on the margins of the three-day roundtable. On 22 May, the delegation met with representative of the Dutch Foreign Office, including the Director General of Political Affairs Wim J.P. Geerts, the Director of the MENA Department, Birgitta M. Tazelaar, and Deputy Envoy for UN Affairs Bahia G. Tahzib, where it discussed the Committee’s work and possibilities for future collaboration. “The Committee is very interested to hear how the Netherlands envisions the opportunities for EU actions to induce Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, freeze the settlements, and come back to negotiation table,” Ambassador Tanin noted.


On 19 May 2015, Ambassador Tanin addressed the Leiden Law School in Leiden, Netherlands. There, he introduced the work of the Palestine Committee and its history. He also noted recent key achievements in efforts to further the rights of the Palestinian people. In the past two years, he noted, the State of Palestine has become a State Party to the International Criminal Court and acceded to the Geneva Conventions and a number of other international treaties. “These actions are part of the legal aspect of the Palestinian people’s struggle to achieve and exercise their inalienable rights, and markers on their road of the Palestinian State to become a full-fledged member of the international community, enjoying the rights like every other sovereign state as well as assuming its responsibilities,” he remarked.


On 18 May 2015, the delegation participated in a meeting with Christian Berger, Director of North Africa, Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, Iran and Iraq Division of the European Action Service (EEAS) in Brussels. There, Ambassador Tanin briefed European Union officials on the activities of the Palestine Committee, noting recent and upcoming meetings of the Committee in Vienna, Moscow and Brussels. He expressed appreciation of the EU’s support to the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and welcomed the appointment of the new EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process.


“The Committee is looking forward to continuing and strengthening interaction with the EU,” he said. After the war in Gaza in 2015 and the divisive political atmosphere following recent Israeli elections, the Committee believes that it is necessary for the international community to speak with a strong and cohesive voice for the rights of the Palestinian people.


Members of the delegation also visited the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, where they held meetings on State Parties at the ICC, and the International Court of Justice, where they held meetings on the State of Palestine and the International Court of Justice.