On Friday 30 January, H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin delivered a statement at a Security Council open debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. The debate focused on the protection challenges of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings. Assistant-Secretary-General of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Director of International Law and Policy for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and a Somali women’s rights activist briefed the Council at the debate’s outset. The debate had been postponed from its original date due to inclement weather.
67 speakers took the floor, including Security Council members and other Member States and groups of states. Speakers highlighted the increase in numbers of civilians affected by conflict as a result of crises around the world including in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, South Sudan and other countries. Many noted that women and girls are often the most vulnerable in these settings. “While entire communities suffer the impact of armed conflict, women and girls are often the first to lose their rights to education, to political participation and to livelihoods, among other rights being bluntly violated,” Ms. Kyung wha Kang, Assistant-Secretary-General of OCHA, remarked.
Taking the floor, Ambassador Tanin noted the importance of this issue to his country, Afghanistan. “The Afghan people have suffered for over 30 years as a result of war and conflict, and continue to suffer today,” he said. He prefaced his remarks by explaining, “attacks on civilians are a sign of weakness; they are not a sign of strength. They are a serious violation of international humanitarian law and breach the basic tenets of Islam.”
2014 was the deadliest year for civilians in Afghanistan since 2001, and was particularly deadly for women. 12 percent more women were killed and injured in 2014 than in 2013. Ambassador Tanin explained that even when women’s lives are not directly at risk, their livelihoods are impacted by the negative consequences of violent conflict. “When husbands, parents, siblings or guardians die or become handicapped, women are often left as the sole breadwinners in the family. Many lack access to paid work and financial resources, and this impedes their ability to provide for themselves and their families and makes them vulnerable to exploitation,” he said.
Ambassador Tanin detailed the government of Afghanistan’s efforts to mitigate the impact of conflict on women and all civilians. He noted the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF)’s counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency efforts and the implementation of the government’s counter-IED strategy. “I would like to emphasize that the Afghan forces are doing their utmost to ensure that the safety of civilians is central to their campaigns and taking all necessary measures to prevent Afghan civilian loss of life,” he told the Council.
Other speakers noted that the Council has intensified its focus on the situation of women and girls in armed conflict over the last 15 years, noting important resolutions 1325 (2000), 1888 (2009), 1960 (2010) and 2122 (2013). Others urged the Council to continue to take bold measures to protect civilians, including by making commitments to change the lives of women and girls around the world.