Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Security Council Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts

Statement by H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin
Permanent Representative of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to
the United Nations  at the Security Council Debate on
Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts

Mr. President, esteemed colleagues,

Allow me to congratulate you, Mr. President, for your assumption of the presidency for this first month of the new year. In addition, thank you for convening this debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, an issue which should never be far from our attention. Here at the beginning of a new year, let us renew our conviction that no civilian, anywhere, should bear the costs of war.
As we speak, our thoughts are with the thousands of men, women and children who have been killed, and who have suffered in Gaza in the last 19 days. Civilians have been disproportionately affected by this conflict, and the brutality continues. We call for an immediate ceasefire, as requested in Security Council Resolution 1860. This conflict must end now.

Mr. President,

In Afghanistan as well, a new wave of violence is destroying the lives of innocent civilians. Over 2100 civilians died in 2008 alone. Women, men, students, teachers, aid workers, farmers, tribal leaders, and clergy are all victims. Civilian casualties are an issue that strikes at the heart of Afghanistan.

Mr. President,

In the past few years, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terrorist elements have embraced tactics that target civilians with increasing deadliness. In 2008, terrorists accounted for the majority of civilian casualties. The numbers of victims of the terrorists are sobering: just this year alone, at least 270 civilians were executed, and an additional 725 or more were killed by suicide attacks or by IEDs. This targeting of civilians by the Taliban has accomplished several terrible objectives.
First, the terrorists have demonstrated their complete disregard for the sanctity of human life. Suicide bombs kill more civilians than military personnel. The Taliban regularly execute, abduct and torture civilians, particularly targeting Afghans and foreigners who are perceived to be cooperating with, or receiving services from, the government or international community. They behead doctors, teachers, clergy, and tribal leaders, recruit children as suicide bombers, and spray acid in the face of schoolgirls. Taliban harm to civilians and the creation of an environment of distrust and fear impede the Afghan government and the international community’s ability to deliver services to the people who need them most.
Second, the Taliban are using civilians as human shields, hiding in towns and villages and using men, women and children as cover for attacks on government and international forces. As a result, over 60% of civilian casualties have occurred in the South and East of the country, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda are most active.

Mr. President,

Unfortunately, many civilians have also suffered and lost their lives during counter-terrorist operations. This is a matter of grave concern for the Government of Afghanistan. President Karzai has recently and repeatedly raised concerns and has asked the international forces to find ways to prevent civilian deaths. Our Government believes that we need to work together with the international community in a spirit of open dialogue and cooperation to find a workable framework to address this problem, and we are discussing the issue with our partners. NATO and American-led forces have already introduced new strategies aimed at minimizing civilian casualties, and we have seen some positive results. However, any life is precious, and as a Government we have a particular responsibility to safeguard the lives of our citizens and not rest until every Afghan is safe.
Mr. President,
To decrease the harm to the Afghan people, there are three measures for us to consider. First, avoid tactics which cause significant unintentional civilian deaths. Airstrikes, in particular, result in enormous casualties among innocent people. We must minimize reliance on these methods of warfare. Second, work more in cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan and law enforcement on the ground. Home searches and detaining practices should operate within the guidelines set forth in the Afghan Constitution. Afghan National Army and Police should assume responsibility for home searches. Third, we encourage the international forces to operate with greater cultural sensitivity. In conducting searches and arrests, avoid heavy-handed tactics and operate with respect and minimal force. And where civilian casualties do occur, there should be apologies and accountability.

Mr. President,

With the increasing violence of the Taliban, it has become even more imperative that the Afghan government and the international community work together to effectively eliminate terrorism. The terrorists are responsible for the large majority of civilian casualties, but the Government of Afghanistan and the International Forces bear a heavier burden: we must provide security and protection to the people who need it. Our energies must be channeled collectively to prove to the Afghan people that we consider their welfare to be central to the endeavor for peace and stability in the country.
Thank you, Mr. President.

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Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict

Statement by H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin

Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations

On the report of the Secretary General on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan

At the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Working Group,

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for convening today’s meeting to discuss the report of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict in Afghanistan. I would also like to thank the Department of Children and Armed Conflict as well as the Working Group as a whole, for its efforts to report cases of violations of children’s rights and to monitor the implementation of Resolution 1612 in countries affected by conflict.

Before sharing some of my delegation’s comments on this report, I would also like to reiterate my government’s wholehearted commitment to implementing Resolution 1612. Thirty years of war in Afghanistan have devastated the lives of our children, especially girls, and deprived a whole generation of basic education. With the illiteracy rate in Afghanistan at 67% for men and 87% for women, the future of the nation really does depend on protecting and educating our children.

Mr. Chairman,

We have achieved substantial progress since 2001. We have established juvenile legislative frameworks and judicial institutions and ratified most of the international human rights treaties including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols. We have committed ourselves to implementing the Millennium Development Goals through our National Development Strategy (ANDS). Moreover, dramatic progress has been realized on the ground. For example:

-          Almost 7 million children, 35% of them girls, have returned to school;

-          More than one hundred thousand children were recently vaccinated against polio in southern Afghanistan;

-          The Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) now reaches 81% of the population, up from 9% in 2003. This package includes maternal and new born health, child health and immunization, public nutrition, and communicable disease control;

-          Our National Strategy on Children at Risk, which lays out specific activities to prevent violence and exploitation of children, was launched in May 2006;

-          We established a special task force to protect children in bordering provinces from traffickers. As a result, since 2002, 317 children have been rescued from traffickers.

Nevertheless, today the Government of Afghanistan’s efforts to protect the rights of its children and provide them with a bright and promising future are seriously threatened by critical security challenges in some parts of the country that jeopardize the gains made in the past seven years and undermine our collective efforts.

Mr. Chairman,

My delegation had several meetings with the Department of Children and Armed Conflict prior to the issuance of this report and we had hoped that the Department would take our concerns into consideration. We are deeply disappointed with the report as it stands before you. For the sake of brevity, I will touch on three of our most pressing concerns. First, the report demonstrates a questionable understanding of the political and socioeconomic realities in Afghanistan and the region, breaks with accepted UN analysis of the situation and thereby misidentifies both the causes and the solutions to the grave abuses of children’s rights which are of substantial concern to us all. Second, the conclusions described in this report seem to be based on sparse, largely anecdotal accounts from unknown, and thereby unverifiable, sources. And finally, the language and tone of the report suggest a shift in focus from the Taliban to the Government of Afghanistan which is wholly unjustified.

Mr. Chairman,

The report misrepresents the historical and socio-economic context of Afghanistan. Terrorism constitutes a major threat and drastically affects the daily lives of our people, particularly children. Terrorists are recruiting, training, and exploiting children as combatants and suicide bombers. They rely more and more on asymmetrical attacks against civilians, and on using civilians as human shields. They attack international workers and create an environment where humanitarian aid cannot reach those who most desperately need it. Vulnerable girl students are a main target of intimidation. A few days after this report was completed, a brutal acid attack on fifteen young girls on their way to school blinded some and permanently scarred others.

This report detracts from the seriousness of the threat. It is the Taliban and other terrorists groups that remain the main violator of human rights, including children’s rights, in Afghanistan. It is our duty to concentrate our common efforts in finding ways and means to protect Afghan children from the atrocities perpetrated by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups. For a successful implementation of 1612 in Afghanistan, it is essential to recognize and address the overriding socio-economic and political challenges facing the country and the region. This report fails to identify or substantively address issues of security, governance, and development, and largely ignores the regional scope of many of the problems described. The conflict is not some sort of civil war between pro-government and anti-government forces. Afghanistan’s government, people, and the international community are in a fight with terrorist groups threatening the entire region and the world from sanctuaries outside of Afghanistan. In this the reports breaks from previous Secretary General’s reports on Afghanistan and on Children in Armed Conflict.

Mr. Chairman,

This report, as the first country-specific report on Afghanistan, should provide a factual, comprehensive point of comparison for future reports. It does not. The credibility of the information contained in this report is dubious for many reasons, of which I will mention a few:

1.                  This report seems to base many of its broad conclusions on one or two anecdotes, or less. For example, paragraph 61 asserts that the “overall ability” of child protection officers at schools “has been questioned”, but offers nothing to support that claim.

2.                  This report, in relying on anecdotal evidence, fails to provide any sort of holistic or objective view of trends over the course of the year reported, and no comparison of the severity of various problems. Instead, it showcases a variety of individual examples chosen seemingly at random.

3.                  The sources used in the report are not identified, and it is unclear how far the accuracy of these sources was verified.

4.                  This report contains factual inaccuracies that have now been widely repeated in the media. For example, in paragraph 22 the report mentions the demobilization program for child solders. However, the programme took place from 2004-2006, not before 2003 as the report states, and since then the government has set up local committees to monitor and assist with reintegration into society.

Moreover, isolated cases cannot constitute a solid basis for identifying the Government of Afghanistan as a violator of children’s rights. With regards to alleged recruiting of children, alleged detention of children in contravention of the law, and alleged sexual violence committed against children, the Government of Afghanistan has very clear laws which are in line with international law. Incidents in contravention of the law by individuals in the national forces or anywhere else are therefore condemnable but not indicative of systematic violations of children’s rights.

Regarding the practice of baccha baazi or “boy play”, we commend the report’s denunciation of this abominable practice, and we welcome the recommendation contained in this report to study ways and means of combating it with the support of civil society and religious leaders. However, my delegation would like to underline that any form of pedophilia or pederasty is certainly not cultural, nor particular to Afghanistan, and it is unhelpful to identify the problem as specifically an Afghan one.

Lastly, Mr. Chairman,

We were disturbed by the apparent shift in focus of the report from the Taliban to the Government of Afghanistan. My government welcomed the visit of Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict. H.E. President Karzai subsequently endorsed the establishment of the monitoring and reporting mechanism. The expectation of my Government in this regard was to work in a spirit of cooperation with the Department of Children and Armed Conflict, to improve our government’s capacity, legislation, and development strategies, and address issues of security and poverty. It was with great bewilderment that we found that this report has chosen instead to unconstructively target the Government of Afghanistan. Are we penalizing the Government of Afghanistan for its commitment and good will? It is imperative that this discussion be refocused immediately if we want this working group to deliver productive outcomes that will improve the lives of children in Afghanistan.

Mr. Chairman,

To correct the problems we have identified, we will distribute a list of political and technical recommendations next week. Today I will highlight a few. We recommend that the Secretary General:

1.      Request the Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting to work in close consultation with the Government of Afghanistan, and in line with the restrictions contained in 1612, when preparing a plan within three months to extend the monitoring and reporting mechanism to all areas of Afghanistan.

2.      Request relevant United Nations agencies, including UNDP and UNICEF, within their respective mandates and under the leadership of the Government of Afghanistan, to address broader socio-economic, governance and security issues which will also contribute to the welfare of children affected by armed conflict.

3.      Refocus the discussion, in his next report, on the Taliban as the main violator of children rights in Afghanistan, as originally mandated through inclusion of the Taliban in Annex I of the Secretary General’s last report on Children and Armed Conflict.

Finally, we recommend that the members of the Working Group address a message to the Taliban through a public statement of the Chairman of the Working Group, condemning the use and recruitment of children for terrorist activities and calling for the end of attacks on schools and hospitals, and condemning in particular the use of barbaric tactics to repress and intimidate girls.

Mr. Chairman,

The report before us today fails to advance our goals. It distorts the situation in Afghanistan, it relies on information of questionable credibility, and it takes an unwarranted and accusatory tone towards the Government of Afghanistan. We urge the council to refocus our debate on the true enemy and adopt our recommendations in a spirit of cooperation.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.