GENEVA (23 December 2021) – UN human rights experts* today called on the international community to take urgent steps to clear the way for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan in order to prevent an impending humanitarian catastrophe from unfolding there this winter. 

The call came one day after the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2615, which exempts humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic needs from sanctions imposed on the Taliban in 2015.

“The implementation of the current sanctions regime has been impeding the functioning and maintenance of infrastructure that is essential to ensure the population’s survival, and they are denying Afghans’ access to life-saving assistance despite the increasing needs related to the crisis,” the experts said.

“We are gravely concerned about the impact that the financial and humanitarian crisis have had on groups in situations of heightened vulnerability within the Afghan population, particularly women, children, minorities and female headed households.”

With winter approaching, an estimated 22 million Afghans are at risk of acute hunger and starvation, unless humanitarian assistance is significantly scaled up and promptly delivered. This adversely affects the enjoyment of human rights, including the right to health, food and life.

Over the last several weeks, funds required to pay for essential services such as fuel and electricity have run out, making it arduous for Afghans to reach hospitals and access health care. Electricity shortages have prevented health facilities from providing basic services, including clean water. The crisis has also impeded access to the internet and online resources, affecting other human rights.

The experts said women are particularly vulnerable because of their inability to independently earn income due to a general ban on women working outside their homes.

“Irrespective of the humanitarian exemptions that have been approved, States should take all measures necessary to prevent and minimise any possibility of over-compliance from banks and private businesses in accordance with the due diligence rule and refrain from imposing unilateral sanctions beyond authorization of the UN Security Council,” the experts said.

The experts noted that general compliance with sanctions by international financial institutions and national banks has intensified liquidity problems and created a currency shortage. As a result, both the formal and informal economies are being severely and negatively impacted. This is particularly serious for Afghanistan, where 75% of public spending depends on aid.

“All humanitarian exemptions should be made simple and effective,” the experts said. “All measures should be taken to ensure the safety of humanitarian personnel and their access to the affected population. Restrictions on the participation of Afghan female staff in humanitarian response efforts that were in place in some provinces should be lifted.”

The experts:

Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Alena Douhan, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights; Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Obiora C. Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.