Taliban Poised to Inherit Seats on UN Bodies Dealing With Women’s Rights, Cultural Heritage, Narcotics?

By Patrick Goodenough | August 20, 2021 | 4:32am EDT
Afghanistan permanent representative Ghulam Isaczai prepares to speak during a U.N. Security Council meeting on Afghanistan on Monday. (Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)
Afghanistan permanent representative Ghulam Isaczai prepares to speak during a U.N. Security Council meeting on Afghanistan on Monday. (Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan raises the prospect that an entity notorious for violating women’s rights and human rights in general, for targeting heritage and culture which it views as un-Islamic, and for deriving revenue from the opium trade, will inherit seats on U.N. bodies dealing with those very issues.

Under the ousted government of President Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan last fall was handed a four-year term (2021-2025) on the 45-member U.N. Commission on Status of Women, “the world’s leading intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

In November 2019, Afghanistan was elected onto the 58-member executive board of the U.N.’s cultural agency UNESCO for a four-year term (2019-2023).

For the next four months, Afghanistan will see out a four-year term as one of the 53 members of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the U.N.’s “central policy-making body in drug- related issues.”

And just two months ago, Afghanistan was elected to the 54-member Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the U.N. body that coordinates socio-economic affairs, for a three-year term beginning January 2022.

ECOSOC members wield considerable influence, tasked among other things to fill leadership posts on a range of U.N. agencies, including the Commission on Status of Women and Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

ECOSOC’s NGO Committee is empowered to approve and reject applications by non-governmental organizations for formal accreditation to the U.N., a function that has sometimes been politicized.

(Afghanistan is not currently a member of the 19-seat NGO Committee, but as an ECOSOC member has a say in the composition of the committee.)

As the U.N. considers its response to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, there has been much talk about protecting civilians and upholding human rights, but little on the specific issue of recognition.

At an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday, the Afghan permanent representative Ghulam Isaczai, who took up the post less than a month ago, urged the council and U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres to make clear that the U.N. would not recognize any government that gained power through force.

Isaczai also urged them to state unequivocally that the U.N. does not support the “restoration of the Islamic Emirate,” as stated in previous council statements, including one issued as recently as August 3.

In its statement on Monday, the Security Council called for the establishment of “a new government that is united, inclusive and representative – including with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women.”  There was no reference to the “Islamic Emirate,” however.

Afghanistan’s missions to the U.N. in New York and Geneva continue to be led by ambassadors appointed by the Ghani administration.

Isaczai has been posting social media posts critical of the Taliban and skeptical of its pledges to uphold women’s rights, characterizing them as part of a “charm offensive” designed to win international recognition.

His counterpart in Geneva, Nasir Andisha, requested the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council to hold a special session on the crisis.

The request was supported by 29 HRC members, well exceeding the required one-third of the 47 members for a special session to be held, and the meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday.

The Afghan mission in Geneva did not respond to press queries, but a spokesperson for the HRC explained that, “legally speaking,” the mission represents the country of Afghanistan, not the government.

An empty niche in the cliff face where one of two giant Buddhas stood for 14 centuries before the Taliban destroyed them in 2001 on the basis they were “un-Islamic.” (Photo by Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)
An empty niche in the cliff face where one of two giant Buddhas stood for 14 centuries before the Taliban destroyed them in 2001 on the basis they were “un-Islamic.” (Photo by Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)

“Once they are duly accredited to the United Nations either in New York or in Geneva they do not have to present letters of accreditation each time a new government is appointed,” said Pascal Sim.

“The much broader question of which government represents a specific country is dealt with by the Credentials Committee of the United Nations General Assembly.”

After the Taliban seized control of most of Afghanistan in 1996, the Credentials Committee repeatedly deferred a decision on the country’s representation at the U.N.  As a result, the seat continued to be held by the government of ousted President Berhanuddin Rabbani, even though it controlled a very small portion of the war-torn country.

Only three countries, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government.

Ravan Farhadi, who had been appointed by the Rabbani government as ambassador to the U.N. back in 1993, held onto the post by default through the Taliban period and, after U.S. forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, continued to serve until 2006.

A leading observer of the U.N. human rights system, U.N. Watch Director Hillel Neuer, said on Thursday the U.S. and Europe should lead an effort to ensure that the U.N., as happened last time, does not grant a Taliban regime recognition.

“We are calling on the U.S., the E.U., and all other U.N. member states to show resolve and deny the Taliban the credentials they need to take over Afghanistan’s seat.”

Neuer also drew attention to Afghanistan’s membership in CSW, UNESCO and ECOSOC.

“We cannot allow a misogynistic, murderous band of terrorists to influence the world bodies responsible for education, culture, women’s equality and human rights,” he said. “Allowing in the Taliban to such bodies would be truly absurd, immoral and obscene.”

ECOSOC is the agency mandated to safeguard world heritage. During its previous rule, the Taliban in 2001 destroyed artifacts from pre-Islamic times, including two colossal 6th century Buddha statues in Bamiyan, after ignoring appeals from UNESCO and governments around the world.

UNESCO has described the destruction of the Buddhas as a “deliberate act of destruction, motivated by an extremist ideology that aimed to destroy culture, identity and history.”

The giant empty niches in the cliff face remain a UNESCO world heritage site.

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