UN Rights Council Response to Afghan Crisis: No Investigative Body; Taliban Not Named in Resolution

Patrick Goodenough | August 24, 2021 | 9:43pm EDT
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Afghanistan ambassador Nasir Ahmad Andisha – appointed by a government in Kabul that no longer exists – at Tuesday’s special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
Afghanistan ambassador Nasir Ahmad Andisha – appointed by a government in Kabul that no longer exists – at Tuesday’s special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.N. Human Rights Council, having taken a full week to convene a “special session on the serious human rights concerns and situation in Afghanistan,” on Tuesday adopted a resolution that failed to establish an independent investigative body, and does not refer to the Taliban by name.

The initiative was led by Pakistan – historically the Taliban’s closest ally – on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Democracies were unhappy with the outcome, as made clear in a statement delivered by Austrian ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger on behalf of the European Union.

“The OIC presented a text that doesn’t even call the Taliban by their name,” she said, noting too that the bloc of Islamic states “did not want to establish a fact-finding mission, and also turned down our alternative proposal for a special rapporteur.”

“If we cannot agree on at least condemning the human rights violations and abuses, if we are not willing to call out the parties involved so that the message that we are watching them is clear, then what is the purpose of this resolution?” Tichy-Fisslberger asked.

Nonetheless the E.U.  joined consensus rather than vote against a resolution that did reiterate the HRC’s “commitment to the rights of Afghan women and girls, as well as persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities.”


As the session opened in Geneva, U.N. high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet said her office has “received credible reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law, and human rights abuses, taking place in many areas under effective Taliban control.”

Bachelet urged the council to set up a “dedicated mechanism to closely monitor the evolving human rights situation in Afghanistan, including – in particular – the Taliban’s implementation of its promises, with a focus on prevention.”

That appeal was repeated by others during the session, but the final resolution was silent on the issue.

The text’s weak wording appalled human rights advocates.

“The draft resolution tabled today is a travesty,” Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission chair Shaharzad Akbar told the council before it was adopted.

“We have documented that the Taliban advances came with summary executions, disappearances, restrictions on women, media and cultural life,” she said. “This is not ancient history. This is earlier this month, and this is today.”

Akbar said the HRC, “the foremost international human rights body,” was failing Afghans on the ground.

“In our worst moment, we call on you to do better.”

Despite her appeals and others, the council adopted what U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer described as “one of the most watered-down resolutions” in the council’s 15-year history.

“Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said last week the Taliban are ‘breaking the chains of slavery,’ “ Neuer recalled. “Whoever let Pakistan take charge of today’s embarrassing UNHRC session on Afghanistan – which gave the Taliban a free pass – had to know it would be a travesty.”

Amnesty International called the council’s conduct “shameful,” with secretary-general Agnès Callamard saying the session had “failed to deliver a credible response to the escalating human rights crisis in Afghanistan.”

Some U.N. human rights experts also spoke out – against the council that appoints them to their independent posts.

Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said the HRC was “not living up to its obligation to act in the face of massive human rights violations, while Tomoya Obokata, the U.N. special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, called the resolution “very disappointing” for not having established an independent investigative body.

The failure to appoint an investigative mechanism is glaring, given the number of such bodies mandated by the HRC in past years.

They include fact-finding missions, commissions of inquiry, and investigation/monitoring missions for situations in Syria, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Darfur in Sudan, Libya, Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Iraq, South Sudan, Burundi, Burma, DRC, Yemen, Venezuela – and no fewer than nine targeting Israel, the most recent created in May.


Also of note was an evident lack or urgency in holding the special session in the first place.

The session was requested by Pakistan on behalf of the OIC on August 17, and as more than the required one-third of the 47 council members supported the call the HRC secretariat announced that day that the meeting would be held on August 24, a full week later.

An HRC spokesman said in response to queries that this fell within the rules of procedure, as special sessions “must be held between two and five working days after the submission of a request.”

Still, past special sessions have not always required the full five working day allowance.

In 2014, for example, a special session was convened within three working days to condemn Israel for a military offensive against Hamas in Gaza. (The resolution created a commission in inquiry, and did not mention by name the terrorist group whose rocket fire into Israel sparked the offensive.)

Three working days were also sufficient for a special session targeting Israel in May 2018, and just two for a special session targeting Israel in Oct. 2009.

Nine of the 21 special sessions held by the council since its creation in 2006 focused on Israel.

The Biden administration has re-engaged with the HRC, reversing its predecessor’s stance, and is running for a seat in elections later this fall.

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