UNAMA: With the People or Against the People?

By: Fatima Sarkash

The Taliban‘s decree prohibiting women from working in UN offices has put them in a difficult situation. Should this organization comply with the Taliban‘s discriminatory demands or support the people of Afghanistan and stand by their side? Given the current circumstances, the UN has two options: aiding the people or backing the forces that are against them. There is no third way. Despite the Taliban‘s clear violation of human rights, the United Nations has thus far focused on attempting to appease this regime, which is part of its insistence on cooperating with a regime that is based on gender apartheid. If the presence of an institution in Afghanistan is defined by its violation of human rights, its existence will be meaningless and of no benefit.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has prioritized respecting human rights, gender equality, and women‘s participation in its work over the last two decades, playing a key role in shaping the situation of Afghan women. This institution has been instrumental in highlighting the presence of women and their progress, as well as seeking assistance from the international community to improve the status of women, their participation, and their representation. However, in recent years, during the peace negotiations with the Taliban, the performance of the United Nations has been weak, as it has failed to act in the interest of the Afghan people. According to the human rights charter, this organization had no significant role in the process of negotiations, conferences, and meetings in which topics regarding Afghanistan were discussed, and was unable to defend the rights of Afghan women, the achievements of the past two decades, and gender equality. Furthermore, since August 2021, the international organization has tolerated the Taliban and not shown meaningful or practical reaction to the welfare of the people of Afghanistan.

Since coming to power, the Taliban have systematically deprived women of all their rights by issuing more than 35 decrees and dozens of verbal orders. This has resulted in women losing their right to work in public and private organizations, their right to education, and their right to political, social, and economic participation. Most recently, women have been prohibited from working in UN offices. Through their decrees, the Taliban have created a society where gender segregation or apartheid is present. The United Nations has responded by expressing regret, sympathy, and condemnation. The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid has criminalized cooperation with systems and institutions that suppress and oppress women in a structured and systematic way and legalize discrimination.

Given the information available, the United Nations performance in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over has been weak and supportive of the Taliban‘s discriminatory policies, either willingly or unwittingly. According to official reports, the United Nations has met with Taliban officials over the past two years, and its office in Kabul has become aguest house for the Taliban“. Following the prohibition of women‘s work in the United Nations, the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations for Afghanistan has communicated with the Taliban at the highest possible level, speaking out against the Taliban‘s decision and requesting its cancellation. The United Nations is still awaiting the Taliban‘s withdrawal from theheartbreaking decision of banning women from working in the organizations. The question remains as to why the United Nations did not adopt the same tone and attitude during the early days of the Taliban and their orders. To date, the United Nations has failed to fulfill its mission to defend and protect the people of Afghanistan, and has instead been attempting to restore its relationship with the enemies of Afghans. Furthermore, instead of focusing on the general situation of women in Afghanistan and the commitment to improve their conditions as well as the people of Afghanistan in general, it has neglected these issues, as it only focuses on matters related to its own welfare.

Even if the Taliban were to make an exception and allow women to work in the United Nations, it would not improve the situation for the people of this country. By resuming cooperation with the Taliban, the United Nations would be acquiescing to their misogynistic demands, which would only further entrench discrimination and the double oppression of women.

For nearly two years, the United Nations had the opportunity to protect the people of Afghanistan and to conduct its operations based on a policy of assertive and proactive diplomacy against the Taliban, yet it failed to do so. Now, there is a dilemma between remaining or withdrawing. It appears that the UN‘s mission in Afghanistan will conclude at the expense of disregarding human rights, as the United Nations has been operating in Afghanistan for two years in a context of human rights violations.

UNAMA is currently in a position where it is not seen as an institution that defends people. Its credibility has been damaged by its initiatives. The UN was aware of the inhumane actions of the Taliban during the first five years of their regime in 1998, yet remained silent and passively observed their discriminatory and violent actions for the last two years. Even the UN Security Council failed to respond to a letter sent by 100 protesting Afghan women on November 14th of last year, titled “One Hundred Voices from Afghanistan”, which specifically highlighted the oppression of Afghan women. Unfortunately, the organization did not provide a meaningful response.

It was anticipated that the United Nations would face such a challenge, so it was not surprising that a decree was issued prohibiting women from working there. Therefore, what is important now is the decision of the United Nations and whether it will be beneficial or detrimental to the people of Afghanistan.