"Regional consequences of developments in Afghanistan"
Delivered by Emil Stojanovski, Alternate Permanent Representative
I would like to thank you Chair for the opportunity to discuss the deeply concerning security and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. We also commend Ambassador Bakhtari and her team for continuing to represent their country under very challenging circumstances.
Indeed, in a world that is increasingly contested and riven by conflict, Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most severe and protracted humanitarian crises. In this context, we cannot ignore Ukraine, but I will have more to say on that crisis and Russia’s aggression a bit later.
The consequences of decades of conflict, successive droughts and the COVID‑19 pandemic in Afghanistan are now being exacerbated by a liquidity crisis, currency depreciation, inflation and the suspension of international programs that fund essential services.
Some 789,000 people have been internally displaced by conflict – the majority of them women and children — since January 2021. And, alarmingly, the UN is projecting that 97 per cent of the population may be in poverty by mid-2022.
The risks to regional stability cannot be overstated.
A stable Afghanistan that can provide for the needs of its people, is able to respond to violent extremism and is able to combat and prevent terrorist acts will make for safer and more secure OSCE and Indo-Pacific regions.
In September 2021 Australia committed $100 million in humanitarian assistance to respond to the Afghanistan crisis, and in March 2022 we committed an additional $40 million to the UN Humanitarian Response Plan, which will be disbursed this year. We recognise the generosity of many of our partners in this room and welcome collaboration between Australia and the OSCE in responding to the humanitarian challenges in Afghanistan.
We know that the security situation in Afghanistan has worsened since a wave of terrorist attacks during Ramadan targeted predominantly Shiite Hazara citizens. We condemn these terrorist attacks against innocent civilians.
Australia remains gravely concerned at the worsening human rights situation in Afghanistan. In particular, recent restrictions on girls and women imposed by the Taliban have an unacceptable impact on the universal and inalienable human rights of Afghan women, including the right to express themselves in accordance with their faith, the right to move freely in society, and the right to education. As you put it, Chair, the situation for women and girls is disturbing. Ambassador Bakhtari also mentioned other breaches of human rights.
On 13 May, the then Foreign Minister of Australia and 14 other Foreign Ministers issued a joint statement calling on the Taliban to reconsider decisions which constrain the rights of women and girls to make their own choices, gain an education, work, and participate equally in society.
The situation in Afghanistan has also seen many people, particularly women and children, displaced and vulnerable to exploitation, including by human traffickers and people smugglers.
We are very concerned at reports of early or forced marriage being used as a negative coping mechanism in response to the risk of trafficking or smuggling. It is imperative that one form of human rights violation is not answered by another.
While Afghanistan remains the world’s largest exporter of opium, there has also been a dramatic increase in the production and export of methamphetamine since 2014.
This has flow on effects to the broader region, including in the Indo-Pacific, with increasing seizures of Afghan methamphetamine and heroin in Australia and our neighbours.
Economies and livelihoods that depend on drug cultivation and production pose serious health and security risks for all of us. But it is important that responses do not plunge people into poverty. The Taliban’s recent announcement that it will ban all opium cultivation will have serious effects on those whose livelihoods have, until now, depended on that cultivation, unless alternative crops can be grown or farmers are able to derive other legitimate sources of income.
This is an issue all of Afghanistan’s partners need to discuss. The Paris Pact, which includes Australia and the OSCE as partners, is a valuable forum for such information exchange and collaboration.
We welcome the OSCE’s continued focus on the situation in Afghanistan. And we commend the work and activity of the organisation as outlined by the Director of the Conflict Prevention Centre, to mitigate risks, address vulnerabilities and strengthen regional security. We are also very impressed by the education and other broader community projects as outlined by Mr Kamp from the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities.
It is important the international community remains coordinated on messaging to the Taliban and continues to collectively reinforce messages on human rights, humanitarian assistance, counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and many other responsibilities the Taliban must now shoulder.
Finally, Chair, Australia does not speak very often in this forum, so I must take this opportunity to reiterate to OSCE Participating States and our Asian Partners for Cooperation that Australia remains seriously concerned with the situation in Ukraine.
We condemn Russia’s unprovoked, unjust and illegal invasion of Ukraine. Russia must be held to account for its actions.
International unity has underpinned an effective response to Russia’s invasion to date. But as the war continues, we cannot allow fatigue to set in. We must continue to find ways to impose a cost on those who violate fundamental tenets of international law and engage in egregious war crimes and human rights violations. Not just in Ukraine, but to would-be aggressors the world over.
Thank you Chair.