On the 20th of March the Security Council convened under the presidency of the United Kingdom to discuss progress and challenges related to the United Nations Assistance Mission (UNAMA) in Afghanistan. This meeting witnessed the adoption of a Presidential Statement confirming the Council's unanimous support for the extension of the UNAMA mandate. Later in the week, the Security Council extended the mandate of UNAMA for another one year in Resolution 2041 (S/RES/2041 (2012)). See Resolution Watch: UNAMA for analysis.
The Debate on March 20th included important yet limited discussion of gender issues and women's rights with only 9 out of 18 statements containing any gender reference. The majority of these focused on ensuring and safeguarding rights and security for women during the reconciliation process and into the future.
“Among the most notable successes in Afghanistan of the past decade are the tremendous gains made by Afghan women and girls. Those gains must not be lost. Canada views the status and role of women as a key barometer by which the success of Afghanistan's progress will be measured”. Representative of Canada
As may have been expected, the majority of gender references at this debate related to the need to ensure equal rights and security for women in Afghanistan, including their participation in civil society, peace processes and politics.
In addition, the SG Special Representative, Norway, Portugal and Canada highlighted the need to continue work to eliminate the “major challenge” of violence against women in Afghanistan. Here, the representative of the EU welcomed the Afghan Government's commitment to the implementation of SCR 1325 represented by the creation of the inter-ministerial steering committee on resolution 1325 (2000) national implementation.
In the same vein, Norway stressed the importance of protecting and maintaining the “the legal rights that Afghan women now enjoy” through the transition period and into the future and Portugal outlined the mission's ongoing commitment to support Afghanistan's full implementation of the constitutional law on the elimination of violence against women. Correspondingly, Finland stressed the need to ensure that the recent gains made on women's rights not be compromised by the ongoing peace and reconciliation process and Norway called for women's empowerment to be a top priority for all peace processes.
“In spite of legal and constitutional protections for women, violence against women and girls remains pervasive in Afghanistan. Improvements require the enforcement of laws — notably the law on the elimination of violence against women — that criminalize and penalize violence and harmful practices against women and girls. UNAMA will continue to work to improve protection and to promote the rights of Afghan women” (Jan Kubis, Head of UNAMA).
The benefits of involving women in all levels of decision-making and security provision were emphasized by several countries, including France, Finland and the EU. To this end Togo described the positive impact the recruitment of women had had on the public image of Afghan security forces and Finland emphasized women's participation as crucial to ensuring a successful transition.
“The message of the people is clear — it is time to wind down this war” (Jan Kubis, Special Representative of the Secretary-General).
Jan Kubiš, Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and Special Representative of the Secretary-General opened the debate and emphasized the UN's role in facilitating the transition to full Afghan leadership and governance by 2014, “Enhancing Afghan sovereignty and building self-reliance must be at the very core of the way we work”. Continuing, Mr. Kubis stressed the need to ensure International financial assistance for the Afghan transition, which he hoped would be achieved by the upcoming meetings in Chicago and Tokyo. This desire was reiterated by a majority of countries, most notably Pakistan, the US, the UK and France who highlighted the dangers of donor fatigue, emphasising the link between coherent funding and a successful transition.
The increasing number of civilian deaths caused by the conflict was a preoccupation for many countries, with almost unanimous reference being made to the recent (March 11) killing of 17 civilians by US Army Sergeant Bales. In this connection countries called on all parties involved in the transition to maintain calm and to continue to pursue diplomatic means to ending the conflict, as embodied by the Peace and Reconciliation Commission.
Countries were unanimous in their praise for the progress on peace talks, reconciliation and security made by the Afghan Government, progress represented by almost 50 percent of all Afghan provinces living under direct Afghan Security Force control. Similarly, the Afghan representative Zahir Tannin highlighted the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar, where nearly 3,500 anti-Government elements are currently enrolled in the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme.
Other points of discussion included the need to combat the drug trade, which is presenting an increasing challenge to peace and reconstruction efforts. As neighbours to Afghanistan it was unsurprising that Russia, India and Pakistan were particularly vocal on this point, with all three calling for a coherent response from the International Community on the issue and implementation of joint responsibility for the enforcement of border security. Finally, India, Pakistan and Australia outlined and praised the February 12 meeting of Pakistani and Afghan leaders aimed at the development of a “strong, robust and bilateral partnership” able to promote security and economic development in the region.