Monday, April 23, 2018

Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

Statement of H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN

At the Security Council

Open debate

On the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

Mr. President,

At the outset, let me congratulate you for assuming the Presidency of this Council for the month of November. I would also like to thank you for convening and chairing this meeting. In particular, I would like to thank Foreign Minister Spindelegger, for making this issue such a priority and for his presence here today. I would also like to thank His Excellency the Secretary-General and Under Secretary-General Mr. Holmes for their statements.

Mr. President,

This week Europe and America remember the ends of two World Wars, which were international conflicts conducted between states and empires. Since then, the nature of conflict has evolved. Where sixty years ago state actors were the central players in international war, today asymmetric warfare with non-state actors is increasingly common.

Now, children walk into markets with bombs strapped to their chests. Girls become targets just for trying to go to school. Aid workers are threatened specifically because they do so much good. The protection of civilians is an issue of growing importance for us all.

Mr. President,

The Geneva Conventions, signed sixty years ago, remain central to our understanding of our responsibilities in conflict, but in Afghanistan, our enemies do not respect even these most basic rules of war. The Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups show complete disregard for human life. More, they deliberately target anyone, civilian or military, who does not embrace their extremist philosophy. They target those with no conceivable military connection: teachers, healthcare workers, students on the way to school. It is estimated that more than five thousand people were killed, injured or kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2008 alone as a result of terrorist activity.

These groups cannot hope to defeat the world’s greatest armies with their military strength. Rather, their strength lies in their brutality and viciousness, which they use  to lend an atmosphere of control and inevitability to their fight. The Taliban will never be able to provide security, governance or development. Their goal is not to build an alternative state; their goal is to prevent any state from being built.

Mr. President,

Civilian casualties, in this fight, are both a human and a political tragedy.

The human tragedy is obvious.

From January to August 2009, UNAMA recorded 1500 civilians deaths in Afghanistan, an increase of 24% over the same period in 2008. 68% of these attacks can be attributed to the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. This percentage has been increasing steadily as the terrorists rely increasingly on bombs and indiscriminate attacks. And although the proportion of deaths attributed to the international and to some extent Afghan military forces has decreased over previous years, they still account for 23% of civilian deaths. 300 died as a result of airstrikes.

Mr. President,

The political cost is more subtle, though equally damaging.

The Taliban’s main tactic is to encourage the alienation of the international community from the Afghan people. The people of Afghanistan know from past experience exactly how brutal and repressive the Taliban are, and show consistent resistance to them.  However, they have higher expectations from the international community.

Afghans want to see their government and our international partners be their protectors. When we fail to protect and respect the Afghans, the Taliban and their allies use the people’s disappointed expectations to strain the partnerships that are so central to this fight, and damage our ability to earn the trust and engagement we need to succeed.

Mr. President,

Concern for the lives of civilians is therefore not only an important moral and humanitarian issue. It is also crucial to our political, military and economic goals in Afghanistan, and the region.

We should adopt a strategy that values the protection of people, respects their lives, rights and property, and enables positive and constructive interactions with local communities. We fully support the new NATO strategy which emphasizes the protection of civilians and introduces important follow-up mechanisms to ensure accountability. We appreciate the increased sensitivity that has been shown in response to concerns about the conduct of searches and arrests. And we support other strategic changes that have been proposed to improve the protection of civilians.

Further, we stress the need for increased emphasis on training the Afghan National Security Forces. Afghans are eager to take increasing responsibility for the security of their country and the protection of their people. Unfortunately, lack of capacity and resources continues to hobble our progress, and we hope to address this with the international community in the coming years.

Mr. President,

We appreciate the steadfast condemnation voiced by the Security Council in response to terrorist attacks across the world, and in particular your strong and unwavering support for UNAMA following the appalling attacks in Kabul on the 28th of October. Groups that deliberately target civilian populations should continue to be strongly condemned in these halls, and their unwillingness to obey even the most basic rules of combat should strip them of any legitimacy in our eyes.

Mr. President,

The blood of Afghans has been continuously spilled amidst thirty years of local, regional, and global power struggles. In 2001, we undertook to rebuild this shattered country and ensure that it could never again be used as a launch-pad for regional or international terror. As I mentioned Monday in the General Assembly, eight years ago we were debating how to build what did not exist; today we are debating how to take what we have built and make it better. This is a substantial achievement. Nevertheless, violence still threatens the lives of Afghan civilians. International military forces should take all necessary measures to ensure protection of civilians. And we have a shared responsibility to condemn with the utmost severity any attacks by the Taliban, al-Qaeda and their allies that target civilians or result in civilian death. We must enforce the rules of war that bind us all, and make it clear to our enemies that targeting civilians will only alienate them further from the international community and from the populations they seek to control.

I thank you, Mr. President.

UN declares Afghan election credible

UNITED NATIONS – The UN General Assembly declared on Monday that Afghanistan’s presidential election was both credible and sound, despite allegations of widespread fraud that led critics to question the vote’s legitimacy.

In a unanimously adopted resolution, the 192-nation assembly also urged the government of re-elected Afghan President Hamid Karzai to press ahead with “strengthening of the rule of law and democratic processes, the fight against corruption (and) the acceleration of justice sector reform.”

The fraud reported during the election and his chief rival’s refusal to contest a run-off have damaged Karzai’s credibility at the start of his second term. But the UN assembly raised no doubts about Karzai’s mandate or his right to continue leading the country.

The resolution welcomed “the efforts of the relevant institutions to address irregularities identified by the electoral institutions in Afghanistan and to ensure a credible and legitimate process in accordance with the Afghan Election Law and in the framework of the Afghan Constitution.”

Afghanistan’s UN Ambassador Zahir Tanin said that his nation and government were “deeply grateful” for the assembly’s vote of confidence. He acknowledged there were problems with the vote but added that no elections are perfect.

“They are even less perfect in an emerging democracy threatened by conflict,” he told the assembly.

“Complaints and irregularities were uncovered and addressed in a meticulously fair and systematic way,” Tanin said. “The elections were as free as possible, as fair as possible, and as transparent as possible.”

Peter Galbraith, the former deputy to UN Afghanistan envoy Kai Eide, has accused his ex-boss of turning a blind eye to the extent of fraud in the Aug. 20 election. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon fired Galbraith in September for quarreling with his boss about the election.


Tanin told the assembly that his government welcomed calls for an international conference to renew its partnership with allies around the world and said Kabul supported the idea of agreeing to a “second compact” with the international community.

The first international “compact” with Afghanistan was agreed at a conference in London in 2006. That pact called for “good governance” in Afghanistan and other commitments on both sides, many of which remain unfulfilled.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week that a UN Afghanistan conference would likely take place in early 2010.

The assembly also expressed “great concern” about the links between illegal drug trade and Taliban militants, al-Qaida and “other extremist and criminal groups” in Afghanistan. The resolution urged the Afghan government to step up its counter-narcotics activities across the country.

Afghanistan produces 92 per cent of the world’s opium, a thick paste from poppy used to make heroin, and the equivalent of 3,500 tons of opium is trafficked out of Afghanistan every year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has said.

Since 2005, the Taliban, who were overthrown in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001 but have come back with increased attacks, has made up to $160 million a year from taxing opium cultivation and trade in Afghanistan, the UNODC said last month.

The Situation in Afghanistan

Statement of H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN

At the General Assembly debate on

Agenda Item 17: The Situation in Afghanistan

Mr. President,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thirty years ago, in December of 1979, Soviet forces entered Afghanistan. Since then, Afghanistan has been a perpetual victim of war, violence and conflict. Constant upheaval has torn the country from a peaceful, progressive path and thrust it into the global spotlight. The General Assembly has repeatedly gathered to reiterate its solidarity with the Afghan people.

However, while we debated here, the floodgates of hell opened in Afghanistan. What was once a stable, modernizing country, a role model for other states in the region, became a name without a state, a vast wasteland of shattered lives. A hundred years of social, political and economic progress were destroyed. And what is worse, two million people were killed. Ten million more fled for their own safety.

This is the true tragedy of my country and my people.

And now, Mr. President,

Eight years after the fall of the Taliban, eight years after we all believed that the long national nightmare of the Afghan people had at last come to an end, violence still threatens the lives of Afghans in many parts of the country.

Mr. President,

The resolution before us today reflects an awareness of our common responsibility to address the situation in Afghanistan, and reaffirms the strong determination of the membership towards this end.  For this support, the government and people of Afghanistan are deeply grateful.

In this regard, I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for convening this meeting, and thank all of you for your presence here today and for so widely and strongly supporting the resolution now before us.  Allow me to also express my sincerest thanks to the German Mission, and in particular to Ambassador Martin Ney and Counsellor Daniel Krull and his able team, for their substantial efforts and able facilitation of this resolution.

Mr. President,

The last eight years have been difficult, but the situation in Afghanistan has fundamentally improved. Eight years ago, we were debating how to build what did not exist: a government, an army and police force, and a functioning economic and social life. Today we are debating how to improve what we have built: how to have a good, effective government, a well-trained army and police, and a productive economy. Today Afghanistan’s flag flies proudly across the country. This is a substantial accomplishment.

Unfortunately, our progress has not been sufficient. We allowed three crucial opportunities to slip through our fingers.

First, we missed the chance to wipe out the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terrorists. After their initial defeat, we permitted them to rearm and regroup in sanctuaries outside of Afghanistan. As a result, they returned to threaten us in 2006 and the security situation has deteriorated markedly.

Second, we missed the chance to properly resource and reinforce our efforts. Afghanistan has been starved for resources, starved for attention, and starved for troops. Our responses have been reactive, ex-post-facto, and fragmented.

Third, we missed the chance to rapidly empower and enable Afghans to shoulder the responsibility for their own destiny.  The government and civil society lacked capacity, experience and resources.

Thankfully, within the last two years the Government of Afghanistan and the international community have, together, begun to craft a common approach.  We are beginning to offer the necessary resources to combat a resurgent Taliban.  We have strengthened the UN’s important mandate for coordination.  We have begun to build capacity to address weak governance and fragile institutions. We have built a strengthened partnership with the elected government in Islamabad and we are working together towards real cooperation in the fight against our common enemy. And finally, with the holding of the second Presidential elections in our history, Afghans were again able to have a say in their future.

Mr. President,

The elections mark the beginning of a new chapter in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the elections were held in difficult circumstances. In many regions, voters risked their lives to participate. Despite this, however, millions voted, and millions more participated in the debates surrounding the campaigns.

Elections are not perfect anywhere. They are even less perfect in an emerging democracy threatened by conflict. The Afghan people worked tirelessly, not on the sidelines but as leaders of our institutions. Complaints and irregularities were uncovered and addressed in a meticulously fair and systematic way. The elections were as free as possible, as fair as possible, and as transparent as possible.

Most importantly, the people of Afghanistan showed respect for the rule of law. All of Afghanistan patiently and peacefully awaited a legal, Constitutional outcome and now are prepared to accept that outcome. This has been a peaceful transition.

Mr. President,

The re-election of President Karzai has ended a period of uncertainty and an extended pause in our reconstruction and stabilization efforts. The President-Elect, in his first address, emphasized that we need to seize this unique moment.

Over the next five years, the new Government of Afghanistan will create and maintain two Compacts: one with the Afghan people, and one with the international community. Together, these pacts will help forge strong, constructive partnerships and will lead Afghanistan to sustainable progress.

The principal Compact with the Afghan people will be based on a continuing commitment to ensuring the physical and economic security of Afghans, providing good governance and rule of law, and encouraging economic development. To achieve these three aims, President-Elect Hamid Karzai has identified four areas of focus: first, national participation; second, reconciliation; third, Afghanization; and fourth, tackling corruption.

Central to this Compact is the need for Afghans to take control of their destinies. In an ongoing effort to build capacity and clean the stain of corruption, Afghans should increasingly bear the responsibility for governance, rule of law, and the protection of human rights. In training the army and police, Afghans can take a greater role in ensuring security, law enforcement and leading counter-narcotics efforts. And the Government represents all Afghans. The government serves all Afghans. We are committed to greater national participation in the political and reconstruction processes. In addition, we will continue to welcome any Afghan who is willing to join the peace process and respect the Afghan Constitution. In undertaking these commitments, the new Government of Afghanistan will work actively and constructively with both the region and the international community.

Mr. President,

In building a prosperous and democratic Afghanistan, security is the core of all our efforts. Security is not only an end in itself; it is also an important prerequisite to progress in other areas. Insecurity is a barrier to good governance or sustainable development, and is the single biggest threat to human rights. Insecurity prevents Afghans from putting aside their guns to concentrate on rebuilding their lives, and it breeds corruption, fear, hopelessness and despair. We will never earn the trust of Afghans while they are subjected to constant terror. We must first help them feel secure.

However, our aim is not to kill every Taliban fighter. We have to use political and military strategies together, in order to expand the reach of the government, train the Afghan army and police, isolate the Taliban from the people, earn the trust of the people, and encourage the engagement of Afghan civilians in the peace and reconciliation process.

The sole strength of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and their terrorist allies is in their brutality. Afghanistan needs a military and civilian strategy that centers on the security of the Afghan people, and offers them real protection from the threats of the Taliban and the unintended consequences of counterterrorist operations. NATO’s new strategy is a promising and responsible step in this direction.

However, Mr. President,

The Government’s tremendous objectives will not be achieved in one day. We will achieve nothing through premature deadlines. We will achieve nothing without the consistent political, military and financial support of the international community. Most importantly, we will achieve nothing without mutual understanding built on trust and cooperation.

Recent public debate about Afghanistan has strained this understanding. Afghanistan both respects and understands the legitimate concerns of the international community. We ask the world to respect and understand the views and concerns of Afghans. All stakeholders deserve sincere, credible partners. We need a partnership built on real solidarity.

For this reason, the Government of Afghanistan will focus on building and renewing a second Compact: one with the international community.

This Compact should rest on the strong foundation of our shared commitment to pursue security, development and good governance in Afghanistan and the region. Together, we should seek rational, well-resourced common strategies with realistic timelines. In this regard, we welcome the call for an international conference to refresh and renew our partnership and build a solid foundation for our future work together. The recent attack on the dedicated UN workers in Kabul shows that our partnership is under attack from the outside; we must strengthen it from the inside.

Mr. President,

The key to the future of Afghanistan is in the hands of the Afghan people. They are the masters of their destiny. The Taliban do not represent Afghans. Their power is the power of destruction. Their strength lies only in brutality. Let us make a strong relationship between the Afghan people and the international community the bedrock of our strategies. Let us use today’s resolution on Afghanistan to demand more from both ourselves and from our partners. Alone, we will fail, but together we can, and will, succeed.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Permanent Mission of Afghanistan