17 February 2021
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Your Excellency, the Right Honorable Dominic Raab,
I thank you and your delegation for hosting this timely high-level Security Council Open Debate on ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in contexts affected by conflict and insecurity. I would also like to thank H.E. Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations and the other briefers for their insightful statements and strong expression of support to vulnerable communities and vaccine equity. This discussion is of utmost importance for all conflicted affected countries, including Afghanistan. While we share the international community’s optimism over the approval and distribution of vaccines, we are cognizant of the enormous challenges that will come in ensuring equitable access to vaccines for all countries, and the subsequent complex task of inoculating all Afghans to finally defeat the virus.
I believe we all agree that the equitable distribution of vaccines must be at the center of our efforts to build back better. A failure to achieve universal access will further exacerbate inequalities around the world. The virus will continue to spread and mutate into new strands until we achieve wide-spread vaccination in every corner of our planet. Global supply chains will not recover, and our people will not be able to engage in international commerce and policy. The only way to defeat the virus and build back better is to ensure the vaccine is a global public good.
We welcome efforts by Member States and international organizations to promote universal access through the COVAX facility. But much more is needed. COVAX must be fully funded and additional resources are needed to ensure all people in the world’s most vulnerable countries can get the vaccine – not just 20%.
But access to the vaccine is only the first difficult part of a complex equation when it comes to the situation of countries affected by conflict and insecurity. While people around the world stayed safe at home, Afghans had to face the virus under the stress of relentless and inhumane attacks by the Taliban and other terrorist groups. These groups displayed a complete disregard for international humanitarian law and refused to adhere to the worldwide calls for a humanitarian ceasefire to allow Governments to focus on fighting the effects of the pandemic. In fact, they have increased levels of violence and targeted killings, despite the clear condemnation by the international community in a statement released on 31 January 2021.
Meanwhile, the effects of the pandemic have been grave. It has forced many of our people into poverty, increased levels of unemployment, and exacerbated our already complex situation with internally displaced people and returning refugees. Today, approximately 18.4 million Afghans need humanitarian support – an increase of almost 100% in 2020. Our Government has responded to this crisis with our limited resources and with the support of our generous partners. But there is only so much we can accomplish while groups like the Taliban continue to wage war against their own people and the aid and humanitarian workers trying to assist them.
So, today we reiterate our call on the Taliban to adhere to the Secretary-General’s appeal for a ceasefire and Security Council Resolution 2532 (2020).
Without a ceasefire and complete humanitarian access, the Afghan population will never be vaccinated against COVID-19. Let us not forget that the last time the Taliban decided to actively act against science and public health, Afghanistan saw the re-emergence of polio after years of a sharp decline in cases. If the Taliban are truly committed to peace, they should understand that the fight against COVID-19 requires universal access to vaccines and for them to cease all hostilities to allow for a vaccination campaign to cover all of Afghanistan.
We, therefore, appeal to the United Nations, especially the Security Council, to make further efforts to implement Resolution 2532 (2020) and call on the Taliban to finally adhere to a ceasefire so that the urgent challenges of this pandemic can be effectively addressed. This will not only be beneficial to the long-term safety of our people and our ability to build back better, but it would also be a sign of good faith and show that the Taliban are committed to a prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan as well as to the success of the peace talks, as the only means for achieving a permanent peace, stability, and a political solution. Because, at the end of the day, it would symbolize not only an agreement with the Government of Afghanistan but with its people – a group whose trust the Taliban need to earn.
I thank you,