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Afghanistan: Widespread hunger, unemployment and near universal poverty
by Norwegian Refugee Council, HRW, OHCHR, agencies
Aug. 2022
A group of 32 Afghan and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) call for action needed to address economic crisis:
“In the past 12 months millions of Afghans have endured a new wave of hardship, with widespread hunger, unemployment and near universal poverty. Ninety-five per cent of the population do not have enough food to eat. Women and girls are suffering disproportionately. NGOs on the ground are reporting that families are being forced to make impossible choices in order to survive.
“The country is existing off an inadequate supply of humanitarian aid often transported in cash, as opposed to long-term development aid that can pay the salaries of teachers and hospital workers, as well as keep the infrastructure of public services functioning.”
Samira Sayed Rahman, the Afghanistan-based advocacy coordinator for the International Rescue Committee, one of the NGOs that has signed the statement, said: “On a recent trip to the south and south-east, I saw a healthcare system in collapse. Hospitals have not had the money to pay their staff in months. They do not have the money for pharmaceuticals and medicine. They do not have the money for equipment. Much of the healthcare sector is being run by the goodwill of Afghan doctors and nurses. That is not a sustainable model. Many are trying to leave.”
Asuntha Charles, the national director of World Vision Afghanistan, said: “The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is cataclysmic, and children – as ever in crises like this – are on the frontlines. Over 4 million children are out of school, the majority of them girls, and more than 1.1 million are engaged in child labour. I have met families forced to sell their children, as young as three years old, simply to survive. As the world’s attention drifts, Afghans are falling deeper into catastrophe. We cannot turn our backs on them now.”
Vicki Aken, the Afghanistan country director for the International Rescue Committee, said: “At the root of this crisis is the country’s economic collapse. Decisions taken last year to isolate the Taliban – including the freezing of foreign reserves, the grounding of the banking system, and the halting of development assistance which financed most government services – have had a devastating impact.
Extreme poverty is reducing demand for goods, forcing Afghan companies out of business, contributing to rising unemployment and exacerbating food insecurity.
“We urgently need to find a solution. Humanitarian aid, whilst vital, cannot replace a functioning economy. For months, NGOs have been calling for a change in approach. There is no excuse for further inaction. It is time for donors and decision makers to take responsibility and work to establish a roadmap out of Afghanistan’s economic crisis by supporting the Afghan central bank and eventually beginning the phased, monitored release of frozen assets.”
Afghanistan at a Precipice, report from the Norwegian Refugee Council
Statement by Neil Turner, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Country Director, on the one-year mark of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan:
“We have witnessed shocking levels of poverty and suffering in Afghanistan over the past year. The economic restrictions imposed on the country and the unwillingness of both the de facto authorities and the international community to effectively engage with one another have pushed millions of Afghans into despair.
“The families we meet are in crippling debt, facing an ever-increasing pressure on their household budgets. For a staggering number of people, money can no longer buy enough food to survive. Humanitarian efforts are not enough to put an end to the crisis. Frontline actors have done all in their power to provide emergency support to the affected populations and mitigate the situation.
“Yet one year on, Afghanistan stands at a precipice, with its people being punished for the Taliban’s takeover of the country. Despite repeated calls from humanitarian actors, nothing seems to have changed. Afghanistan's foreign reserves remain frozen, the Afghan Central Bank is still not functional, and development assistance remains withdrawn.
“The international community must acknowledge the humanitarian impact of the economic measures imposed one year ago and step up to address the drivers of the crisis. Without a swift response to the current near economic collapse, including viable development assistance, support to key state infrastructure and fully funded emergency appeals, ordinary Afghans will continue to pay the highest price for the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.”
NRC's briefing note "Afghanistan at a Precipice" provides a humanitarian overview of the needs and challenges in Afghanistan one year since the Taliban takeover of the country.
For ordinary Afghans, the changes during just one year have been hard to bear. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country creating a new regional displacement crisis. Many are also on the move inside the country in search of jobs and livelihood opportunities as families must deal with the consequences of the shrinking economy. Many families, facing increasing pressures on their household budgets, are taking on crippling debt and going without meals. Competition over increasingly limited resources is likely to intensify as the humanitarian situation deteriorates further. This will have devastating consequences for ordinary Afghans and has already triggered new waves of instability in the country as tensions rise along pre-existing ethnic, tribal and religious divides.
Staggering levels of poverty and desperation now characterise Afghanistan one year after the takeover of the country by the Taliban in August 2021. The country is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, driven primarily by the major financial and political restrictions that have been placed on the Taliban-led state by the international community and have caused widespread economic collapse. The stalled private sector, starved of investment and access to financing, is a sign of the halt to economic growth. Jobs and livelihood opportunities are rapidly diminishing. Public sector spending has plummeted – deprived of the foreign aid that was so critical to Afghanistan’s development. Prior to August 2021, international assistance constituted around 75 per cent of all public spending in the country.
International donor support to Afghanistan is limited to short term emergency humanitarian assistance, which is insufficient to address the needs of the population. Afghanistan’s new de facto government remains illegitimate in the eyes of the international community and is struggling to govern effectively. Ambiguous and inconsistent domestic policies are sowing divisions between national and local power brokers, while complex policies and bureaucratic procedures prevent the delivery of critically needed public services. Additionally, the Taliban’s continued intransigence on key international donor requirements such as education for girls, prevents political engagement from the international community.
Despite calls by NGOs and other actors, one year on little progress has been made on the economic situation and Afghanistan stands at a precipice. Yet one thing is clear: without measures to address the current economic crisis, and non-humanitarian (development) assistance restarted, there will be no improvement to the lives of ordinary Afghans. The population cannot wait for diplomatic and political engagement to happen. With Afghanistan’s current emergency appeal already failing to attract sufficient levels of funding, the outlook appears bleak. The people of Afghanistan are the ones being punished for the Taliban takeover of the country.
Afghanistan: Nearly 20 million Afghans experiencing high acute food insecurity. (IPC Country Brief)
High acute food insecurity persists across Afghanistan, as a combination of a collapsing economy and drought is depriving nearly 20 million Afghans of food, classified in Crisis or Emergency (IPC Phases 3 or 4), between March and May 2022 (the lean season), latest data shows. Among these are about 6.6 million people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and 13 million in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).
Afghanistan’s food security situation remains highly concerning, exacerbated by economic decline and high food prices. nearly 20 million people, representing half the country's population, are still experiencing high and critical levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and above).
Aug. 2022
Taliban authorities have imposed severe restrictions on women’s and girls’ rights. (HRW)
The Taliban have broken multiple pledges to respect human rights and women’s rights since taking over Afghanistan a year ago, Human Rights Watch said today. After capturing Kabul on August 15, 2021, Taliban authorities have imposed severe restrictions on women’s and girls’ rights, suppressed the media, and arbitrarily detained, tortured, and summarily executed critics and perceived opponents, among other abuses.
Taliban human rights abuses have brought widespread condemnation and imperiled international efforts to address the country’s dire humanitarian situation, Human Rights Watch said. The economy has collapsed, largely because governments have cut foreign assistance and restricted international economic transactions. More than 90 percent of Afghans have been food insecure for almost a year, causing millions of children to suffer from acute malnutrition and threatening serious long-term health problems.
“The Afghan people are living a human rights nightmare, victims of both Taliban cruelty and international apathy,” said Fereshta Abbasi, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Afghanistan’s future will remain bleak unless foreign governments engage more actively with Taliban authorities while pressuring them vigorously on their rights record.”
Since taking power, the Taliban have imposed rules that comprehensively prevent women and girls from exercising their most fundamental rights to expression, movement, and education, and affect their other basic rights to life, livelihood, health care, food, and water. They have prohibited women from traveling or going to their workplace without a male family member accompanying them – an impossible requirement for almost all families – and barred them from many jobs. The Taliban have denied almost all girls access to secondary school.
The Taliban’s terrible human rights record and their unwillingness to meaningfully engage with international financial institutions have furthered their isolation, Human Rights Watch said. Foreign governments should ease restrictions on the country’s banking sector to facilitate legitimate economic activity and humanitarian aid, but the Taliban also need to curtail rights abuses and hold those responsible for abuses to account.
“The Taliban should urgently reverse their horrifying and misogynistic decision to bar girls and women from secondary school,” Abbasi said. “This would send a message that the Taliban are willing to reconsider their most egregious actions.”
Many governments have denounced or criticized the Taliban’s decision to restrict girls’ education, including the entire United Nations Security Council and almost all members of the G7 and G20. No government has defended or sought to justify the Taliban’s position.
Over the past year, Human Rights Watch has produced numerous media releases and reports on Taliban human rights abuses and the humanitarian and economic crisis. These include support for the US and the Taliban to negotiate an agreement allowing ordinary Afghans to engage more effectively in legitimate commercial activity. The US and the Taliban should act with urgency to reach a settlement to address the country’s economic crisis.
Acute hunger is pervasive across Afghanistan, even though food and basic supplies are available in markets throughout the country, Human Rights Watch said. Almost 20 million people – half the population – are suffering either level-3 “crisis” or level-4 “emergency” levels of food insecurity under the assessment system of the World Food Programme (WFP).
Over one million children under 5 – especially at risk of dying when deprived of food – are suffering from prolonged acute malnutrition. The WFP reported in June that tens of thousands of people in one province, Ghor, had slipped into level-5 “catastrophic” acute food insecurity, a precursor to famine.
Overall, Afghans have been suffering from some form of food insecurity since last August, skipping meals or whole days of eating and engaging in extreme coping mechanisms to pay for food, including sending children to work.
The impact of the economic crisis on women and girls is especially severe, as women and girls have increasing difficulties accessing assistance and health care.
The humanitarian situation would be even worse had the UN and other aid providers not substantially increased their operations in 2022, Human Rights Watch said.
“After a year in power, Taliban leaders should recognize the catastrophe they have created and reverse course on rights, before more Afghans suffer and more lives are lost,” Abbasi said.
July 2022
UN Human Rights Council holds Urgent Debate on the Human Rights of Women and Girls in Afghanistan. (OHCHR)
The United Nations Human Rights Council today held an urgent debate on the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, hearing Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, say that since the Taliban took power, women and girls in Afghanistan were experiencing the most significant and rapid roll-back in enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades.
Federico Villegas, President of the Council, said that the urgent debate was being held at the request of the European Union and France. He said that discrimination against women was one of the oldest violations of human rights, and it affected more than half of humanity. Today the Human Rights Council was addressing this situation at a critical time, when there were serious regressions in progress and achievements made on the rights of women and girls across the world, including Afghanistan.
MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the earthquake in Afghanistan had aggravated the already desperate situation facing the Afghan population, especially women and girls. Hunger and food insecurity were affecting over 90 per cent of women-headed households, and there was growing domestic violence and harassment; attacks on women human rights defenders, journalists, judges, lawyers and prosecutors; massive unemployment of women; restrictions on movement and dress and its impact on access to basic services; and growing anxiety and depression. Secondary schooling for 1.2 million girls had been discontinued. These were only some of the daily experiences of women and girls in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban took power, women and girls were experiencing the most significant and rapid roll-back in enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades. Their future would be even darker, unless something changed.
The High Commissioner said that the de facto authorities she met with during her visit to Afghanistan in March this year had said they would honour their human rights obligations, as far as consistent with Islamic Sharia law. Yet, despite these assurances, the international community was witnessing the progressive exclusion of women and girls from the public sphere and their institutionalised, systematic oppression.
As a de facto authority exercising effective control, the Taliban were a primary duty-bearer in view of Afghanistan’s legal obligations under international treaties, including the obligation to eliminate discrimination against women and ensure women’s right to equal participation in civic and public life, including politics and decision-making fora.
They should set a firm date for the opening of secondary schools for girls, and ensure quality education, without discrimination, and re-establish independent mechanisms to receive complaints from the public and protect victims of gender-based violence. All acts of gender-based violence must be independently investigated and those responsible held to account.
As for the international community, more concerted efforts were needed to insist that the de facto authorities urgently restore, protect and promote the rights of Afghan women and girls. Beyond being right, it was also a matter of practical necessity.
Amid the economic crisis, women’s contribution to economic activity was indispensable, which itself required access to education, and freedom of movement and from violence. Human rights, including women’s rights and concerns, must be at the centre of all humanitarian assessments and programming. Women should have safe and equal access to humanitarian aid, including unhindered access for female aid workers. This was a crucial moment in time, with the fate of the country’s women and girls hanging in the balance. They deserved no less than everyone’s determined and immediate action.
RICHARD BENNETT, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, speaking on behalf of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, expressed sympathy for the communities affected by last week’s earthquake in Afghanistan. Since August 2021, concerns had been raised about the situation of women in Afghanistan and the regression of their rights.
Information on violations faced by women and girls included forced, early, and child marriage; restrictions on women’s attire and movement; exclusion from education and public life; and barriers to employment.
Mr. Bennett said he had visited Afghanistan in May this year to assess the human rights situation, meeting with stakeholders including women’s groups, the Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and raising concerns about the abuses of women’s rights in each meeting, including the restrictions on women’s secondary education. Afghan officials had stated that the international human rights treaties which had been ratified would be respected, only if they did not conflict with Sharia law. The Taliban intended to make women invisible to society, and create a culture of impunity for domestic violence, child marriage and trafficking of girls.
Mr. Bennett called on the Taliban to create a meaningful dialogue with Afghan women and allow them to fully participate in civil, political and economic life. The Taliban should also respect all women and girls’ right to education at all levels, open secondary schools for all children, and ensure that women could play an active part in the workforce and be granted access to health care.
The Taliban should also abide by all international human rights obligations incumbent upon Afghanistan and engage with human rights mechanisms. The international community was called on to ensure a concerted effort in demanding women’s participation at all levels of decision-making processes; increase their support for Afghan women and girls’ rights and intensify pressure on the de facto authorities to restore and respect them; and provide Afghan female-led civil society organizations with the necessary support to continue their work.
The human rights situation for women and girls in Afghanistan was devastating and the Special Rapporteur urged the Council to act. He would address the matter further in his September report.
FAWZIA KOOFI, First Woman Vice President of the Afghan Parliament, former member of the peace negotiation team with Taliban and human rights activist, said the urgent debate was a light at the end of the long dark tunnel in which the women of Afghanistan were living. Afghanistan was suffering from multi-dimensional problems, including humanitarian, economic and political crises.
The situation of women and girls in Afghanistan was unique and dire. The figures showed that the representation of women in parliament had gone from 28 per cent to zero per cent, their representation in civil service had gone from 30 per cent to zero per cent, and had gone from four million girl children in school, to only one and a half million. Every day, at least one or two women committed suicide due to the lack of opportunity and mental health pressures.
Girls as young as nine years old were being sold, not only because of economic pressure, but because there was no hope for them and their family. This was not normal and the women of Afghanistan did not deserve this. The women of Afghanistan had proved they all had the ability to work to be part of the progress of their country. In the twenty-first century, they were the only country where women were second-class and invisible, having to advocate for their basic rights to not be invisible and not to be erased from public life.
What the Taliban did was in contradiction to Islam, depriving 55 per cent of society from going to school. It was a matter of the security of the country, as if that much of the society was oppressed and unable to exercise their rights, then it would become a safe haven for other military extremists. The international community must stand with the women of Afghanistan, and move from beautiful statements and resolutions to practice, using their leverage to make the Taliban accountable on delivering to their citizens.
More Muslim countries had to stand and demonstrate that Islam was for everybody, that it was the religion of peace, co-existence and tolerance. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan should be more accountable on what they do to the Human Rights Council. All humanitarian interventions should have 50 per cent of women’s participation, not just as recipients of aid. Women-led organizations should be supported.
All should use their leverage and pursue a political dialogue in Afghanistan, as without this women would continue to suffer. Discrimination in Afghanistan could be discrimination anywhere in the world.

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Families demand justice two years on from devastating Beirut port blast
by OHCHR, HRW, France 24, agencies
4 Aug. 2022
Beirut, Lebanon – Thousands of people gathered in remembrance of the Beirut Port explosion that devastated the capital two years ago and killed more than 200 people with demonstrators calling for those responsible to be held accountable.
Following a fire that broke out in one of the port warehouses, 2,750 crates of poorly stored ammonium nitrate exploded on August 4, 2020, injuring at least 7,000 and displacing more than 300,000 people.
Two years on, families are still fighting for justice as a local investigation into the explosion has been stalled by Lebanese politicians who have been charged or called in for questioning.
The evidence that has already emerged from investigations by rights groups, journalists, and Lebanese judges strongly suggests that high-ranking officials in government and the security forces knew about the risk from the ammonium nitrate stockpile and tacitly accepted it.
Families are demanding the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) send a fact-finding mission to Lebanon.
A group of families under the name August 4 Collective marched to the French embassy calling on French President Emmanuel Macron to support a United Nations fact-finding mission to Lebanon.
Mireille Bazergy Khoury – the mother of Elias Khoury, who was only 15 when the walls of his bedroom came crashing down on him after the explosion told the Al Jazeera news agency:
“We are stressing that we need now an international intervention … History will not be merciful with anyone who will not look into this violation; it will record those who did not do anything,” Khoury said.
“It wasn’t just Lebanese people who were killed… Therefore, it is not just a Lebanese issue, it’s an international issue and it’s about time they stand to their responsibilities … considering the HRC mandate is to look into the violation of human rights.”
Aug. 2022
UN rights experts call for international investigation into 2020 Beirut explosion
UN experts have called on the Human Rights Council to launch an international investigation into the massive explosion in Beirut two years ago that killed more than 200 people and decimated a vast swath of the Lebanese capital city, saying victims must have justice and accountability.
The powerful blast – in which a stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored in a port warehouse exploded on 4 August 2020 – destroyed 77,000 apartments, wounded 7,000 people, displaced over 300,000 more and left at least 80,000 children homeless.
“This tragedy marked one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in recent memory, yet the world has done nothing to find out why it happened," the experts said. "On the second anniversary of the blast, we are disheartened that people in Lebanon still await justice, and we call for an international investigation to be initiated without delay."
Shortly after the explosion, 37 UN human rights experts issued a joint statement calling on the Government and the international community to respond effectively to calls for justice and restitution.
Instead, the national investigation process has been blocked several times. Families of the victims have therefore appealed to the international community to establish an independent investigation under the Human Rights Council, hoping that an inquiry mandated through this multilateral system would give them the answers the Lebanese authorities have failed to provide.
The explosion and its aftermath have brought into focus systemic problems of negligent governance and widespread corruption, the experts said. Human rights experts who recently visited Lebanon found that responsibility for the explosion has yet to be established, affected areas remain in ruins and reconstruction funds from the international community have barely begun to reach beneficiaries.
Access to food is under serious threat. Lebanon imports up to 80 percent of its food, and the explosion damaged the nation's main entry point and grain silo, which partially collapsed a few days ago after catching fire earlier in July.
The tragedy has unfolded as the country descends into what the World Bank has described as a prolonged and "deliberate depression" caused by authorities themselves. People in Lebanon are struggling to access fuel, electricity, medicine and clean water; the currency has lost more than 95 per cent of its value over the past two years and the average inflation rate in June was about 210 per cent.
Some countries have promised to assist people in Lebanon after the blast but have not done enough to deliver justice and initiate an international investigation, the experts said.
* Report of UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter following his country visit to Lebanon:
* Lebanon: Impact of crisis on children (May 2022):

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