Statement of Concern about the Impact of US Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan
On April 13, 2021, President Biden announced the complete withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. Such a withdrawal, in the absence of a secure Afghan state, able to safeguard the democratic rights of all Afghan citizens, especially women and other marginal groups, will be disastrous for their human rights and security.
* A summary withdrawal will result in a security vacuum easily filled by violent non-state actors like ISIS, insurgency groups and the local militia. This will adversely impact the everyday lives of Afghan citizens and their access to livelihoods, health care, education and in time, nutrition, freedom of expression and movement, particularly that of women and girls.
* If the Afghan state cannot hold its own in the face of internecine attacks, the Afghan constitution will be undermined, and thereby, the hard-won rights of citizens, especially women.
* A US withdrawal without a stable and secure Afghan state is tantamount to the abandonment of women’s interests. Twenty years ago, attacks against Taliban-run Afghanistan were justified also in the name of their rights. Since 2003, women have gone back to school; had access to health care; been able to work outside the home, and most remarkably, participated in public life both in constitutionally mandated roles as well as through civil society organisations and networks. There is no reason to believe the Taliban will not reimpose the severe restrictions of the pre-2001 era.
* An unstable and insecure Afghan state cannot protect Afghan women human rights defenders. In the last twenty years, they have formed networks; built coalitions to end violence against women; facilitated the access of women and girls to livelihoods; worked at the local, provincial and national levels, o!icially and informally, for peace; and served around the world as human rights and peace advocates for Afghan women. They have reversed Taliban-era policies taking significant risks, losing loved ones, bearing injuries, fleeing their homes and even facing death. An insecure Afghanistan state will not keep them safe from a vengeful Taliban.
The indefinite presence of foreign forces in a country is undesirable. But the prospect of their withdrawal without any guarantees that Afghan women’s physical safety, human rights and political participation will be protected, prompts fear and foreboding.
Since 2000, the international community has reinforced its commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, gender equality norms established by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Security Council Resolutions (the “Women, Peace and Security (WPS)” resolutions) that mandate the women’s participation in peace processes. Increasingly, many states have adopted National Action Plans and Women, Peace and Security laws, including the United States, with some claiming to have feminist foreign policies, . It would be a tragedy, travesty and betrayal if the same governments treated Afghan women’s rights as an inconvenience and adopted expedient measures to end military engagement rather than negotiate a true, democratic and just peace.
We are deeply concerned about our Afghan sisters, understanding that the roll-back of women’s rights and citizenship is contagious. Being equally worried about the safety of women human rights defenders and peace activists in Afghanistan, we, the members of the Women’s Regional Network, demand:
1. Though inevitable, US troop withdrawal should be phased strategically. A UN peace- keeping force must monitor security in the transitional period after the US withdrawal.
2. The international community must recognise that troop withdrawal is not peace and therefore, inclusive peace negotiations must continue. To this end:
* Sponsors, hosts and mediators of such negotiations must insist on the inclusion of women representatives from government and women’s rights and peace organisations as equal stakeholders in such meetings.
* Host governments must support and facilitate travel by Afghan women’s rights activists to participate in negotiations.
3. The protection of women’s rights must be a prerequisite for the conclusion of any peace agreement.
4. Through its offices, the United Nations must protect the human rights and women’s rights standards that they helped draft in 2003-4.
* They must monitor inclusion in the peace process.
* They must hold parties to the negotiation accountable for their women’s rights commitments.
* They must offer financial, technical and logistical support and security cover to women’s rights activists involved in peace work..
5. The international community must exert diplomatic pressure to ensure that human rights are protected, especially Afghan women’s rights.
6. Financial and material support for advancing and protecting women’s human rights in Afghanistan must continue.
* Future funding to any Afghanistan government must also be conditional upon the protection of Afghan women’s citizenship and rights.
7. With its democratic institutions, measures for political inclusion and rights guarantees, the 2004 Afghan Constitution must remain the bedrock of any future political arrangements in Afghanistan.
We, the members of the Women's Regional Network, invite you to support our Letter of Concern.