The Taliban must uphold the fundamental human rights of women and children, the United Nations chief has said, urging the international community to release frozen Afghan aid to prevent families from selling their babies to buy food.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also warned on Wednesday that “Afghanistan is hanging by a thread” as millions of impoverished citizens struggle to survive amid deteriorating humanitarian conditions.
“We urge the Taliban to seize this moment and garner international trust and goodwill by recognising – and upholding – the basic human rights that belong to every girl and woman,” Guterres told a UN Security Council meeting.
He expressed concern about recent reports of arbitrary arrests and abductions of women activists, saying, “I strongly appeal for their release.”
At the same time, he added, “I appeal to the international community to step up support for the people of Afghanistan,” including by releasing aid funds in Washington that remain frozen by the World Bank and the US government.
Some $9.5bn in Afghan central bank reserves remain blocked outside the country and international support given to the previous government has dried up since the Taliban seized power last August.
More than half of all Afghans face “extreme levels of hunger,” Guterres told the council, and “some families are selling their babies to purchase food.”
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun mentioned the case of one woman who “sold her two daughters and a kidney” to feed her family.
“This is a human tragedy”, he said, implicitly urging Washington to lift “unilateral sanctions” and ease the freeze on Afghan assets.
The UN continues to call for “a relaxation of those sanctions” which squeeze the economy and prevent the full delivery of essential services, UN Envoy to Afghanistan Deborah Lyons told the council via video link.
Guterres said international aid agencies and donors “need to jump-start Afghanistan’s economy through increased liquidity,” including $1.2bn from a World Bank-managed fund for Afghanistan’s reconstruction that has been frozen.
“Without action, lives will be lost, and despair and extremism will grow,” he said.
The UN earlier this month appealed for $4.4bn in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan in 2022. On Wednesday, it said it needed a further $3.6bn for health and education, basic infrastructure, promotion of livelihoods and social cohesion, specifically the needs of women and girls.
Taliban officials recently held talks with Western powers in Oslo to address the humanitarian crisis, with Western diplomats linking humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to an improvement in human rights.
Store, whose country currently chairs the Security Council, Wednesday’s session of the 15-member body sought to clarify the mandate of the UN political mission in Afghanistan.
The mandate expires March 17 and must be reviewed to account for the Taliban’s return to power.