Women at aid distribution location in Afghanistan. However, the country urgently needs more than just humanitarian relief. Without the funding that is being currently blocked, the country risks complete economic collapse.

The following article is offered on an oped basis.

United Against Inhumanity (UAI)launched a campaign on 8th March to challenge the decision by some governments to freeze Afghan national reserves that have been built up since the time of King Zaher Shah, with a current total value of US$9.1 billion.  The loss of access to these resources, as is well known, is having a devastating impact on Afghans who have already endured more than four decades of warfare.

Given the added responsibilities of countries that are UN Security Council (UNSC) Members in upholding and enhancing international peace and security, it is important that they takesurgent action to address this catastrophic ‘man-made’ disaster.

UAI is challenging the decision to freeze Afghan national reserves held in banks under the jurisdiction of governments in the US, Europe and elsewhere such as Germany, Italy, the UK and the UAE. Blocking access to these assets means that the Afghan central bank is unable to deliver on some of its core responsibilities including curbing inflation. This has led to a banking and liquidity crisis that, coupled with inflation and the loss of jobs and livelihoods, means that most Afghans are no longer able to afford essentials such as food or fuel needed for cooking and keeping warm in harsh winter temperatures.   This dire situation has obliged some families to take the heart-breaking decision of selling their under-age daughters in marriage to get some food.  

International Committee of the Red Cross providing humanitarian relief in Afghanistan. (Photo: ICRC)

UAI launched its campaign on International Women’s Day; it is the women and children of Afghanistan who are now paying the most severe price for a situation not of their making. The human right to food is but a mirage for millions of Afghans who were told in 2001 that military intervention was necessary to secure the human rights of women and girls.  In 2022, Afghans are effectively being told that an enlarged humanitarian program – yet to be developed – will have to substitute for a functioning economy.  The reality is that, for many Afghans, this is a death sentence. This is why urgent action is required both in and outside the UNSC.

As UAI says in our open letter, it is deeply concerned about the Taliban’s human rights record, their interpretation of Sharia law, and their rule from Kabul 20 years ago. Nevertheless, the right to life of impoverished and hungry Afghans must be prioritized over all other considerations. Our organization has sent letters to US president Joe Biden as well as various European heads of state requesting that these funds be released.

UAI has requested that UNSC members address the issue of frozen national reserves, and the implications of this for the survival of millions of Afghans.  This is particularly important in the context of strengthening respect for, and protection of, fundamental human rights and helping to create the economic and social conditions critical for sustainable self-reliance, development and gender equity.

Norah Niland is a co-founder of United Against Inhumanity, an emerging global movement concerned with war-related atrocities and erosion of the international asylum system. 

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