posted on Fri 14 Mar 2014 5:24 PM
Council to renew mandate of UNAMA and hold Afghanistan debate

On Monday (17 March), the Security Council will vote to renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and hold its quarterly debate on Afghanistan. Ján Kubiš, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, will brief the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Afghanistan (S/2014/163). Ambassador Zahir Tanin of Afghanistan is also expected to address the Council.

The Council’s meeting comes less than three weeks before presidential and provincial elections (on 5 April), which will mark Afghanistan’s first ever democratic change in presidential leadership. UNAMA’s mandate renewal also comes at a point where there is uncertainty about a post-2014 international presence and as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) prepares to withdraw while violence continues to escalate.

Negotiations on the draft text were relatively smooth. Australia, the penholder on Afghanistan, circulated an initial draft text for UNAMA’s mandate renewal to Council members on 3 March. Expert-level meetings were held on 6 and 11 March. The draft resolution was put under silence procedure on the evening of 12 March until noon the next day. No one broke silence and the draft was put into blue that day.

The Secretary-General’s report recommends keeping the core mandate of UNAMA, and to leave more in-depth discussion on changing UNAMA’s role till next year. UNAMA’s core functions entail: good offices, coordination of international assistance, human rights monitoring and advocacy, and humanitarian assistance. Council members appear to agree with this approach. Given the changes Afghanistan is experiencing due to its political and security transitions, Council members view it as important to provide predictability and continuity through UNAMA, without creating significant changes to its role at this time. A fuller discussion on UNAMA’s mandate, Council members concur, would be more appropriate in 2015 once a new Afghan government has had time to identify its priorities for UN support.

Therefore, in the draft resolution UNAMA’s core functions remain unchanged. The paragraph on UNAMA’s human rights mandate has been moved higher up in the text compared with the previous resolution extending the mandate (resolution 2096 of 2013), in an effort to further highlight the importance of human rights issues for Council members, especially amid concerns about the potential for a rollback in human rights gains made in the past 12 years.

While negotiations were not controversial overall, some differences emerged. As expected, contentious points included language on counter-narcotics, an issue that Russia and France are keen to emphasise but which some other members are more cautious about. Russia proposed strengthening language that would further highlight the “strong links” between terrorism, violent extremist groups and drug trafficking in the region which was opposed by some members. Alternative language was suggested but was not acceptable to Russia, who eventually agreed to maintain previously agreed language from resolution 2096 reiterating concern about “the strong links between terrorism activities and illicit drugs”.

A new preambular paragraph, however, was added about the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s November 2013 survey that found a marked increase in opium production and drug trafficking. Also, apparently at the prompting of the Afghans, new language was added on the trafficking of chemical precursors in both the preambular and operative sections that describe the general problem of drug trafficking in Afghanistan. (Chemical precursors, necessary to make heroin, apparently are not produced in Afghanistan and must be imported.)

A draft paragraph with previously agreed language on humanitarian access also required some negotiation as Russia wanted to use the same language as in the recent humanitarian resolution on Syria (S/RES/2139). It wanted “full” removed from an existing sentence reading “full, safe and unhindered access of all humanitarian actors,” which would make this consistent with the Syrian humanitarian resolution that only notes “safe and unhindered access.” The term “full” was ultimately retained. There is additional language on the need for access by humanitarian personnel to comply with applicable humanitarian law and to respect UN guiding principles of emergency humanitarian assistance which Russia requested. New language highlighting in particular the rights of women, but also children has been added at the request of Australia and Luxembourg respectively. These additions include, for example on women, language on the importance of national legislation for protecting women from domestic abuse, as well as further stressing the importance of women’s inclusivity in the security sector, the elections and peace processes. On children, language on attacks on schools and hospitals has been strengthened and progress made by the government in implementing an action plan to stop recruitment and use of children highlighted.

For the debate, which will follow the vote on the draft resolution, members are expected to focus their remarks on the importance of the upcoming elections. They are also likely to highlight the concerns about future stability, as a function of the elections and ISAF drawdown, particularly since the bilateral security agreement between the US and Afghanistan remains unsigned. (The agreement is necessary to allow a reduced US and NATO force to remain in the country to train Afghan security forces and assist in counter-terrorism.) Some members could highlight the apparently worsening security trends in light of this uncertain situation.

Some members will also likely highlight the importance of protecting human rights, especially of women and children. Some, such as Russia and France, may touch upon the issue of narcotics. Many Council members will also likely stress the importance of UNAMA having the resources to carry-out its work, including maintaining a broad field presence in the country.

Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.