Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Afghanistan

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis
Senior Advisor for Special Political Affairs
New York, New York
September 9, 2021


Thank you, Mr. President. Special Representative Lyons, thank you for your briefing. Through you, I would like to thank the entire UNAMA team for its work and commitment, especially during these extremely challenging few weeks. Malala, thank you, as always, for your courage and for addressing the Council. Your insights and experiences are invaluable. Thank you also to Wazhma Frogh for sharing your views and your critical work to foster women’s inclusion and meaningful participation in Afghan civil life.

On August 31, a new chapter for our engagement with Afghanistan began. In this difficult and changing environment, Afghanistan needs the UN and UNAMA more than ever. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield had the great privilege of meeting individually with Malala just last week. Her advocacy is a poignant reminder of what’s at stake for women and girls going forward. Millions of Afghan children, particularly girls, are out of school. Three hundred thousand children have been forced out of their homes. UNICEF predicts that one million children under the age of five may soon face severe acute malnutrition. They may die from hunger.

The United States remains committed to the people of Afghanistan. As the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, we are helping our partners on the ground provide food, protection, shelter, essential healthcare, water, sanitation, hygiene services, and so much more vital humanitarian aid to Afghans. But the needs are vast. And at this moment, while there’s a dramatically reduced diplomatic footprint across the country, the United Nations has a vitally important role to play. We need the UN to help prevent human rights violations and abuses, and pursue accountability for those that have already occurred. We need the UN to protect children and civilians. And the UN must help coordinate desperately needed humanitarian assistance.

So UNAMA’s work, both in Kabul and through its field offices, is absolutely necessary. At the same time, we are deeply concerned about the safety and security of UNAMA’s field staff, the ability of women UN staff to do the same work their male counterparts are permitted to do, and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

First, we are outraged at reports that members of the Taliban have engaged in reprisals against UN staff throughout the country. This is simply unacceptable. We call on Taliban leadership to ensure Taliban members, at all levels, comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and take every action to respect the operational independence and neutrality of the UN and its international and national staff. We are a strong supporter of the UN Department of Safety and Security and other elements of the UN security and protective services. And we are exploring additional ways to bolster protections for UNAMA staff and their families. Their safety and security remain a top, and shared, priority among Member States and our UN partners.

Second, we have also heard reports that some women, including female UN staff members and female staff of U.S. implementing partners, are prohibited from coming into the office or are being required to enter into their workplaces with a male chaperone. To call these reported incidents “outrageous” would be an understatement. All UN staff members must be able to conduct their work without undue burden and without discrimination as to who they are.

Third, we call on the Taliban to permit humanitarian organizations to continue their vital work in Afghanistan. With rising food prices, a national drought, and severe malnutrition threatening so many of the country’s children, the World Food Program’s efforts to establish a humanitarian air bridge are critical for ensuring uninterrupted food aid.

I’d like to end by addressing the Taliban directly. As the resolution we passed on August 30th states, the Security Council expects the Taliban to live up to all of its commitments. That includes facilitating safe passage for Afghans and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan. All parties must also respect their obligations under international humanitarian law in all circumstances, including those related to the protection of civilians.

If a new Afghan government upholds its commitments and obligations, brings greater stability to the country and region, demonstrates real inclusion, and protects the gains of the past two decades, we’ll work with it. But we will not do that on the basis of trust or faith alone. The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support. Our message is simple: any legitimacy and support will have to be earned. The standards the international community has set are clear. We’re watching closely to see that those standards are met.

Thank you, Mr. President.