We welcome this meeting today on Afghanistan, our first as penholder together with Estonia. Let me take this opportunity to commend UNAMA, SRSG Lyons, and her dedicated staff for their relentless efforts to address the demanding issues confronting Afghanistan. I also thank Director Akbar for her insightful briefing and the important work of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. We also welcome the appointment of the experienced diplomat Jean Arnault as the Secretary-General’s personal envoy.
Norway has four overarching priorities for our time on the Council-
peace diplomacy, the equal participation of women, the protection of civilians and climate change and security - these are all highly relevant to Afghanistan and we intend to bring these issues to the forefront.
Part of pursuing these priorities is working towards an end to the conflict that has haunted Afghanistan for more than four decades.
Recent developments in the country give cause for both hope and anguish.
The humanitarian situation remains grave. The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance nearly doubled last year, now accounting for almost half of the total population. Furthermore, almost 17 million Afghans are experiencing crisis level, or emergency level food insecurity - making it the second worst food insecurity situation in the world.
The dire humanitarian needs are driven by conflict, insecurity, and natural disasters- all exacerbated by climate change. Climate change amplifies conflict risks. And sustainable solutions will require the coming together of our humanitarian, development, peace, and climate efforts.
UNAMA has reported that the number of civilian deaths and casualties in Afghanistan in 2020 - a year with an active peace process - was the lowest since 2014. While this is a positive development, we are still troubled by the continued high levels of violence.
The targeted killings of human rights defenders, journalists and media workers, judges, prosecutors, religious scholars, political analysts, civil servants, and other civilians are particularly disturbing. These killings target Afghans with skills and talents that are needed to build a successful and sustainable post-conflict society. We reiterate our strong condemnation of these attacks. They must end immediately.
The perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law must be brought to justice.
In this respect, we are also deeply disturbed by attacks on health facilities and workers, which increased in 2020.
Important vaccination campaigns for COVID-19, but also for other diseases like polio, are likely to be negatively impacted. Health workers must have unimpeded access and the security they need to do their vital work.
Children have also been disproportionally affected by the challenges facing Afghanistan. The continuing recruitment of children in armed conflict, and attacks on schools needs to be addressed.
Norway strongly supports the ongoing peace talks, and we hope they will finally bring peace after so many years of conflict. We urge the parties to pursue negotiations in good faith and with a sense of urgency.
We also welcome recent initiatives towards securing international support for the Afghan peace process, including the recent meeting in Moscow and the upcoming meeting in Turkey. It is important that these initiatives complement and build on the Doha talks. And we value the proposal for a stronger UN role.
At the same time, the Afghan parties must own the process and fulfil their responsibility by leading the way to an inclusive peace. The process is far more likely to succeed if the broader Afghan society is involved, including minorities, youth and victims. The full, equal, and meaningful participation of women is also essential. Not only at the negotiating table, but in every room where decisions about the future of Afghanistan are being made.
A sustainable peace process - and indeed sustainable peace - should be inclusive and preserve the rights of all Afghans, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or religious affiliation.
Progress made during the last two decades must not be reversed.