UN Special Rapporteurship on Afghanistan

On Friday 1 April, the UN Human Rights Council relinquished an opportunity to put talk into action and send an important message to the Taliban by appointing what would have been the first woman UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan.   (All those who held the position during its previous existence from 1984-2005 were men.)  

The UN Consultative Group, the body that screens Special Rapporteur applications (made up this year of three men and a woman, representing El Salvador, Malaysia, South Africa and Canada), had short-listed five candidates: four women — three of whom are Muslim or of Muslim heritage — and a man.  As the candidates’ applications show, all five short-listed candidates were well-qualified, all five had relevant experience, and several had considerable direct experience in Afghanistan and other conflict zones.   

CONSULTATIVE GROUP REPORT TO HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL PRESIDENT
Short-listed Candidates for the Position of
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan

First nameLast nameNationalityGender
LeilaALIKARAMIIslamic Republic of IranF
RichardBENNETTNew ZealandM
KarimaBENNOUNEUnited States of AmericaF
KamalaCHANDRAKIRANAIndonesiaF
Kimberley Cy.MOTLEYUnited States of AmericaF

Despite having such highly qualified women candidates for the position . . . the Human Rights Council appointed the only man on the shortlist.  Curiously, in sending its recommendations of candidates to the Council president, the Consultative Group significantly understated relevant experience in its bios of the two women finalists among the final three (Leila Alikarami and Karima Bennoune), even omitting any mention of one candidate’s direct experience in Afghanistan.

Moreover, there was virtually no mention of women’s human rights in the Consultative Group’s entire report on this mandate (except for a brief reference in Alikarami’s bio) — including no mention of any experience at all that the candidate they ranked first might have in this area.   This despite the fact that the Council resolution creating the mandate emphasizes women’s rights and calls on the use of a gender perspective throughout the work of the mandate.    

The new mandate-holder, Richard Bennett, does have considerable experience on and commitment to human rights in Afghanistan, and deserves support in his critically important work.  The statement in his application that if appointed he would give priority to the human rights of women and girls is welcome indeed.  One wonders about the message the Human Rights Council sends, though, as it joins a long list of countries and organizations that are sending all-male delegations to Kabul.  The timing is especially unfortunate coming a week after the Taliban refused to reopen secondary schools for girls, reneging on an earlier pledge to do so.     

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