Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, on Thursday briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in Afghanistan and said that the Afghan conflict remains one of the deadliest conflicts in the world for civilians and the deadliest for children.
“Afghanistan also remains the deadliest conflict in the world for children. Last year alone, 874 children lost their lives as a result of the conflict and many, many more were injured,” the UN envoy told the Security Council.
She also said that Afghanistan has made immense progress in recent years including press freedom.
“Another important gain made in recent years that is particularly tangible is Afghanistan’s free and vibrant media sector. Afghanistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. Yet they persist in their essential work of holding those with authority accountable,” she said.
This statement comes as the Afghan media challenged the Presidential Palace over possible amendments to the Mass Media Law.
Although, the Afghan government has pledged to save press freedom, members of the Afghan media say that the amendments are aimed at restricting media activities in the country.
Ambassador Lyons said that Afghanistan has also made significant strides in improving the living conditions of many of its citizens in the past two decades.
“Maternal mortality has been reduced by 66 percent over a 15-year period and child mortality has decreased by half. The expansion in coverage of public health facilities has nearly doubled during this same period. There has been progress. These facts are incontrovertible,” said Lyons.
On civilians casualties, she said: “Too many Afghans still face daily struggles for survival. And when it comes to civilian casualties, Afghanistan remains one of the deadliest conflicts in the world. “
The UN envoy also said that the US-Taliban agreement and subsequent reductions of violence have "given only brief respites from the all-too familiar carnage." She mentioned the recent "deliberate attacks against healthcare facilities at a time when all people, and all resources, need to be focused on combatting the COVID-19 pandemic," calling the attack on the maternity ward in Kabul "particularly egregious."
About this attack, she said: “The recent May 12 attack against a maternity ward in western Kabul was particularly outrageous and established a new low. This was truly a moment when new life was taken from the womb. The perpetrators must be found and held accountable.”
On threats of Daesh she said: “I am also deeply concerned about the ongoing threat to civilians posed by the Islamic State-Khorasan Province. This was again demonstrated by the recent suicide attack in Nangarhar province at a funeral ceremony, which resulted in at least 29 civilians killed and many more injured.”
On corruption, she stated, “Like so many countries, Afghanistan continues to be plagued by corruption, which corrodes the confidence of the population and the donor community, and fuels the ongoing conflict.”
“In spite of progress made in previous years in anti-corruption reforms, this progress has slowed in the past year, with key institutional reforms being neglected, including the establishment of the all-too-important independent anti-corruption commission. Apparent impunity of well-connected political figures remains a major issue. Additional progress in the fight against corruption is therefore crucial as the 2020 Pledging Conference on Afghanistan approaches,” she said.
She also highlighted some other challenges facing the country and said: “These compounding challenges facing the country, including the COVID-19 health and humanitarian crisis, require, more than ever, determined and united leadership.”
The UN envoy said that she was cautiously optimistic about the potential talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, “I am cautiously optimistic that the talks between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban negotiation teams will indeed start in the next few weeks in Doha, during the month of July. As the two sides embark on what will likely be a long and complex series of talks, I have encouraged them to show the necessary flexibility and foresight, the commitment to peace and most importantly compassion for their people that will be needed to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion.”
On the Eid ceasefire, she said: “The formal announcement of a three-day Eid ceasefire by the Taliban and the Government led to a welcome and much-needed reduction in violence.”
She also stated that a reduction in violence is essential for an environment conducive for peace talks and to pave the way for an eventual permanent ceasefire, adding that the recent spiralling levels of violence threaten the process.
She described the prisoners swap between the Afghan government and the Taliban and said: “This is an important confidence-building measure that has created momentum towards the negotiations.”
She said that UN is ready to help Afghans for direct talks.
“The United Nations stands ready to support these direct talks, as required,” she said.
“I am seeing and hearing a strong resolve from the regional countries to support Afghanistan in its quest towards a peaceful settlement,” she said.
On the impacts of COVID-19, she said: “At the same time as peace rises out there on the horizon, COVID-19 is casting a huge shadow over Afghan daily life. Under the leadership of the Afghan Government, the UN is supporting a coordinated response to fight this epidemic.”
“In light of the scale of the crisis and the crippling economic consequences, the Humanitarian Response Plan has been updated to incorporate the COVID-19 requirements for 2020, reflecting the increased number of people in need. In total, humanitarian partners require $1.1 billion to provide immediate humanitarian assistance. I appreciate contributions already received and count on the continued generosity of the international community to allow us to carry forward with the Afghan Government this essential response,” she further said.
She said Afghanistan faces the daunting challenge of seeking continued international financial support at a time of unprecedented financial uncertainty.
This comes after the Afghan government on said that past week was the bloodiest week of the country's war.
The National Security Council said Monday the Taliban had carried out 422 "terrorist activities" in 32 provinces last week, "killing 291 government troops and wounding 550 others."
While the nation anticipates the beginning of the intra-Afghan talks and violence levels to reduce, the National Security Council has accused the Taliban of escalating violence, saying last week was the deadliest week in 19 years of war.