Anoush Baghdassarian, Andie Forsee, and David Hogan, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative
The last week has been a devastating one for Afghanistan. After the US’ withdrawal of troops from the country, the Taliban advanced rapidly across Afghanistan, culminating in their seizure of Kabul. On August 15, President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and the Taliban took control of the Presidential Palace.
Reports and footage from Afghanistan show scenes of desperation. Many Afghans fear the return of the Taliban, which oppressively ruled most of the country from 1996 to 2001. During that period, the Taliban regime killed civilians, denied food supplies to starving citizens, restricted cultural activities and especially the activities of girls and women, and discriminated against religious and ethnic minorities. Terrified of what the future will bring, an estimated 30,000 Afghans left the country every day from August 6-16, according to The Guardian. Thousands more have tried to flee. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has warned that the situation is exacerbating this year’s already high level of displacement, which led to nearly 400,000 Afghans being displaced from their homes by mid August.
Numerous organizations involved with humanitarian disarmament have reacted to the current crisis in Afghanistan in recent statements, and the Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative joins these organizations in expressing its solidarity with those suffering on the ground.
Given that Afghanistan has been one of the most mine-affected countries in the world, the situation has generated particular concern among organizations involved in the field of mine action. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition issued a statement “express[ing] solidarity with the people of Afghanistan and those providing assistance to landmine and cluster munition survivors, carrying out mine clearance and risk education, conducting research, and advocating for the human rights and humanitarian protection of ALL Afghans – girls, boys, women, men.” The statement also urged all actors to preserve the progress made in mine action in Afghanistan. The HALO Trust expressed thanks on its website to those who inquired about the safety of its staff in Afghanistan and stated that its efforts were currently focused on the safety of its Afghan colleagues still in the country. It concluded, “We hope that they will quickly be able to return to work, saving lives, as they have in Afghanistan since 1988.”
Other organizations, including those that work on disarmament issues, highlighted the need for an urgent international response to the humanitarian and human rights crisis. The Dutch peace organization PAX issued a statement calling for neighboring states, other countries, and international organizations to welcome and support Afghan displaced persons and refugees. PAX also called on the Taliban “to respect international law and to protect all civilians.” The Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia) issued an open letter to the Australian government urging the prime minister to commit to “expanded humanitarian intake, facilitated departures, and permanent protection of the most vulnerable Afghans.” Save the Children recommended that the international community adopt expedited visa processes for Afghan children seeking to flee their country. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, urged the UN Human Rights Council to create an international fact-finding mechanism to monitor the human rights situation in Afghanistan. The International Rescue Committee issued a statement calling on world leaders to commit to protecting civilians and supporting humanitarian aid workers.
We support these calls for swift humanitarian action, and urge those governments and organizations who can provide assistance to and protection for the people of Afghanistan to do so immediately.