‘Catastrophic’ US Sanctions on Afghanistan Hit Women, Children Hardest - UN

© AP Photo / Mstyslav ChernovFILE - An Afghan woman holds her children as she waits for a consultation outside a makeshift clinic at a sprawling settlement of mud brick huts housing those displaced by war and drought near Herat, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2021.
FILE - An Afghan woman holds her children as she waits for a consultation outside a makeshift clinic at a sprawling settlement of mud brick huts housing those displaced by war and drought near Herat, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.04.2022
A group of United Nations human rights experts condemned the ongoing economic sanctions against Afghanistan by the United States, blaming them for an “epic humanitarian crisis on the verge of a development catastrophe.”
“We are gravely concerned about the growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, which puts at serious risk the lives of more than half of the country’s population, with disproportionate impact on women and children,” the Monday statement reads.
“While gender-based violence has been a long-standing and severe threat to women and girls, it has been exacerbated by the measures imposed by the US, together with the drought and widening gender-based discrimination adopted by the de facto authorities,” it added.
Some of the experts who drafted the statement included Alena Douhan,the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Saad Alfarargi, and Special Rapporteur on the right to development.
The experts noted that US policies have seriously exacerbated the Central Asian country’s humanitarian crisis since August 2021, when the Taliban* seized power amid a messy US withdrawal. Not the least of those policies is the freezing of $7 billion in foreign assets owned by Da Afghanistan Bank, Kabul’s central bank, some $3.5 billion of which Washington has kept explicitly for payouts to victims of terrorism in the United States.
“We note with concern the provisions in Section 3 of the Presidential Executive Order no. 14064, which prohibits ‘any transaction that evades or avoids, has the purpose of evading or avoiding, causes a violation of, or attempts to violate any of the prohibitions’ and ‘any conspiracy formed to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order,’” the experts said.
“Such overly broad formulations may exacerbate the climate of uncertainty among relevant actors, including banks, businesses and humanitarian donors, resulting in over-zealous compliance with sanctions thus preventing people of Afghanistan from any access to basic humanitarian goods,” they added.
© AP Photo / Bernat ArmangueАфганец продает фрукты на улице в Кабуле, Афганистан
Афганец продает фрукты на улице в Кабуле, Афганистан - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.04.2022
Афганец продает фрукты на улице в Кабуле, Афганистан
After the Taliban takeover, almost all $8.5 billion in international aid to Afghanistan was canceled, equivalent to 43% of its gross domestic product (GDP). In the months since, only a small fraction of that has returned, with the US saying it refuses to support the Taliban government.
In late March, a damning report from the Afghan Ministry of Public Health revealed the scope of Afghanistan’s economic collapse: 13,700 children newborns had died of hunger and malnutrition-related diseases since the start of the year. Further, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ramiz Alakbarov said in a March 15 statement that “a staggering 95% of the population is not eating enough food, with that percentage rising to almost 100% for female-headed households.”
The Afghan population is roughly 39 million, including 2.6 million who fled the country as refugees.
“It is a figure so high that it is almost inconceivable. Yet, devastatingly, it is the harsh reality,” he said. Alakbarov is also deputy head of the UN assistance mission, UNAMA.
As a result, poor Afghan women have turned to selling their children and prostituting themselves, despite harsh bans on sex work.
"I heard the news on the TV that people are selling their children. It had been more than a week that we didn't have any food or money. That is when I decided to sell my youngest daughter," Hawa, a 30-year-old, widowed mother of four from Kabul's Dasht-e-Barchi district, told Nikkei Asia in early April.
"Who likes to do this work?" said Zeba, a widow in Kabul who engages in prostitution to feed her family of six. "But my landlord threatened me that if I didn't pay the rent, already due for two to three months, he would throw me out. My kids hadn't eaten good food in days, and they sometimes asked for shoes or new books. It is for their happiness that I decided to earn money in whichever way possible."
"I didn't tell anyone, not even my kids,” Zeba said. “I tell them that I get money from begging. If my brother ever finds out that I do this work, he will kill me."
The Taliban originally came to power in 1996, triumphing in the chaos of the collapse of the Soviet-backed People’s Republic of Afghanistan. The Islamist group instituted one of the world’s harshest interpretations of Sharia, effectively banning women from public life, and allowed al-Qaeda shelter in the country, from which it planned the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US.
In the invasion launched by the US weeks after the terrorist bombings that killed 3,000 Americans, the Taliban was forced from power in Kabul, but regrouped in the Afghan countryside and waged an insurgency war against the US and the new US-backed Afghan government. By the time the US and the Taliban arrived at a peace deal in February 2020, some 241,000 people had been killed in the war, 71,300 of whom have been identified as civilians by experts. Another 360,000 people are believed to have died due to indirect causes of the war, such as shortages of medicine, stresses caused by the conflict or being a refugee, or illnesses caused by food and water shortages or spoilage.
In the final months of the US occupation, as its troops began to withdraw from the country, the Taliban launched a new offensive that quickly crushed the US-backed government in Kabul, bringing the Taliban back to power several weeks before the US had even left.
*The Taliban: a group under United Nations sanction
**Al-Qaeda: a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries
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