Who will speak for Afghanistan at the UN? | UN news

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres received a letter from the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” – which the Taliban declared last month – signed by Amir Khan Muttaqi, under the title “Foreign Minister”.

The letter contained a formal request from the Taliban to attend this year’s UN General Assembly (UNGA) and inform the world body that it had nominated Suhail Shaheen, its Doha-based spokesman, as its new ambassador to the UN.

But the Taliban was not the only one vying to represent Afghanistan at its annual rally.

A few days earlier, Guterres had received a message from Afghanistan’s current accredited Afghan ambassador to the UN, Ghulam Isaczai, according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Isaczai no longer represents Afghanistan, Muttaqi claimed in his letter because former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was “deposed” on August 15.

The question of who speaks for Afghanistan has now fallen into the lap of the UN General Assembly’s nine-member accreditation committee, which includes the United States, Russia and China.

The committee’s task is to assess the demand, make a recommendation and send it back to the general meeting, which will debate and then accept or reject it.

As a body, the UN does not formally recognize governments. Instead, it recognizes the official representatives of its Member States. The committee is not expected to meet before the end of the UN General Assembly – so it is unlikely that a Taliban representative will speak this year. And while Isaczai remains in the seat so far, it is unclear whether some countries will oppose him speaking next week.

Rival claims

The governments that make up the 193 UN member states range from monarchies to dictatorships to democracies. And none of them are over the process of deciding who legally represents the member states.

If the UN General Assembly accepts Shaheen’s credentials, then the Taliban will be formally represented there.

But that does not equate to international recognition. And there is a story of rival governments that have had their UN representation offer rejected.

There is a story of rival governments that have had their UN representation offer rejected [File: Yana Paskova/Reuters]

China, a founding member of the UN, was denied UN representation after the communist revolution in 1949. The defeated nationalist government in Taiwan retained China’s seat until 1971, when the General Assembly voted to expel Taiwan and recognize the communist government in Beijing.

In 1997, there were two rivals for Cambodia’s seat, but the committee decided to neither accept nor reject the credentials that had been submitted. Cambodia’s seat remained vacant – the only time in UN history that has happened.

A poor level of human rights could also lead to government violence against UN doormen.

South Africa was suspended by the General Assembly in 1974, and its UN representation was not fully restored until 20 years later, when apartheid was abolished.

And the UN refused to recognize the Taliban government the last time the group was in charge of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Instead, the UN gave the seat to the government in exile, at the time led by President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was assassinated in Kabul in 2011.

Obstacles to human rights and humanitarian crisis

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last month, they have sought to project a reformed image by promising to show respect for human rights, including the rights of women and girls.

But the Taliban has not changed, rights groups say. On Tuesday, Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture accused the group of “steadily liquidating” human rights gains over the past 20 years.

“In just over five weeks after taking control of Afghanistan, the Taliban have clearly shown that they do not take human rights protection seriously or respectfully,” Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for South Asia, said in a statement. “We have already seen a wave of violations, from reprisals and restrictions on women, to the repression of protests, the media and civil society.”

But a spiral crisis marked by deeper hunger, poverty and an almost collapse of Afghanistan’s health system is forcing the UN to engage with the country.

Last week, during a high-level ministerial aid conference, Guterres warned that the country – which has seen billions of dollars in Western and other international aid dried up in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover – is facing a looming “humanitarian catastrophe.”

“I urge all Member States to dig deep for the people of Afghanistan in their darkest time of need,” the Secretary-General said.

Richard Gowan, UN director of the non-profit International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera that he was surprised that the Taliban made a bid for Afghanistan’s UN seat this week, when they already have the ear and help from the top UN officials.

“It’s just impossible to say whether this is a knee-jerk reaction or it’s more calculated based on an actual reading of what may come past the accreditation committee,” Gowan said.

The Taliban “will receive a huge amount of criticism of women’s rights, especially when Europe tells them to live up to international standards,” he added.

Candace Rondeaux, director of Future Frontlines in New America, told Al Jazeera that the timing of the Taliban’s UN seat gambit reveals varying degrees of the group’s diplomatic qualifications.

“There are parts of the Taliban leadership that clearly have a stronger grip on Afghanistan’s position in the world,” she said.

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