The U.S. government strongly reacted to a statement made by a group of 14 independent United Nations experts who say certain U.S. policies regarding Afghanistan contribute to the sufferings of ordinary Afghans, particularly women and children.
The freezing of $7 billion in Afghan assets in the United States, as well as the international financial sanctions imposed on the Taliban, have worsened the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the experts warned.
“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 U.S., together with the drought and widening gender-based discrimination adopted by the de facto authorities,” the experts said in a statement Monday.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson called the statement inaccurate and misrepresenting.
“The statement by independent experts who advise the U.N. Human Rights Council but are not U.N. staff contradicts members of the U.N. leadership who have publicly welcomed the February 11 executive order, understanding that it is part of an effort to protect and facilitate access to $3.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets for the benefit of the Afghan people,” the spokesperson told VOA.
In the executive order, President Joe Biden released half the frozen Afghan assets for a humanitarian assistance trust fund for Afghanistan but kept the other half for ongoing litigation made by some U.S. families that lost loved ones in the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. A federal judge will decide if the remaining $3.5 billion can be given to the plaintiffs.
“The February 11 actions marked a significant step forward in the United States’ effort to facilitate access to a significant portion of the funds for the benefit of the Afghan people. If we hadn’t taken action, all of the reserves would have been inaccessible indefinitely,” the spokesperson said.
As a group, the Taliban have been under strict terrorism-related U.S. financial sanctions for more than two decades.
With the Taliban now in power in Afghanistan, the U.S. sanctions are extended over the Afghan central bank and other financial institutions controlled by the group.
While the sanctions target Taliban leaders and policies, their enforcement also hurt the Afghan economy and contribute to the worsening humanitarian crisis in the country, aid agencies say.
“Humanitarian actors face serious operational challenges due to the uncertainty caused by banks' zero-risk policies and over-compliance with sanctions,” the statement said.
U.S. officials maintain that they work closely with the U.N. and U.S. allies to respond to the crisis in Afghanistan.
“We have worked with the U.N. and a private-sector company to ship cash into Afghanistan to provide liquidity for humanitarian assistance activities,” the State Department spokesperson said.
To facilitate humanitarian aid delivery to Afghanistan, the U.S. Treasury Department has offered waivers from sanctions, but experts say the waivers have not been effective.
Afghanistan has the highest number of people in emergency food insecurity in the world, according to relief agencies. About 95% of the country’s estimated 36 million population cannot afford enough food.
To tackle the crisis, donors have pledged $2.4 billion toward a U.N. call for $4.4 billion in humanitarian assistance to Afghans in 2022.
Now, with most Western donors focused on responding to the crisis in Ukraine, the Afghanistan humanitarian appeal has only received 13.5% of the pledged funding.
The U.S., which has pledged $720 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan since August 2021, is the single-largest humanitarian donor to the country.