A UN travel ban could bring the Taliban to heel

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The United Nations is set to seize a rare opportunity to pressure the Taliban to behave like a real government by refusing to extend exemptions on travel bans for terrorists listed among the group’s leaders. Ireland opposed the exemptions, sources familiar with the procedures said, and it only takes one country to object for Taliban terrorists to lose their travel privileges.

At least two other countries supported the Irish position, a source close to the UN Security Council said on condition of anonymity. Although nothing is guaranteed and the influence of the United States, Russia and China may prevail, if Ireland does not back down, the exemptions are due to expire at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, the source said.

“It will be a signal to the Taliban that you risk international isolation if you continue to behave like this,” the source added, referring to the Taliban’s well-documented human rights abuses and support. terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

The United Nations is set to seize a rare opportunity to pressure the Taliban to behave like a real government by refusing to extend exemptions on travel bans for terrorists listed among the group’s leaders. Ireland opposed the exemptions, sources familiar with the procedures said, and it only takes one country to object for Taliban terrorists to lose their travel privileges.

At least two other countries supported the Irish position, a source close to the UN Security Council said on condition of anonymity. Although nothing is guaranteed and the influence of the United States, Russia and China may prevail, if Ireland does not back down, the exemptions are due to expire at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, the source said.

“It will be a signal to the Taliban that you risk international isolation if you continue to behave like this,” the source added, referring to the Taliban’s well-documented human rights abuses and support. terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

The travel bans were imposed along with financial sanctions and arms embargoes on Taliban members listed as terrorists by the UN Security Council even before their collusion in the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. However, as of 2019, key Taliban leaders have been granted exemptions. so that they can travel abroad and participate in the talks to end the war. The bans and exemptions apply to about 100 current members of the Taliban who are sanctioned terrorists, of whom about 30 hold ministerial or cabinet positions.

Given that the travel ban exemptions were granted to allow the Taliban to work towards peace, stability and an end to cooperation with terrorists – something they clearly failed to do during their year in power in Afghanistan – the ban should be reinstated, some experts said.

“The specific and legal message starts with the fact that there is a sanctions regime in place that all members of the Security Council actually support,” he said. Anne Pforzheimer, former acting US deputy assistant secretary of state for Afghanistan. “And if the Taliban don’t abide by that regime, and their exception to that regime was for the purposes of peace and stability talks, and they don’t, then the rules have to be enforced.

Even after the Taliban seized power and the first evidence of the regime’s continued brutality, travel ban exemptions were extended in June to all but two Taliban, allowing terrorists to travel freely, often on jets. private.

China and Russia have proposed that sanctioned Taliban members be allowed to continue traveling to Beijing and Moscow; others, including the United States, have hinted they should be able to travel to Doha, Qatar, where the group has an office and where many countries have relocated their Afghan diplomatic missions. No country recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

A resumption of the travel ban is one of the few levers left to hold accountable a regime that has a dismal human and women’s rights record and maintains ties to terrorist groups.

The latest internal human rights report from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, obtained by Foreign Police, makes clear that the arbitrary violence, abductions, disappearances, detentions, torture and killings of the Taliban continue. On the contrary, things are getting worse. The report notes 400 cases of extrajudicial executions, torture, arbitrary arrests and disappearances of former members of the government, army and police in the year since the Taliban decreed a “general amnesty”. The judiciary faces “challenges” in respect of legality and fair trials. The prisoners lack food, hygiene and medicine. Afghanistan has also backtracked on women’s rights, firing many women from their posts and jailing those who protest; girls cannot receive a secondary education almost everywhere in the country.

The group, in violation of its agreement with the former Trump administration, also maintained ties to Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, as documented by the UN security Council and a US drone strike that killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, when he was a Taliban guest at a Kabul villa.

But travel bans are not the only lever. Another option could be the Magnitsky Act, passed in the US, UK and elsewhere, to allow travel and financial sanctions against officials who violate human rights. Some Taliban figures use false names, hold foreign passports and have family living abroad, which makes them vulnerable to some of the penalties provided for in the Magnitsky provisions.

“Just because the West has let Afghanistan fall into the hands of the Taliban doesn’t mean the West has to turn a blind eye to their barbaric practices,” said Bill Browder, the financier behind the act. Foreign Police. “Primary perpetrators should be subject to Magnitsky sanctions and all other types of sanctions available.”

There is also the financial pressure. Europe and the United States hold more than $9 billion in Afghan central bank reserves, including about $7 billion in the United States alone. These assets were frozen after the Taliban took power.

The United States is still negotiating with the Taliban to release about half of the frozen funds, but it still needs to secure the Taliban’s cooperation to allow a full audit of their use, if released. Although Washington would have backed away from the idea of ​​releasing Afghan funds after the Zawahiri incident, a spokesman for the US National Security Council said talks are still ongoing.

The Taliban make money. They collect millions of dollars in customs duties, business taxes and so-called religious taxes due each month, and they earn millions of dollars from drugs and mineral resource extraction, which are sold in Pakistan and to China. Their earnings are not used to fight poverty or create jobs at a time of massive economic and humanitarian suffering, but – like part of international aid – they are diverted to be distributed to their own supporters, officials said. Afghan charity sector sources.

The Taliban have resisted all calls to respect human rights or, as promised, to create an inclusive government. The concern is that extending exemptions to the travel ban will only reinforce their impunity and help normalize their rule.

“These are two concepts that are not in the interest of the United States,” Pforzheimer said. “If we’re going to be intransigent about this and not even think that human rights are part of our foreign policy, let’s just say compliance with sanctions should be part of our policy.”

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