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Remarks at a UN Open Debate on UNAMA

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations

Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
New York, NY
March 16, 2015



Special Representative Haysom, Ambassador Tanin thank you for your observations today. And on behalf of the United States, I would like to thank you, SRSG Haysom and your team for your dedicated and humane work to help the Afghan people improve their lives, their institutions, and their nation. Today's unanimous renewal of UNAMA's mandate shows the Council's ongoing support for your efforts and for your country.

As we mark the beginning of Afghanistan's Transformation Decade, we have seen both encouraging advances and enduring challenges. Last year, we saw Afghans take real risks and conquer fear to cast their ballots in an election. We saw two candidates put the country's future first – forming a unity government and sustaining it as they confront shared challenges, including cabinet formation, electoral reform, and peace and reconciliation. The United States calls on the leaders to put forward urgently a full slate of cabinet nominees who meet the rigorous requirements that they established and who can obtain parliamentary approval.

We commend President Ghani and CEO Abdullah's shared commitment to prioritizing electoral reform. Last year's election exposed chronic weaknesses in Afghanistan's electoral system. Promptly identifying the necessary reforms and implementing them urgently and in a manner consistent with international standards is critical, including to ensure successful parliamentary and district council elections. Establishing the Special Electoral Reform Commission, which the two leaders agreed upon last fall, would be an important step toward that end.

Making fundamental changes to a country's political and electoral system is challenging under any circumstances. Yet Afghans are undertaking this extraordinary task amid continued attacks by insurgents who seek to destabilize the country.

UNAMA's exceptional reporting on the toll on civilians – a model for other missions – testifies to the impact of this violence on Afghan society, particularly some of its most vulnerable members. Compared to 2013, civilian casualties increased by 22 percent in 2014. Civilian deaths rose by 25 percent. The number of women casualties increased by 21 percent, and the number of children casualties by 40 percent. 714 children were killed in 2014. 714 kids. UNAMA's reporting attributes roughly 75 percent of all civilian casualties to the Taliban and affiliated groups.

What statistics cannot capture is the immeasurable impact on the families of those wounded and killed. For example, UNAMA's report tells us that women left as sole income-providers after their husbands were killed or maimed experienced lasting consequences, "with poverty forcing many women to give their daughters in marriage in exchange for debts or to take their children out of school often to work." And this does not even capture the emotion and the pain of all the losses.

Afghanistan's leaders understand the far-reaching impact of violence on the Afghan people, which is one of the many reasons they have committed to bringing peace to their country – a goal we strongly support. We see tremendous bravery exhibited by many Afghans. One unheralded group is de-miners. De-miners venture out day after day to clear minefields so that their fellow citizens are not maimed as they harvest their land or walk to school. Thirty-four de-miners were killed last year, including eleven who were killed on December 13th by insurgents, while they were clearing unexploded ordnance in Helmand province. We see similar dedication in the legions of Afghan teachers who show up to their classrooms every day, despite threats and harassments, to give boys and girls the education they need to build their future, and the future of their country. We also honor Afghan security forces who risk their lives – and in far too many cases, give their lives – protecting their fellow citizens.

The resolve and capabilities of these Afghan forces has improved a great deal. Continued professionalization of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces – with robust, sustained international support, including through NATO's Resolute Support Mission – is crucial both to improve effectiveness, and ensure more faithful adherence to international human rights standards.

The abusive tactics reported to UNAMA and catalogued in its recent report on the treatment of Afghan detainees have no place in the pursuit of justice. Nor does the complicity of justice officials who – according to the same report – "overwhelmingly" rely on confessions from defendants in criminal prosecutions, even when credible evidence suggests such confessions may have been obtained through abusive tactics. That is why we applaud the Afghan government's commitment to eliminate the use of torture.

As you all know, last week we marked International Women's Day. It was a day for marking a number of inspiring stories from around the world, including Afghanistan – a country where, under Taliban rule, women could not walk outside without a male relative and a burqa.

Last week, members of the Afghanistan Women's National Cycling team were not only walking outside, they were racing down the country's roads on their bikes. Team members are pinched for resources, but big on courage. Some drivers yell at them and threaten them, but they ride on. One day, a man on a motorcycle reached out and tried to grab at the captain, causing her to crash and hurt her back.

But today she is back on her bike, leading more than 40 other women training with the team. Imagine what it must feel like to be a little girl, sitting in a car, and to suddenly drive by those 40 women, in a single file, flying down the road. Imagine how inspiring that must be.

One of the team members, Malika Yousufi, wants to become the first Afghan woman to complete the Tour de France. She told a reporter, "Nothing will stop us." We believe that, if she is given the chance, and if her country stays on the brave but difficult path it has charted, Malika is right. Nothing will stop them. There is so much to lose, and so much left to gain in these difficult days, and the United States will support the Afghan people in every step of their journey to take their place as a stable, peaceful, independent, and democratic nation. Thank you.


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