24 November 2022 Without civil society, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan will not be overcome

Speech by Development Minister Svenja Schulze at the G7 Dialogue Forum “Strengthening Afghan Civil Society” (hybrid event)

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Esteemed guests,

About seven weeks ago, I met some of you here in Berlin. Since then, I have often thought about the exchange we had. The strength that you showed when describing the situation in Afghanistan was really impressive. I was also impressed by how clearly you voiced your demands, and how closely you are working together as transnational Afghan civil society. And that is one of the reasons why today's meeting is so important to me. I would like to use our G7 Presidency to bring together representatives of Afghan and international civil society and of the Afghan diaspora with representatives of G7 states and other like-minded donors, the United Nations, the World Bank and the EU.

Afghanistan has known many long years of suffering. And the Taliban’s takeover of power last year opened a new chapter in the crisis. The Taliban are suppressing the Afghan population; they are harassing, torturing, killing people. Women and girls are particularly hard hit by all of this. A staggering 70 per cent of Afghan households are currently unable to cover their basic needs. You are much more familiar with the scope of that dramatic situation than I am.

But the people in Afghanistan refuse to give up. In Bamiyan, Ghazni, Nangarhar and Panjshir, women took to the streets, protesting against the ban on secondary education, until Taliban henchmen stopped them with beatings and gunshots. Under the motto “bread, work, freedom” these women are still fighting tirelessly: for their basic rights and for a better and more just Afghanistan.

Let me assure all those who are fearlessly supporting this fight, either in Afghanistan or in exile, that we, the German government, see you. We see your courage. We see the distress of the people in Afghanistan. We do not forget them. We are supporting their legitimate, non-violent struggle for freedom and justice. And we are doing our best to ensure that the population’s basic needs continue to be met.

The Taliban claim that they constitute the government. But they are letting the population down and they are doing nothing to end the humanitarian emergency. Instead, they are systematically restricting the rights of women and girls, of minorities and of journalists more and more. We do not acknowledge the Taliban as the legitimate government. However, as they have de facto taken the power over the country, we do expect them to take care of the people in Afghanistan. Every single child who is starving, all the people who do not have access to adequate health care, every Afghan who is sliding deeper and deeper into poverty are proof of the Taliban’s lack of responsibility.

In the light of the unlawful takeover of power, Germany suspended its bilateral official development cooperation with Afghanistan on 15th August last year. The EU defined the criteria for any potential cooperation back in September 2021. An inclusive government has to be formed. And human rights, in particular the rights of women and girls, must be protected. But currently we are a long way away from that goal.

Although the German government has suspended official development cooperation, we are continuing to support the Afghan people. But we are doing it whilst avoiding any cooperation with the de facto authorities. We are working closely with the UN. I am pleased that Markus Potzel, the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, has joined us virtually today. And we are working just as closely with the World Bank and civil society.

Together we can find ways to support the women and men in Afghanistan. Doing nothing is not an option.

And civil society is the key. You, representatives of Afghan and international civil society, are the key. People like female entrepreneurs, women who work in agriculture and take care of their families, and women working in non-governmental organisations or leading them, for instance.

All of you are already demonstrating active resistance and support for the people in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a heterogeneous country. And many of you are telling us that people on the ground are demanding their rights from the Taliban. That is why we want to strengthen local structures in order to expand the space for women and girls wherever possible. For this, we rely on your knowledge and expertise.

Thanks to dedicated people like you, it has been possible to prevent an even worse humanitarian disaster from happening since the Taliban took over. And I am – all of us are – painfully aware of the huge risks those people are taking, and the sacrifices they have to make every day.

With today’s event, we want to create a space for exchange. We want to engage in discussion with you. How can Germany, the G7, the United Nations and the development banks support you most effectively in providing help for the people in Afghanistan? What can we do, together, to make sure that the young generation does not turn into a lost generation? How can we jointly contribute to expanding the space for women and girls? How can we strengthen local initiatives and Afghan civil society without creating additional risks for you, the defenders of human rights? How can we preserve our capacity to act – including in times when not just the political but also the actual physical space for civil society players keeps shrinking? And above all, how can we do all of this without strengthening the Taliban’s claim to power?

This is what today’s exchange is all about. Because we are relying on your knowledge and expertise to help us find answers to these questions and agree on a common approach. I would therefore like to thank all of you for being here today.

As international partners, we should have a common understanding of our approach. The G7 partners and other like-minded states are working together closely as they define the overall conditions for our engagement. For instance, we have jointly decided that we cannot provide funding for secondary education until girls once more have access to secondary schools. I am very pleased, therefore, to see so many close partners of German development cooperation in this room.

It is important that we speak with one voice. So that our message is unmistakably clear. And that message is: we will not leave the people in Afghanistan to fend for themselves.