Germany comes in for serious criticism of its handling of the Afghanistan file in the UN General Assembly

Published: 21 October 2021 Author: Stefan Talmon

In November 1980, the UN General Assembly adopted for the first time a resolution on “The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security.” Since then, the resolution was re-introduced every year, mirroring the changing conflict situation in the country and the enduring endeavours of the international community to help restore peace and stability and end the suffering of the Afghan people. The resolution was considered first and foremost an expression of support for Afghanistan and its people. Since 2002, Germany served as facilitator of this resolution.

The first resolution was adopted with 111 votes to 22 with 12 abstentions. Subsequent resolutions were approved with equally sizable majorities. From 1988 to 2017, the resolution was then adopted annually without a vote. In 2018, the Russian Federation for the first time requested a vote on the resolution, being unhappy with the draft text presented by Germany. In particular, Russia accused the facilitator of not taking into account “the current realities” in Afghanistan. The Russian representative stated:

“The text has a great deal to say about the progress that has been made in normalizing the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, when the real situation in the country is actually quite different, as the Security Council mission to Kabul in particular confirmed. We have seen the situation deteriorate year after year […].”

In the end, the resolution was adopted by 124 votes to none, with 3 abstentions, including the Russian Federation. In the following year, Russia again abstained.

Over the years, the adoption of the resolution on “The situation in Afghanistan” became somewhat of an annual ritual. The large support for the resolution could be explained by a lack of interest on the part of many delegations and the fact that in the end the resolution included something to please everyone. In the period from Germany becoming facilitator in 2002 to 2019, the resolution developed from a two-and-a-half-page document with fourteen preambular and eleven operative paragraphs into a sixteen-page behemoth with sixteen preambular and seventy-four operative paragraphs. Introducing the draft resolution on Afghanistan on 10 December 2020, Germany’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, stated:

“Draft resolution A/75/L.45, entitled ‘The situation in Afghanistan’, has taken all those issues on board, and indeed many more, including democracy, the rule of law, good governance, counter-narcotics, social and economic development, refugees, regional cooperation and human rights. […]

As its long-standing facilitator, Germany has thoroughly updated and streamlined the draft resolution. […] While the draft resolution will find the support of many delegations […] it will not please everyone, mainly owing to our streamlining efforts. The draft resolution had grown in length over the years, to reach a full 16 pages last year, and it had become impossible to go through the entire document in a single reading. As facilitator, we were compelled to act and cut out some of the long enumerations of organizations, projects and ministerial meetings, whose only merit was pleasing some of us. […]

Of course, we would like to go back to adoption by consensus; however, we are not ready to do so at any price. I ask members to vote in favour of the draft resolution. Despite what some delegations will say later on, it is a constructive and forward-looking draft.”

Despite Germany’s professed streamlining efforts, the draft resolution remained a fifteen-page document with nineteen preambular and sixty-eight operative paragraphs. Resolution 75/90 was adopted by 130 votes to one, with three abstentions. Unlike in the previous two years, the Russian Federation no longer abstained, but voted against the resolution. The Russian representative explained that her country’s vote was due to Germany’s “unconstructive position”. She stated:

“Regrettably, for the third year in a row, during the consultations prior to the adoption of resolution 75/90 […] we observed the brazen disregard of the facilitators for the concerns of the States of the region and the repeated attempts by certain delegations to impose a view of the situation that was out of touch with reality. […]

We are convinced that Member States would have been fully able to reach consensus while negotiating the draft resolution if the process had been transparent and objective and if the facilitators had been impartial. However, the working methods used by the German delegation are beneath all criticism. What we saw was the imposition of a pre-established and biased approach favouring one group of States that blatantly ignored the proposals supported by the majority of the States of the region, together with a forced vote on a document that clearly does not enjoy consensus. […]

We are moreover of the view that Berlin should no longer fulfil the role of facilitator for Afghanistan in the General Assembly. It is clear that its methods negatively affect progress in resolving the issues facing Afghanistan. […] Our vote against the draft resolution should be understood exclusively as an objection to the actions and working methods of the facilitators.”

Russia was not alone in its criticism of Germany’s handling of the consultations on the text of resolution 75/90. China abstained on the resolution to show its unhappiness with the German approach. The Chinese representative stated:

“The facilitator ended the consultations too early, against the counsel of the various parties, which led to the text being put to a vote. China finds that deeply regrettable. The facilitator and a few countries also refused to retain the consensus language […], which is not a constructive approach. For those reasons, China had no choice but to abstain in the voting on the draft resolution. We hope that in future the facilitator will communicate with Member States in a more responsible and constructive manner and fully respect the legitimate concerns of all parties in the interest of unity among Member States.”

But it was not just Russia and China that were unhappy with the facilitator. Pakistan and, perhaps surprisingly, the United States were also critical of Germany, with the latter accusing the German delegation of working on “autopilot” when assessing the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Heusgen criticised Russia for voting against the resolution, accusing it of not standing behind the Afghan people and letting them down. However, with hindsight, Russia’s criticism that Germany’s view of the situation in Afghanistan was out of touch with reality unfortunately proved correct.

Category: United Nations

DOI: 10.17176/20220627-172643-0

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  • Stefan Talmon

    Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, and Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and practices as a Barrister from Twenty Essex, London. He is the editor of GPIL.

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