Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres addresses the media as he arrives on the first day of the European Union summit at The European Council Building in Brussels, Belgium June 24, 2021. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday urged the Taliban and all other parties to exercise the utmost restraint in order to protect lives and expressed particular concern about the future of women and girls in Afghanistan.
Taliban insurgents entered Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan on Sunday, bringing the Islamist militants close to taking over the country two decades after they were overthrown by a U.S.-led invasion.
"There continue to be reports of serious human rights abuses and violations in the communities most affected by the fighting," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement, adding that Guterres "is particularly concerned about the future of women and girls, whose hard-won rights must be protected."
"All abuses must stop. He calls on the Taliban and all other parties to ensure ... the rights and freedoms of all people are respected and protected," Dujarric said.
Under Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001, women could not work, girls were not allowed to attend school and women had to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative if they wanted to venture out of their homes.
Guterres will brief the U.N. Security Council on Monday on Afghanistan. In an Aug. 3 statement, agreed by consensus, the 15 council members "declared that they do not support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate" (Taliban rule).
Afghanistan's U.N. ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, appointed last month, told Reuters on Sunday: "The message I sent to the council today is to do everything to prevent further violence and ensure an orderly transition to a transitional government."
Guterres warned on Friday that Afghanistan was "spinning out of control" and called on the Taliban to halt their offensive.
The United Nations has about 3,000 national staff and about 300 international staff on the ground in Afghanistan. On Friday, Dujarric said some staff had been relocated to Kabul but that none had been evacuated from the country.
"The United Nations remains determined to contribute to a peaceful settlement, promote the human rights of all Afghans, notably women and girls, and provide life-saving humanitarian assistance and critical support to civilians in need," Dujarric said on Sunday.
He said the need for assistance is "surging while the operating environment becomes more restricted due to the escalation of the conflict." Guterres called on all parties to ensure unimpeded humanitarian aid access.
In April, the Taliban stepped up a campaign to defeat the U.S.-backed government as foreign forces withdrew after 20 years of war. U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban from power in late 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Peter Cooney