South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, expresses concern over the US government’s decision to dispense $7 billion in Afghan assets, now frozen in the United States (US)., to be used for humanitarian aid for Afghanistan and a fund for Sept. 11 victims.
The US President, Joe Biden, on 11 February 2022 invoked emergency powers dispense Afghanistan’s $7 billion in foreign currency reserves in the US, amidst calls for the money to be used to address the deepening economic crisis in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power last year. It was stated that $3.5 billion will be released to a trust fund for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and the other $3.5 billion to families of victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Reportedly, although the UN has urged the United States and the other countries to expand the volume of aid drastically, the relevant governments face the dilemma of providing aid due to the Taliban in power which they still have not recognised as a legitimate government. Thus, in their opinion, responding to the call of aid prudently will be an effective way to influence the Taliban’s behavior. At the same time, SAHR learns that even if the US government transfers the $3.5 billion into a humanitarian trust fund, the prevailing restriction on Afghanistan’s banking sector at present makes it virtually impossible to send or spend the money inside the country.
The frozen reserves of Afghanistan entail currency, bonds, and gold and mostly comes from foreign exchange funds that accumulated over the past two decades when western aid flowed into Afghanistan – and the savings of ordinary Afghans. The US government’s decision will result in the collapse of Afghanistan’s already strained banking system into a system failure. Therefore, SAHR questions the US government of the legitimacy of its decision in dispensing Afghanistan’s sovereign wealth to fulfill its own obligations.
Three-quarters of Afghanistan’s population has plunged into acute poverty, with 4.7 million people likely to suffer severe malnutrition and the country could approach a “near-universal” poverty rate of 97% by mid 2022, according to the United Nations (UN). The economic challenges;also have further exacerbated. People are already suffering under the current restrictions on Afghanistan’s banking system and the increased violence, repression, and restrictions on women and girls’ basic rights imposed by the Taliban. SAHR urges the UN, the relevant governments, and aid groups to immediately address the basic needs of the people of Afghanistan to avoid further deterioration of the humanitarian situation. It also recommends the importance of collaborating with the civil society of Afghanistan who have been continuously working to alleviate the suffering faced by the citizens.
While recognising that it is an obligation of the Biden administration to address the grievances of the 9/11 victims, SAHR firmly urges it to immediately reverse its decision to use the frozen funds of Afghanistan on the victims of 9/11.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights,
Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy
Dr. Roshmi Goswami