Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Work of Front Line Defenders in Afghanistan: Discussion
I thank the guests for attending. It is not easy to come in and tell the stories they had to tell. I will deal first with Afghanistan. There are a couple of issues with it. One is that we have had many statements from sources like the UN Security Council expressing concern for women and girls. These are words. Words mean nothing, at the end of the day. There are thousands of young girls who started to experience education for the first time in their lives and that has now been taken away. That is a matter of grave concern to me. I ask Hassan, if he will forgive me for using his first name, what else we can do apart from use words. The countries with troops stationed in Afghanistan ran out of the place in such a panic they left armaments and infrastructure behind them and left women and girls, in particular, to the mercy of the Taliban who clearly have no regard whatever for females. What practical steps should the UN Security Council take when it comes to the plight of women and girls?
During the final hours of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, a young lady who had been working in a particular public area - I do not want to say where because there are always people watching what we say here and I do not want to expose her - who was deeply concerned. She had assisted a foreign force or government as a worker and wanted to get out of the country. She latched onto me via my social media account because she thought I was a United States Senator. I had an engagement with her for a few days. I have not heard anything in recent weeks. Her concern was that she had all the credentials allowing her to be withdrawn from Afghanistan for her own safety. She claimed, and I have nothing to prove or disprove this but I have to put it out here, the Taliban was actively involved in forging documents to get its members out of the country and into western democracies. If that is true, it is a serious security issue for every country that has accepted Afghanis. I am interested in Mr. Faiz's views on that. Is it likely that this has happened? If so, does he have any ideas on how we might try to rectify what went wrong there?
Does Mr. Faiz see a role for UN troops in Afghanistan? Could we, for example, set up enclaves under UN flags to allow girls to return to education? One doctor contacted me and told me she was not allowed to practise without a male member of her family being with her at all times. Apart from anything else, I cannot understand how she would be able to interact with a woman if she has to have a male member of her family with her all the time. That is a matter of grave concern to me.
The story Ms Foley and Mr. Anderson told of Colombia is in stark contrast to the official story from that country. The video was quite telling. I agree with the Chairman - I know he will rapidly follow up on what he said - that we should get the ambassador before the committee fairly quickly to put these facts before her because they are frightening. Since Colombia has come out of a period of internal turmoil, terrorism, etc., have former terrorists integrated into the official Government of Colombia? Is there then a loose wing that has remained outside the Colombian Government and is still behaving as terrorists in the region? Are some members of the official government side, for all intents and purposes, acting without control and could they also be regarded as terrorists?
As a country emerges into a peace process, it is very difficult to get everybody on board all of the time. Is that an issue? Is it the case that the likes of Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC, are still actively recruiting combatants in the region? If so, what is the impact of that? With respect to the long-term prison referenced by Mr. Anderson, what can I say? The stories about the priests, an 84-year-old man who has been in prison for nine months and a 60-year-old man who has been in prison for ten years, are horrendous. I support the Chairman's view on the matter and I am sure the committee will do everything it can when contacting the Department on it. I thank the witnesses for their time.