By Emanuele Giordana
“Immediate action is needed to prevent further damage and escalation of the disaster in Afghanistan, where poverty has reached unprecedented levels since the financial reserves were frozen in US and European banks last August”. This is the urgent appeal that was launched yesterday by the advocacy group United against Inhumanity (Uai). The Open Letter, signed by more than 50 individuals long linked to the events in Afghanistan (from former UN members Philip Alston and Carol Bellamy, to Italian MP Laura Boldrini) was sent to President Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Prime Ministers Mario Draghi and Boris Johnson of Italy and the UK.
The people’s money
The sum in question is just over 9 billion dollars, mostly frozen in American banks (but also in European and Arab financial institutions) blocked after the fall of Kabul on 15 August 2021. In detail, seven billion dollars have been frozen in the USA and another two billion frozen elsewhere, while the “physical” cash, printed on the orders of the Afghan Central Bank, is also frozen in Poland. On 11 February, President Joe Biden signed an executive order breaking the assets frozen in America in two: part of the money – 3.5 billion, which should be entrusted to a Trust Fund, also managed by the US Treasury – would return to Afghanistan but not to the coffers of the regime that won the war, if anything conditional on compliance with certain points decided by Washington. The other 3.5 billion will remain frozen while waiting for the American judiciary to decide on the request of 150 relatives of the victims of September 11 (an attack to which the Afghans have no connection) who want that money to repay them for their suffering.
“There is a dramatic need to reverse the policies that have plunged Afghanistan into a catastrophic downward spiral that has crushed the economy, impoverished huge segments of the population, pushed a quarter of the population to the brink of starvation and called into question the survival of millions of their own,” says Uai, which has launched a petition (which you can sign here) for all citizens outraged by the decision to freeze billions of dollars of Afghan financial assets in US and European banks to show their indignation.
The freezing of these assets, which legally belong to the Afghan people and are the property of the Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) – the central bank of Afghanistan – means that the Afghani (the Afghan currency) has collapsed under the weight of an inflation on which no action can be taken due to a lack of liquidity: a staggering inflation that has already led to a rise in the price of basic products such as food and fuel. American and European politicians, the advocacy group argues, must take the ethical and life-saving decision to stop punishing Afghan citizens.
The end of the war and the victims
Meanwhile, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Monday in Geneva that from 15 August 2021 to 15 February 2022 the UNAMA (the UN mission in Kabul) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have documented at least 1,153 civilian casualties, including 397 deaths in Afghanistan. “Although the decline in hostilities has seen a sharp drop in civilian casualties, the human rights situation for many Afghans is of deep concern,” Bachelet said. “Several suicide and non-suicide attacks have been perpetrated by the ISKP (the Islamic State’s rib in the country ed.) against Shia Muslims, mostly from the Hazara ethnic group.” She added that more than “50 extrajudicial killings” of individuals have also been recorded, including cases of beheadings in the eastern province of Nangarhar with bodies left in public areas.
Cover image: Afghani currency