An Afghan vision for Afghanistan: a civil society workshop

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear participants,


As winter arrived in Kabul – and we know how harsh it can be - let me start by saying that my heart and my mind are with the Afghan people who live in dire conditions.


And particularly with the part of humanity, half of humanity, that has been erased from public life in Afghanistan.


For all of you who represent Afghan civil society, I would like to express my gratitude for having undertaken the journey to Brussels, despite the challenges some of you might have faced.


I warmly welcome the organization of this workshop in Brussels. I am very glad and honored to have the opportunity to attend one of the panels and to launch an open discussion with you.


As a former journalist and documentary filmmaker, I have been to Afghanistan several times. My meetings, exchanges, and in particular the resulting documentary-film "Women's Choice", have allowed me to understand even better the history of the country and its complex reality.  


I also take the opportunity to thank the European Institute of Peace for organizing this workshop. I have decided to grant core funding to the EIP, because its action mirrors closely the foreign policy priorities of Belgium. The Institute has a strong profile and experience in bringing parties in conflict zones together. Through its work,  the EIP makes valuable contributions to achieving lasting peace, with particular attention to minority groups and to human security.


Your presence here today, is testimony to the importance both the Institute and Belgium attach to your impressive and necessary daily commitment for the rule of law and for human rights, in particular the rights of women and girls, in conditions which we know are extremely difficult.


Belgium is alarmed by the measures taken by the Taliban that progressively erase women and girls from public life. The suspension of girls’ secondary education, barriers to employment, the total lack of opportunities to participate in political and public life and the limits to their freedom of movement, association and expression have devastating effects on the daily lives of women and girls.


The rule of law doesn’t exist anymore, and neither is the judicial system. We have witnessed with growing preoccupation public 

executions and public floggings.

Journalists, Human Rights defenders and civil society as a whole operate in a very restrictive environment. Belgium is also extremely concerned about the deterioration of the economic situation and the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan.


Since more than 20 years, the EU has been the biggest humanitarian contributor to Afghanistan. Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the European Union has shown solidarity with the people of Afghanistan. Since then, the combined EU and Member States’ support to addressing basic needs of Afghans in the country and the region is estimated at around 1.6 billion euro. The EU Delegation’s presence in Kabul also demonstrates the EU’s strong commitment to support the Afghan population.


Beside our contribution through EU funds, Belgium is also a major contributor to the core funding of many UN agencies and organizations. Given the exceptional nature of the situation, Belgium contributed an additional 3 million EUR to the "Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund" in March 2022.


Through a dedicated financial support to UN Women, Belgium is also contributing to the resilience of Afghan women.

I have also decided to support directly civil society organizations.


Since the beginning of this year, Belgium has been funding shelter houses for women’s rights defenders in Afghanistan. This project offers to safe houses, one in Mazar-i-Sharif, one in Kabul, where women activists and their families can find a refuge if they are under attack and where they can start a project of relocation.


Besides, Belgium is supporting Afghan media outlets by funding independent networks of journalists within the country. But this project also intends to resonate the voice of the Afghan people through partnerships with media outlets in Europe. 


As developments on the ground remain particularly worrying, it is also crucial that the situation in Afghanistan remains high on the international political agenda.


In that perspective, Belgium continues to support the European approach. As you know, the EU and its member states' operational engagement with the Taliban is carefully calibrated to their policy and actions. This will not bestow any legitimacy, and it will be assessed against five benchmarks, which you all know:


a. free passage for national foreigners and for eligible Afghans,

b. unhindered humanitarian access,

c. establishment of an inclusive and representative government,

d. respect for human rights (in particular women’s and girls’ rights) and

e. ceasing of all ties with terrorists groups.


Our relationship with the Taliban is thus still conditioned by their actions and positive measures, not by their words. This way, we continue to exert political pressure on the Taliban.


And let’s be honest, the situation we face is very frustrating. For the time being, however, given the evolution of the ground, it is impossible to resume relations with the regime. I have said in the past that I intend to use all the foreign policy tools at my disposal to change the situation in Afghanistan and we will continue to do so.  


Belgium contributes to that aim by tackling this issue in bilateral contacts with other countries, within the European Union and in the multilateral fora. For instance, since the Taliban seizure of power, our country has supported the creation and extension of the mandate of Richard BENNETT, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.


Belgium has actively advocated for the strongest possible wording on the human rights of women and girls in resolutions on Afghanistan, in particular on the right to education and the children’s rights dimension.


Despite our efforts, we must nevertheless acknowledge that our strategy is not effective. We need to keep engaged with Afghanistan and collectively analyse what our policy options are.


In this difficult context, I see this workshop as a major opportunity to listen to your analysis and concerns. For the time being, Belgium has no longer an official presence in Afghanistan. I am therefore keen to listen to you in order to better understand the challenges you face and to identify the best ways to support you and the Afghan people.


This workshop is also important to amplify the voice of Afghan civil society in Brussels and to open a space for dialogue between Afghan civil society and the international community.


We will be most interested in hearing your views and perspectives for the future of Afghanistan and International Community’s engagement.


I wish you fruitful exchanges and I thank you in advance for your contributions.