UN Demands Pause in Bombing to Let Aid Reach Starving Afghans
By Kim Sengupta and Cahal Milmo
13 October 2001
Mary Robinson, the United Nations commissioner for human rights, called on Friday for a halt to Allied air strikes to allow aid to reach up to two million "desperate" civilians trapped in Afghanistan.
In the most high-profile call yet for restraint from the US-led Allies, the former Irish president said many ordinary Afghans were running out of time for aid to reach them.
The plea, made on Ireland's RTE radio, came as Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, said a quarter of Afghanistan's population of 22 million were already hungry. Both Ms Short and Mrs Robinson said the transportation of aid into Afghanistan before winter snows arrived in mid-November was now a priority.
Mrs Robinson said refugees who were trapped in outlying areas or at the Afghan border were in particular need of help. "There is a desperate situation for hundreds of thousands - perhaps up to two million - of the Afghan civilian population who desperately need food," she said. "We must have a pause in order to enable huge humanitarian access and to allow a number of Afghans to come across the borders. This is the real wish of the humanitarian agencies."
The request came as both the Ministry of Defence and the Pentagon hinted at a reduction in bombing to coincide with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on 17 November. The US did not launch any bombing raids on Friday, the Islamic holy day, but explosions were reported early on Saturday in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Mrs Robinson said there was a duty on the West, and in particular the US, to protect the human rights of Afghans if the Northern Alliance enters Kabul in its battle with the Taliban. She also underlined the need to protect civilians during the US-led raids, which Taliban leaders claim have already killed 200.
She said: "It's very important that the effective power exercised by the US also makes it clear that there must be no impunity from gross violation of human rights by the Taliban or the Northern Alliance."