Afghanistan loses UN voting rights over unpaid $900k membership fees

Afghanistan can no longer vote at the United Nations as a result of a dispute over $900,000 (£710,000) in membership dues that have gone unpaid since the Taliban stormed back to power in August 2021.

The Afghan delegation at the UN is a holdover from the Western-backed Ashraf Ghani administration which was toppled by the Taliban. The UN does not recognise the Taliban government in Kabul.

This means the Afghan delegation cannot vote on General Assembly resolutions until the payment is made, or the UN accepts that the situation amounts to special circumstances.

Speaking to The Independent, the Afghan delegation’s head Naseer Ahmad Faiq said he hoped the suspension of voting rights could be resolved without having to stump up the missing $900,000.

“It is a technical, and more so, a general rule for all member states, according to Article 19 of the UN Charter, that member states running behind on financial contributions to the organisation cannot vote in UNGA if the amount owed is equal to or more than the contributions for the previous two years,” he said.

If the delegation can explain that the non-payment of its dues is beyond its control because of the absence of a legitimate authority at home, and thus constitutes a special circumstance, the UN would refer the issue to its Committee on Contributions, which looks after expenses paid by member states.

The committee is expected to meet next month and could make a decision on the restoration of the Afghan delegation’s voting rights by October, Mr Faiq said.

If the committee decides in the delegation’s favour, its voting rights could be restored by the end of the year through a UN resolution.

In the meantime, Mr Faiq said, “Afghanistan can still participate, can still talk at the table”.

The Comoros, Ecuador, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia, and Venezuela have also fallen behind on payment of their UN dues. But the Comoros, Ecuador and Somalia have explained their inability to pay and have thus been exempted from a suspension of their voting rights.

The Afghan delegation’s explanations so far this year have been deemed “inadequate” by the UN, however.

Afghanistan, like other UN member states, is required to contribute to the organisation’s annual budget. Kabul’s dues are approximately $200,000 a year in membership fees as well as other small payments, and are supposed to be paid at the start of the year. The dues have gone unpaid since before the Taliban returned to power in 2021.

The development comes at a time when the Taliban is desperate for international recognition of its regime in Kabul, and therefore begs the question – could the Taliban get a seat at the UN table if they were the ones to make the outstanding payment?

“On balance, and based on the body of UN resolutions and repeated calls by member states for an inclusive government and respect for human rights, especially those of women and girls, it could be surmised that it’s because states do not consider the Emirate [the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s name for the country] legitimate that they have rebuffed its attempts to be recognised and admitted to the United Nations,” Thomas Ruttig, co-founder of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, said last December.

On Friday, former vice president Amrullah Saleh offered to clear the unpaid dues to restore the Afghan delegation’s voting rights.

“The suspension of Afghanistan’s right to vote in the United Nations has nothing to do with not paying our country’s membership fee. If so I am ready, I will pay the past indebtedness and membership fee for the next three years,” he said.

It’s not clear, however, if an individual like Mr Saleh would be allowed to settle a country’s dues.

This article was amended on 22 May 2024. It originally stated that Afghanistan owed $9m in outstanding fees to the UN, but that was inaccurate. The correct figure is $900,000.