Coronavirus: Meet the Afghan female ambassador forging global unity on Covid-19

Adela Raz tells 'The National' that calls for a global ceasefire are timely and vital

RX6BEM United Nations, New York, USA, March 08, 2019 - Ambassador Adela Raz is the new Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the First Women to have that post. Ambassador Adela Raz Presented her Credential to Secretary General Antonio Guterres today at the UN Headquarters in New York. Photo: Luiz Rampelotto/EuropaNewswire | usage worldwide
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In the short time that Adela Raz has been Afghanistan’s ambassador at the United Nations, she has made her mark on the world body.

Less than a year after arriving in New York as the representative of the central Asian country, she has been appointed by the president of the General Assembly as one of two ambassadors spearheading the efforts to speak with a single voice on Covid-19.

As she works to liaise with the near 200 delegates to the UN, wave after wave of developments in her own country are shaping her work. Last week’s attack on the Kabul maternity hospital; the deal on a new government; the Trump administration’s talks on its commitment to Afghanistan; and the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban.

There is no roadmap for the work that Ms Raz and the Croatian ambassador, Ivan Simonovic, are doing to co-ordinate the General Assembly response to the pandemic.

Following recommendations of the member states they are pursuing an“omnibus” resolution. Their work to pull together the views of the member states into one comprehensive statement is being closely watched for a signal of global unity and purpose.

"A lot of people look to the UN as one body and having one initiative that includes different elements would be the best way to move forward," she tells The National, via Zoom from her New York offices.

For Ms Raz, Afghanistan provides the counter-point to disillusionment with multi-literalism. “We all came together,” she observes of the past two decades. “Everybody put their hands together to work effectively in Afghanistan. In multiple layers, there has been tremendous progress being made.

"Multi-lateralism is truly working, whatever you think, and we are an example of it.”

The coronavirus outbreak provides many of the same lessons that can be drawn from the response to the rise of terrorism as a worldwide phenomenon.

“When Afghans are fighting terror in Afghanistan, we are fighting for all of us; we are fighting globally,” she said. “A health crisis could be the same as a security crisis, if it happens in one country, it could happen in another.”

Being far away from the city she grew up in provides no buffer to the impact of developments like the deaths of 24 people, including 15 women who had just given birth, in the Kabul hospital.

“The recent incidents were something I had never experienced,” she said. “I simply had no way of coping. I couldn’t sleep yet I was ambassador of my country, somebody handling Covid-19 and in meetings not related to what happened in Afghanistan.”

Ms Raz, moving to secure a UN Security Council statement, sought to lay down an important marker. “It’s so hard to think a statement could make a difference or not,” she said. “I had a greater determination that the Secretary General’s [global humanitarian ceasefire] call would be reflected in the resolution, because this is not a myth: this is a reality. People are dying.”

As diplomats make preparations for the first talks between the Afghan state and the Taliban, Ms Raz sees the UN as guarantor of the rights won since the movement was deposed in 2001. “We are prepared but I just don’t see a similar commitment from the Taliban side — there has been an increase in attacks by the Taliban on civilians and the Afghan security forces.”

For a perspective on the future for Afghanistan, Ms Raz relates her thoughts about a recent visit to the United Arab Emirates. “I am inspired by the women of the UAE, who are absolutely respectful of our religion and have broken every single stereotype surrounding Muslim women,” she said. “They have advanced in technology, science and aerospace - and that’s where we all should be.”

As work starts on a General Assembly resolution, Ms Raz wants to see it adopted by early summer. She plans to ensure that the views of those from conflict zones and now facing the threat of the coronavirus can be incorporated in the process.

Support for the Secretary General's call for a global ceasefire, if endorsed by the states, "can help the most vulnerable as soon as possible”.