How International Law Has Once Again Failed Afghanistan
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How International Law Has Once Again Failed Afghanistan

This week, the world continues to watch as the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan. The Taliban’s conquest comes as Western forces leave the country after more than two decades of war in the region. This saga is heartbreaking and I encourage you to, first and foremost, read about it in the words of Afghans themselves including a number of law students who have reached out to JURIST directly to provide their stories.

At the heart of the Afghanistan conflict is a failure of international law and specifically the United Nations to ever live up to its post-World War II promises.

When the United Nations was established, it was created in the wake of the second devastating global war in less than 50 years. It was created to regulate international conduct and warfare in the hopes of never subjecting people to the horrors of World War II again. The Preamble to the UN Charter reads:

We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small…

The UN is supposed to be responsible for the prevention and regulation of war. The UN is supposed to secure the human rights of all peoples of the United Nations. The UN is responsible for the peace safety of nations “large and small.” Yet in its more than 75 years of existence, the UN has consistently failed in this mission.

The UN began its existence by allowing great nations to partition their former colonies as they saw fit with little to no regard being given to the people who lived there. The UN has allowed any number of wars, genocides, and human rights atrocities to take place with little success in curbing any of these even with its Security Council and the strength of the 5 permanent members. But perhaps, worst of all and proving that there really is no ability to reform the inherent flaws in modern policing, the UN has allowed the 5 permanent members who were designed to be the UN’s, and indeed the world’s guardians and policemen, to play god in other countries by exploiting resources and fighting proxy wars with the peoples of the very nations they are supposed to be protecting. Nowhere will you find a better case study of this than Afghanistan itself.

Again, I will first encourage you to read these stories from the perspectives of Afghans and people of Afghan origin themselves. One such excellent example is this thread by Professor Ali A. Olomi. To paraphrase Professor Olomi’s thread briefly: over the last 50 years, both the US and Russia have meddled in Afghanistan to the detriment of people living there. Both have gone so far as to smuggle weapons and indeed even invade with troops in order to establish regimes friendly to their ideologies and strategic military objectives. The weapons manuals used by the US to train the mujahideen to fight the Russians are the same manuals that were being used throughout the war on terror to train insurgents to fight Americans with the only change being to literally cross out “Russian” and write “American” as the targets.

In the post-World War II era, the United Nations had a duty to the people of Afghanistan. They had a duty to protect those people from the horrors of war. They had a duty to protect the relatively small nation of Afghanistan from being the plaything of superpowers who are used to carrying out their own petty proxy wars. They had a duty to secure the human rights of the men and women of Afghanistan and allow the nation to choose its own destiny as a member nation of the world. Instead, as always, the UN has remained impotent throughout this process and it will remain so as long as the 5 permanent member nations (US, UK, France, China, and Russia) are allowed to flout international law and rule the world as they see fit.

For now, donate to Afghan relief organizations. Welcome the people of Afghanistan being repatriated to the US into your homes and business and neighborhoods. And call on your leaders to rethink the UN and rethink world peace and rethink the things we allow large nations to do to small before we have to bear witness to another nation suffering the way that Afghanistan is still suffering today.


Tim Zubizarreta is a former JURIST Managing Editor and a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He is interested in international law, technology, and policy.


Suggested citation: Tim Zubizarreta, How International Law Has Once Again Failed Afghanistan, JURIST – Professional Commentary, August 25, 2021,

This article was prepared for publication by Sambhav Sharma, a JURIST Staff Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to him at

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.