Afghanistan: Press briefing by Ariane Quentier, Senior Public Information Officer and UN agencies in Afghanistan 1 May 2005
We have a number of guest speakers today. Shiba Phurailatpam is from the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) 'We Care Initiative'. The 'We Care Initiative' is a global programme that offers HIV and AIDS awareness workshops, and provides information about the virus, methods of protection, treatment options and general advice.
Also with us today is Bronwyn Curran, the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) International Spokesperson. She will speak about the Candidate Nomination process which started yesterday.
Edward Carwardine, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Communication Officer, will be briefing on the new Juvenile Code just adopted by the Afghan government.
And finally, Richard Provencher, UNAMA Public Information Officer will talk about the recent United Nations Inter-Agency Games held in Greece. He was a member of the 24-strong entourage and will also be joined by Sayed Saddat, a member of the silver medal winning volleyball team.
May 3rd: World Press Freedom Day
Every year, May 3rd is dedicated to World Press Freedom Day. It is an opportunity to remind the world of the importance of protecting freedom of expression and freedom of the press, as stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This year the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is paying tribute to the critical role played by the media in promoting democracy and good governance by choosing 'Media and Good Governance' as the key theme for this year's celebration.
In Afghanistan, UNESCO has had a role to play in the development of Afghan media. It helped in the re-launching of the Kabul Weekly, the first independent publication to become visible in the country since the fall of the Taliban. It has also provided training to journalists and technical media staff, including those of national television, helped to build the Afghan News Agency and provided support for Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA) and Educational Radio and Television (ERTV) productions and co-productions.
In his message to mark the occasion, the Director-General of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, said in Paris: "independent, free and pluralistic media have a crucial role to play in the good governance of democratic societies, by ensuring transparency and accountability, promoting participation and the rule of law, and contributing to the fight against poverty".
In his annual address, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed that "according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 56 journalists were killed in the line of duty in 2004. Another 19 remain missing and are feared to be dead, and some 124 were imprisoned. On World Press Freedom Day, therefore, we pay tribute to those who have fallen victim to the perils of their calling. Censorship, the suppression of information, intimidation and interference are a denial of democracy, an obstacle to development, and a threat to the security of all".
Click here to read the full statements from the UNESCO Director-General and the Secretary-General.
For information on activities in Afghanistan on May 3rd please visit www.unesco.org.
DDR programme nearing 49,000 mark
Close to 49,000 former Afghan Military Forces (AMF) personnel have disarmed. As of today the exact figure stands at 48,933. Of that figure, 44,600 are benefiting from the reintegration package that is helping them return to civilian life and contribute to Afghanistan's recovery.
Meanwhile last Tuesday (April 26th) a ceremony was held at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to reward commanders who have been in support of the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programme. At the ceremony, certificates were distributed to the commanders as well as their first monthly stipend, paid for by Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme (ANBP).
The ANBP, in partnership with the MoD, as well as the international community, is offering this financial package to AMF commanders and senior officers whose military units have been decommissioned and who have shown their full support for the DDR process.
The ceremony was attended by the Japanese Ambassador, Norihiro Okuda, the Deputy Minister of Defence, Dr. Mohammad Yousaf Nooristani, UNAMA Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for Afghanistan (D-SRSG) Filippo Grandi, and Peter Babbington, ANBP's acting Director among a list of many.
There is no change in the number of heavy weapons collected. To date, 8,935 working or repairable heavy weapons have been collected and secured in guarded compounds throughout the country.
Flood training at provincial level
The Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA) training workshop on how to assess flood damage and the need for assistance, has now been held in all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.
More than 900 people from provincial and district governments, national and international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and civil society groups, have now been trained, with an average of around 30 participants from each province.
As mentioned in previous briefings, the RDNA training provides a system of uniform reporting of flood incidents, so inaccurate information leading to problems in the coordination of flood response can be eliminated. Areas covered include how to collect information and how to channel and report the information to the relevant response units.
UNDP leadership development strategy aims to address gaps at senior management level
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with support from the Government of Australia, has begun the implementation of a leadership development strategy to support the Independent Afghan Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission (IARCSC).
The project, which aims to identify and address gaps in leadership at the senior management level of the Afghan civil service, offers development training including career development and external development training programmes.
The total budget for project implementation is US$ 3,359,435 - UNDP has contributed US$ 450,000, while the Government of Australia has committed approximately US$ 750,000.
The leadership development strategy is a component of the larger UNDP project 'Support to IARCSC - Training and Development', which has been applied by the IARCSC across the country in a series of regional trainings.
The IARCSC is the Afghan institution responsible for strengthening the machinery of government. It is hoped that by strengthening civil service leadership, the IARCSC will establish a civil service that can effectively implement the government's vision for national reconstruction and development, nurture a new public administration, and facilitate better cooperation between ministries.
NDI continues training in lead up to elections
The National Democratic Institute (NDI) has been very busy in the lead up to the September 18th parliamentary elections in holding roundtables, seminars and training for candidates.
Recently NDI has begun hosting a series of community roundtables in its regional centres. This initiative is aimed at increasing public focus on a variety of topics related to democratic development and the upcoming elections. Last week the office in Herat hosted a discussion entitled "Defining Democracy" which featured 34 participants from the local community Shura, mullahs, women's groups, representatives of the education sector, as well as several party leaders. The next roundtable is taking place this week in Jalalabad (day to be confirmed) and is entitled "Defining Free and Fair Elections".
NDI is also continuing delivery of the third training module, focusing on political party organization and management through its regional centres. This is expected to continue until the middle of the month of May, depending on demand from the regional party branches.
NDI will also offer media training to political parties in the course of this month and has held information sessions on this subject in the last weeks. Basic media training will be offered at the regional centres. They will introduce parties and independent candidates to the basics of media relations during a campaign. In addition, a more advanced course will be offered to the communications and media directors of political parties at NDI's Kabul centre, aimed at developing a long term communications capacity for parties, with an emphasis on both developing internal communications structures as well as coordinating the national media effort for the party.
For more information, contact NDI Director Peter Dimitroff at 070 277 717.
FAO Director-General visits Kabul
Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), visited Afghanistan last Wednesday and Thursday.
During his visit, Dr. Diouf met President Karzai, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Agriculture and the National Security Advisor, as well as the Special Representative of the Secretary General Jean Arnault, and donor representatives.
The main purpose of Dr. Diouf's visit was to discuss the way forward in addressing the needs of the farmers and herders communities in Afghanistan, and the critical issues of food security, alternative livelihoods, and forestry.
FAO begins distribution of 14,000 grain silos
The Emergency and Rehabilitation Unit of the FAO in Afghanistan, with funding from the Government of Germany, has started the distribution of 14,000 small metallic silo grain storage containers to farmers in nine provinces of Afghanistan.
The silos, which will range from 120 to 1,800kg grain storage capacity, will be given to individual farmers, farmers' groups and co-operatives throughout the country. The aim is to help reduce post-harvest losses, improve grain quality, and increase the income of farmers by allowing them to sell grain during the off-season when prices are more favourable, and enhance household food security.
The project will also rehabilitate or construct ten community storage warehouses in the major grain producing provinces of Afghanistan this year. The FAO silo project will finally train about 220 tinsmiths and technicians in the country in the next few weeks, in an effort to build local capacity and improve the quality of local silo production.
For further details on this project, please click here to access the FAO press release.
Shiba Phurailatpam, UNDP Advisor, "We Care Initiative"
Around 50 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS across the globe. So far 7.5 million people are living with the virus in Asia and the Pacific. When we talk about the HIV/AIDS scenario in Afghanistan we, so far, have found very little numbers. According to statistics from the National Blood Bank [in Afghanistan] 36 people have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS out of 3000 that have been tested.
At the same time we look at the availability of the testing centres in Afghanistan. There are very few and the knowledge of HIV/AIDS in the community and amongst the public is minimal. In addition, the refugees and returnees from other countries also put the Afghan population as a whole at high risk. So the opportunity is right to be addressing this issue immediately. Yesterday, while talking to some of the UNDP staff, even the knowledge within the UN system, the public in general, is almost nil. The purpose of our visit in this country is to set up a programme for this country and for the UN staff members.
Overturning the infection rate of HIV/AIDS across the world by 2005 is one of the UN Millennium Development Goals, but if we do not address these issues right now, we might not be able to reduce turn this infection rate.
While we are also trying to overcome this massive problem of poverty, while trying to reconstruct other issues in this country, we often forget the issue of HIV/AIDS and we all know that we have a lot of mobility in this country with also a massive problem of drug usage in this country.
At the end of the day, those people who belong to those groups are also living in the same community as we are. We need to start thinking how they relate to us, and how may check the infection rate in this community as well.
Eddie Carwardine, UNICEF Communication Officer
UNICEF today is welcoming the adoption of a new juvenile code, by the government of Afghanistan, declaring the new legislation to be a fundamental building block for the protection of children in this country.
The new juvenile code which was formally adopted by the Afghan cabinet in February of this year, but was only published this week in the Gazette - the official government publication that announces new or revised legislation - is a key step in reforming the legal system as it affects children. It provides for measures applicable to children in conflict with the law, children at risk and children in need of care and protection, whilst safeguarding children's rights during investigations and trial.
One key provision in the new juvenile code is the increase in the age of criminal responsibility from seven years to twelve years, as well as recognizing the definition of a child, as being anyone under the age of 18 years. The code also introduces important protection for children being processed by the law, including the speeding up of criminal cases involving children. Under the new legislation no child can be held without trial for more than 2 months. And children awaiting trial will be held, whenever possible, in the care of their families or guardians rather than in detention.
The new code provides a broader range of measures of children convicted of crimes, including official cautions and probation as an alternative to custodial punishments. UNICEF, with the financial support of the Italian government, and alongside other partners, is supporting the Afghan government and the judiciary in the reform of juvenile justice to ensure that children at risk, children living in difficult circumstances, or children that are in conflict with the law, have their rights fully supported and fully respected, in line with Afghan legislation and internationally recognized standards.
Please click here to read the English and Dari press releases.
Bronwyn Curran, JEMB International Spokesperson
The Candidate Nomination process for Wolesi Jirga and Provincial Council elections is under way. All our offices opened yesterday in every provincial capital. We have had reports coming in from our offices across the country of hundreds of people turning up to collect information kits on how to apply to run as a candidate.
On the first day 26 people nationwide including six women applied to run as Candidates for the Wolesi Jirga elections. Five people, all men, applied to run in the Provincial council elections. The JEMB is very pleased with the level of interest already visible on the first day. This process is one of the most important phases in the lead-up to the elections on September 18th.
Afghans who wish to run as candidates and represent their people in the Wolesi Jirga or Provincial Councils should start gathering their supporters now. They will need to present the details of 300 supporters, including their Voter ID numbers, names and signatures, if they wish to run for the Wolesi Jirga, and 200 supporters if they wish to contest the Provincial Council elections. They have until May 19th to process their applications, so these coming three weeks are very crucial for those wishing to contest the elections.
The start of the Candidate Nomination process caps a very significant week in which we saw a new Electoral Law enacted by Presidential Decree and the distribution of seats among the provinces for the Wolesi Jirga and Provincial Councils.
For further information on the Candidate Nomination Process and Seat Distribution please click here.
Richard Provencher, UNAMA Public Information Officer
Last Tuesday, April 24th United Nations staff members, consisting of 18 Afghans and six internationals from various agencies in the country, returned from Crete, Greece where they had participated in the 33rd UN Inter-Agency Games. The games, which were hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO), ran from April 21st to 25th.
The athletes participated in six disciplines; football, volleyball, swimming, tennis, table tennis, and chess and returned with a silver medal in volleyball, a bronze in football and a bronze in team swimming.
The UN Inter-Agency Games began in 1968 with the purpose of enabling United Nations staff members to know each other through sports meetings and thereby improve their mutual understanding, working relations and camaraderie. However this is the first time staff from the mission in Afghanistan participated. For most of the Afghan athletes this also marked the first time they had traveled abroad. Everyone who attended had a fabulous time and truly enjoyed the experience. I was part of the entourage and can tell you first hand they were extremely well received by the other athletes. Also
with us today is a member of the volleyball team, Sayed Saddat, to talk about his experience.
Sayed Saddat, member of UNAMA volleyball team: Good morning ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to say a few words. It was a big honour for me to be one of the participants in the UN Inter-Agency Games. We went there for the first time in 33 years and we are very happy that the team was able to participate in the Inter-Agency Games. We are very happy that the administration, the organizers supported us and made it possible for us to go there. The team was participating for the first time and brought back some medals. It was a big honour for me. Thank you very much.
Questions & Answers:
Question: Who is going to replace Cherif Bassiouni? Is UNAMA worried that the allegations of human rights abuses in Coalition detention centres might not be properly investigated? Was Cherif Bassiouni's mandate not extended as a result of US pressure?
Senior Public Information Officer: As you know, Cherif Bassiouni was appointed by the Secretary General Kofi Annan as the Independent Expert on Human Rights in Afghanistan for a limited period of time - 2 years - with a mandate to be or not to be renewed. As the Commission on Human Rights was meeting his mandate was coming to an end, and his mandate has not been renewed. The general assessment of the situation by the members of the Commission on Human rights, which are member states, was that they did not need someone specifically for Afghanistan, and that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) has the capacity to investigate and monitor human rights in Afghanistan. This has not been a UNAMA decision. It is a decision that has been taken in Geneva by the member states of the Commission on Human Rights, bearing in mind that member states feel very confident that Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, - and her office - will be in a position to continue the work of Professor Bassiouni.
Question: Have you started work on assessing the number of people in the sex trade in Afghanistan?
Shiba Phurailatpam, UNDP Advisor: We do not really know and we do not really have data or statistics on the sexual workers community in this country. A few days ago I was talking to the staff members of an NGO which has been working in Afghanistan for quite some time. They had just finished a survey which looked at the rates involved in the community and 125 sex workers were interviewed. None of them had used any form of protection whilst performing their business. We still do not know the infection rate or have statistics amongst the sex workers community in this country. But if we look at risks, there is no form of training programmes, so you can imagine how risky it is.
Question: Would it be possible to do an education campaign considering this is an Islamic country?
Shiba Phurailatpam, UNDP Advisor: Yes it is possible. But we need to recognize the low status of women in this country - as in many other countries. The conservatives are not willing to talk about this disease. When we talk about this disease there are so many behaviours which we do not often discuss. When we talk about these issues we try to design it in a way that it is suitable for a female audience. So even for UN staff members we will organize the programme separately - for female workers and for male workers as well. It is possible and we need to start it very soon and the UNDP office will start it very soon as well.