Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 1 Aug 2004
More Than 8.6 million Afghans Registered as Voters - Over 91 Percent Of Estimated Afghan Voter Population
Just over 91 percent of the estimated voters in Afghanistan have now registered to vote. As of 29 July voter registration figures reached 8,659,772. Of that total 5,107,230 (59 percent) of registrants are men and 3,552,542 (41 percent) are women. As we continue to reiterate these figures updated to 28 July are incomplete because the figures from more remote areas take longer to reach Kabul.
28 Political Parties Registered With Ministry of Justice
We have been told that out of the 62 political parties who are seeking approval from the Ministry of Justice, 30 have now been registered. The latest additions are the Liberal Assadi Party (The Liberal Freedom Seeking Party of Afghanistan) led by Mohammad Zarif; Wahdat-e-Islami-e-Mardum Afghanistan (The Party of Islamic Unity of the People of Afghanistan) led by Mohammad Mohaqiq; and The Nohuzat-e-Milli Party (The National Movement Party) led by Wali Masoud. In addition, 13 parties have also obtained accreditation with the Secretariat of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) for electoral observation.
In A First Nangarhar Political Parties Hold Private Political Roundtable
On 28 July, the first large roundtable of the various political parties in Nangarhar was held at a private venue -- the Afghan Media Center. Some 20 political representatives and independent candidates explained their principles, goals, history and strategies. The meeting received wide media coverage that provided many of them for the first time with the opportunity to communicate their objectives to a wide media audience. The roundtable will be shown on local cable TV. The event, and the growing prominence of party activity in the eastern region would seem to indicate the environment of freedom from interference and intimidation within which parties are operating here.
Election Training And Information Centre In Jalalabad Officially Opens And Graduates First Class
Last Thursday the Election Training and Information Centre in Jalalabad official opened and graduated its first class. The Centre, funded by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has three resident staff and offers registered parties and candidates, access to a facility that provides them with training to support their party and election related activities.
The graduation was held in the presence of the Deputy Governor who addressed graduates, encouraging them to work diligently and co-operatively. Twenty persons from the National Solidarity Movement and the National UNITY Movement received certificates. They were trained by four trainers from NDI based in Kabul in a variety of skills relevant to the electoral process including framing a party platform and public speaking. The course was provided for parties engaged in the Presidential Elections. Future courses will be expanded to include those who will contest the Parliamentary Elections.
Small Grants Programme Awards 23 More Projects
I would like to tell you a bit more about the Electoral Secretariat's Small Grants Programme that by 28 July had provided US$139,453 to 243 different projects countrywide including 23 in the last week. Each project is related to the electoral process and has received an average of US$585.
Among the new projects were two in Daikundi; a concert that also shared information on the electoral process and the organization of gatherings for men and women by Green Way, a local civic organization. The sessions explained electoral issues and encouraged participation. In Balkh the Balkh-e-Bastaan Theatre and Cinema Association staged mobile theatres in four districts. The performances promoted participation in the electoral process and involved speeches by community religious leaders about Islam and elections as well as the role of the public in improving and promoting peace as well as democracy. Since February this year 80,000 Afghans have participated in these events.
Electoral Secretariat Focuses On Voting Procedures
The Electoral Secretariat is also preparing an "Election Booklet" for mass distribution. This booklet will contain illustrations to introduce some electoral concepts, such as polling sites procedures and reminders the voter registration cards are for voting vote. It will also explain the presence of observers and security at the site on polling day. The booklet will be finalized and distributed nationwide around mid August. To support the message leaflets will also be distributed which will provide information about the inking process on polling day and the different steps at a polling site. Publications will also be issued to remind all Afghans, including the disabled, to participate in the elections.
TV Takhar's Brings Political Verification Campaign to Local Residents
Television viewers in Takhar province watched a new television programme on 27 July on the political rights verification campaign. The short segment, supported by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and UNAMA and aired by TV Takhar, provided an overview of the verification campaign and advised viewers about complaints mechanisms available to voters who feel their political rights are being violated. This Government station plans to air more programmes like this in the future as well as on the electoral process.
Electoral Secretariat Staff Abducted In Ghor Province Manage To Escape
Since Thursday evening some of you have been asking about a number of incidents in Ghor Province, which at the time we could not confirm. We have since learned that they were two incidents that we can now tell you about.
On 29 July a JEMB vehicle on the way from Chaghcharan in Ghor Province towards Murghabi village in the north, was stopped at around 12:30 P.M. at a gunpoint by unknown men. The two national staff members of the Electoral Secretariat were abducted and the vehicle seized. The JEMB team later escaped and after wandering around for several hours, villagers took them to Chaghcharan. Thankfully they suffered no injuries but lost their vehicle, Thuraya phone and other communication equipment.
Today's Scheduled Disarmament In Chaghcharan Under Review Following Attack On Convoy On Thursday
The other incident in Ghor affected the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP).
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) and ANBP are currently reviewing plans to start disarmament in Chaghcharan in Ghor in light of the security incident that also occurred on Thursday (29 July). Disarmament of the 41st Division, which the government officially disbanded in June, should have started today. That start date is now under review after an Afghan National Army (ANA) convoy, including United States army trainers and an ANBP reconnaissance team, came under attack at about 2:30 p.m. 45 kilometres to the north of Chaghcharan.
The convoy was on its way to the Morghabi Valley to discuss various issues, including potential disarmament plans, with a faction that had originally been part of the 41st Division. The same faction attacked the convoy. The ANA immediately launched a quick reaction force from a contingent located at Chaghcharan while Coalition air support was called in. Two Americans and three ANA soldiers wounded in the attack were later taken to the Bagram Military Hospital near Kabul. They are in stable condition. The Afghan government has initiated an investigation into the event.
Meanwhile actual disarmament is re-starting in Mazar-e-Sharif today with personnel from the 70th Division; in Logar on Monday with the 36th Regiment; and in Kabul on Wednesday with the National Guard. Disarmament continues in Jalalabad with soldiers from the 11th Division and the 190th Artillery Regiment. Seven military units in the region have been decommissioned so far including the 84th Parachute Regiment, 9th Armored Brigade, 11th Division, 742nd Infantry Regiment, 743rd Regiment, 190th Artillery Regiment and 744th Infantry Brigade. In all, a total of 17 military units throughout Afghanistan have been decommissioned under the DDR programme. Demobilization and reintegration activities are continuing throughout eight regions in Afghanistan. The number of men who have entered the DDR programme is 12,245; 11,935 have been demobilized, and 10,380 have started or are about to begin their reintegration options.
World Bank Approves New Projects Worth US$145 Million for Afghanistan
On 29 July the World Bank approved US$145 million interest free assistance package to Afghanistan. It includes US$25 million for urban reconstruction; US$35 million for education; US$80 million to support Government's medium-term development strategy and; US$5 million for an investment guarantee initiative. There will be a joint press conference on this by the Ministries of Finance, Urban Development and Housing as well as Education and the Kabul Municipality tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. in the Conference Room of the former AACA compound.
The Urban Reconstruction Project will support reconstruction and rehabilitation in some of Kabul's most vulnerable neighborhoods. While housing across Afghanistan is great concern, Kabul faces special challenges, as it is a magnet for people returning from displacement both within and outside Afghanistan. The Education Programme will provide grants to schools for enhancement activities, including the rehabilitation of buildings. The grant will fund training opportunities for teachers, principals and administrators at district, province and central levels. It will also be used to develop capacity at the Ministry of Education for policy formulation, monitoring and evaluation.
The Support for Institution Building project will support the government's medium-term development strategy. The objectives are to deepen, broaden, and sustain reforms, particularly in public administration and fiscal management. The programme will also support improvements in the administrative capacity of ministries and sub-national governments; develop revenue policy and administration and enhance civil service effectiveness. The Afghanistan Investment Guarantee Facility will significantly encourage foreign investment in Afghanistan by providing risk insurance. It aims to encourage foreign direct investment.
Local Shura In Aqmasjed To Solve Local Dispute
In the Northeast, joint efforts by the AIHRC and UNAMA have resulted in the formation of a newly formed traditional shura to solve an on-going dispute in Aqmasjed village in Taloqan between 200 Uzbek residents and a local commander. Following the joint intervention and consultations with the shura, in a mutual agreement, the commander has decided to stop violations of the Uzbek families who are minorities in this village. This traditional shura will be meet only if and when the need arises, for example in case of any further conflict in the future. It is important to note that the disputes have been going on for many years, however the recent incidents sparked the elders of the village to ask for assistance from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and UNAMA.
UNIFEM's Roundtable on Violence Against Women
Representatives from the Ministries of Women's Affairs and Health, non-governmental organizations, experts, and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) held a roundtable on 27 July in Kabul to discuss strategies to combat violence against women in Afghanistan and promote women's human rights. The key topics included the elimination of violence against women and girls by investing in prevention, protection and advocacy strategies; and enhancing the understanding of the connection between human rights and gender issues. This gathering is part of a roundtable series that is being organized every two weeks in Kabul. The next meeting is scheduled for 17 August.
UNHCR Spokesperson, Mohammad Nader Farhad
Rate of Refugee Returns
Returns to Afghanistan continue to be strong, with thousands of refugees going back daily. The number of Afghans who have returned this year home passed the half million mark this week. We have seen over 270,000 refugees repatriate back from Iran and some 230,000 from Pakistan. Unlike the previous two years of UN-facilitated returns, more of the Afghans are coming back from Iran, with nearly 70,000 Afghans spontaneously returned since the beginning of the year.
The largest return movements are traditionally seen in the May-August period, when refugees pack up their families and return home after schools close and to help with the planting season in Afghanistan.
Since the UN's facilitated return programme began in early 2002, more than 2.1 million refugees have repatriated from Pakistan, while some 920,000 have gone back from Iran.
Afghan refugees returning under the UN initiative receive a travel grant ranging from $3 to $30 per persons, plus a cash grant of $8 each to provide for basic necessities on arrival. The money is paid at UNHCR offices inside Afghanistan. In addition, all refugees over the age of six years who want to repatriate must go through a computerized iris recognition check before departure to ensure that they do not receive assistance more than once. UNHCR together with its partners have also assisted another 443,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) return to their home areas since 2002. There are still more than 180,000 displaced persons in Afghanistan, with many residing in camp-like situations in Kandahar and Heart provinces in the south and west of the country where they receive assistance.
Southern Afghanistan where Zhare Dasht and Spin Boldak encampments are located shelters 145,000 IDPs, while there are 20,000 IDPs in western Afghanistan, 9,000 displaced people residing in the north and more than 5,000 each in both the east and southeastern provinces.
UNHCR's programme to help returning refugees, provide shelter and water projects and implement other assistance programmes in Afghanistan has so far received $106 million this year, or 87 percent of our $122.5 million budget.
Questions and Answers
Question: We were hoping to get precise [voter registration] figures for some of the provinces?
Senior Media Relations Officer: The figures that we have just given you are current only to a certain date because as we have been saying getting the information into Kabul [from the more remote areas] to put into database takes some time. So what we have at the moment are incomplete figures.
Question: For example, we had 19 percent in Uruzgan but it is difficult to get a picture?
Senior Media Relations Officer: The latest complete data that they we have is current only for the beginning of the last week in July. But there should be an update coming out soon. You can talk to Aykut and Azam [Aykut Tavsel and Saidmohammad Azam from the Electoral Unit] after to see if they get you something a bit more up to date.
Question: To what extent are voter registration sites actually closing? Wasn't this supposed to be the formal cutoff point?
Senior Media Relations Officer: Sites are closing down once the voter registration process runs its course in a particular area but as we have been saying some sites will remain open in areas where we feel there is a need [for continued registration]. The electoral public information team, which is here, has brought the information on which sites are currently operational and which ones have closed. But it to reiterate, it is a process very much based on needs. For instance, I found put today that the JEMB and UNAMA carried out a mission last week in Ghazni that resulted in the opening of five more sites in three districts [Two Giro, one in Nana and in Andar] to respond to the needs of the potential voter population in those areas. What you are going to find, for example, is that in the north where voter registration was 103 percent and thus over what the original estimate is that yes sites will close down but some will remain open to address groups such as the Kuchi who are still registering. As I said, it is very much based on area and the needs of the area.
Question: Just because they say the numbers are so high, how does UNAMA judge the participation so far? And how does it judge the security provided by coalition and others?
Senior Media Relations Officer: We think the participation is very encouraging if not amazing. How many countries in the world do you seen 90 percent of the eligible voter population registering? There was a lot of skepticism about this process at the beginning because some felt that the targets would not be fulfilled. But I think based on the figures we are giving you and based on the estimates you have, it would suggest that there has been a very positive response by the Afghan people to this process.
Security, as always, remains a problem. There are areas of the country, which are cause of for concern. I think the important thing to realize here though is that despite the security concerns and the reality, the fact you have 91 percent of the eligible voter population turning out to vote shows the determination of the Afghan people to participate in this process. We can only hope security situation improves. We hope that the efforts by all of the security mechanisms can come together successfully to guarantee more safety for these brave people as they continue to demonstrate their support for the electoral process and particularly when they do turn out on polling day.
Question: Just because the figures are good, does not that suggest that the actual number of eligible voters is considerably higher that initially thought? Which estimates are you basing this? Are you working on the 9.8 million?
Senior Media Relations Officer: The estimate we are using is in 9.5 to 9.8, which is provided by the Central Statistics Office [CSO]. We never said those figures were written in stone. What we had to work with was the pre-1970 estimate and what CSO did was to extrapolate that and to come up with a figure, which was 10.5 million. That figure was then refined when they [the CSO] started to do a household listing. This is when CSO personnel go from house-to-house in all provinces in order to identify locations and numbers of people [prior to a census]. But it is still quite plausible that the figure [9.5 to 9.8 million] maybe higher. So let's say that maybe there are 10.5 million registrants, at this point I still think that the turnout is quite good. And as we see, there are people calling for registration sites to be kept open longer and to be opened in other areas. So I think the more people that register can only be a positive. I think that we if we are probably looking at a difference in figures of about a million people, it is not a great deal in light of the current response to voter registration.
Question: If the figures from the South are not larger 9 percent, then there must be a large group of people who still have to be reached as only a third of those people are registered. Why leave so many voters behind?
Senior Media Relations Officer: I think the last figures we had from the South was nine percent. There have been number of efforts made recently to increase participation in the voter registration process in that area. We told you recently that Dr. Farooq Wardak, Director of the Electoral Secretariat went out there with the Chief Technical Advisor, Professor Reginald Austin to meet community leaders. There have been number of shuras organized and Governors, District Administrators, religious and community leaders have all been involved. What we continue to say is that in those areas where there is low voter registration, registration sites and civic education campaigns will continue to run in an effort to reach those people who might be marginalized and who could be left of the process. Obviously, security is a concern in the South and Southeast. And yes that is an issue that has to be addressed and remedied. At the same time, efforts will continue to ensure that those figures improve and that people get a chance to take part in Afghanistan's first democratic Presidential election on 9 October.
Question: I like to ask about people who have registered themselves many times, how can you address that -- specifically when they turn out to vote?
Senior Media Relations Officer: Multiple registration, this question came up last week. I know that JEMB Secretariat is actively trying to address this issue but even if there are situations where there is multiple registration, there are enough checks and balances at the end to stop the perpetrators as Manoel [Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UN Spokesman] said to you last week, a voter can only vote once. You go to vote and there is indelible ink put on your finger, which lasts for few days if you try to vote again and there is trace of that ink, you can't. Again if you vote with your card, it is punched. There is a hole in it to signify that you have used that card. So those are two checks and balances. The ink is quite full proof so you can 20 cards but you are only going to vote once. If you have more than 20 cards and want to vote more than once, good luck to you.
Question: How long does this inedible will link last?
Senior Media Relations Officer: About four or five days
Question: If there is a run-off, and vote for Karzai, will the link last?
Senior Media Relations Officer: Well, I would think that problem has been thought of and probably addressed. I am sure there are checks and balances in place. Maybe they may use a different colour or finger. But I can't tell you concretely what has been put in place but it I am sure that it has been or is being considered.
Question: DDR is a voluntary programme, so why is there a use of force?
Senior Media Relations Officer: DDR is voluntary only as far as the commanders who are involved in decide to peacefully and willingly come forwards and comply with and support the process. But it is not voluntary once you have become involved in it and have to follow the procedures. I am sure you are aware of the decree that was passed by President Karzai quite recently which states those who commit certain actions after they have agreed to join the disarmament programme will be subject to severest form of the law. The unit that started the skirmish on Thursday [in Ghor] had been disbanded by the Government. Obviously this unit did not want this. The government is now launching an investigation and according to the decree, they should be subjected to the weight of the law.
Question: Can you tell us the total number of people that have been killed in Afghanistan, martyred, all in 2003?
Senior Media Relations Officer: We will have to get back to you on that question. You are talking about UN and NGOS in total?
Question: Yes -- all.
Senior Media Relations Officer: One of the problems we have is coordinating this information particularly when it is outside of the UN system. We really have to get back to you on that figure - perhaps we can try to put something together by the next briefing.
Question: How about those [fatalities] who worked with the registration process?
Senior Media Relations Officer: Again I have to get back to you on that one. [After the briefing the office of Communication and Public Information learned that a total of nine electoral staff members have died of unnatural causes.]
Question: Are you convinced that troop presence by ISAF will be enough for the elections?
Senior Media Relations Officer: ISAF is only one of the players. There is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)/ISAF, the Coalition, Provincial Reconstruction Teams and there is a steadily growing Afghan National Army that we are beginning to see deployed effectively around the country. There is also a growing national police force. I think the objective is to have 20,000 policemen in place for the election. We can only hope that the combination of all these actors together will create an environment for these elections to be carried out in relative safety and to provide security that is necessary.