Afghanistan

Press briefing by Ariane Quentier, Senior Public Information Officer and UN agencies in Afghanistan 16 Jun 2005

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TALKING POINTS

Election training in Kabul region

As of today and until June 27th, the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) in the Central Region will be hosting 5 meetings at the provincial level for political candidates. The meetings aim at advising candidates of the electoral complaints procedure. The first session, which is taking place as we speak, is organized in Kapisa, in Mahmud-e Raqi, in the Alberuni University Hall. The next training will be in Wardak on Saturday.

UNAMA and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) have recently begun a Joint Political Rights Verification Campaign and, in coordination with the JEMB meetings, will now begin a series of briefings for candidates and officials on the rights and responsibilities associated with holding a free and fair election in the central region.

The purpose of the briefings is to ensure that candidates understand the rights and principles underpinning the electoral process and the options available to them to register any complaints, should those rights be violated. The meeting will also provide an opportunity to cooperate with provincial officials in order to enhance their role in ensuring a free and fair election.

The Asia Foundation to support theatre performances to inform voters about elections

Since May 12th, Afghan theatre troupes supported by The Asia Foundation (TAF) are performing a play intended to educate about democracy, elections and voting for September 18th elections.

The play, New Hope, focuses on issues that many Afghan communities face -- a high crime rate, the need for better health care, roads in need of repair, and others. Its message is that having a representative can help the community have a better life. The play also teaches voters how to choose a candidate who will represent them well.

The troupes are performing throughout Afghanistan and will reach some 29 provinces by the end of their run. Seven troupes of actors and actresses who performed together before the Taliban and regrouped afterward are performing the plays.

Since the beginning of the project and until June 5th, there have been more than 130 performances of New Hope throughout the country, drawing a total audience of 130,000. Last year, ahead of Afghanistan's presidential elections, The Asia Foundation funded 232 theatre performances. A total of more than 334,000 people attended.

The Foundation for Culture and Civil Society (FCCS), an Afghan independent social organization, and Sayara Media and Communication are implementing this project. USAID - the US Agency for International Development - is funding the performances through a cooperative agreement with The Asia Foundation.

Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR)

To date, 60,408 officers and soldiers have disarmed under the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programme. Of this figure, 49,991 have entered the reintegration process.

In terms of weapons collection, a total of 34,357 medium and light weapons have been collected from military units that have gone through the DDR programme.

Meanwhile, on Monday a ceremony was held at the Ministry of Defence to reward commanders who have supported the DDR programme, and attendees included 33 commanders and the Deputy Minister of Defence.

Finally, teams from the Afghan New Beginnings Programme' (ANBP) continue to identify suitable locations for weapons collection throughout the country. This follows the government's decision to give electoral candidates that have links to illegal armed groups the opportunity to voluntarily surrender their weapons, so they can meet the eligibility criteria.

Desertification on the rise in Afghanistan

Tomorrow will be the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. In his yearly message, the Secretary General Kofi Annan said: "Desertification is one of the world's most alarming processes of environmental degradation. It threatens the health and livelihoods of more than one billion people. And each year, desertification and drought cause an estimated $42 billion in lost agricultural production."

He added that 2006 will be the International Year of Deserts and Desertification.

Desertification is very much threatening Afghanistan and advancing in the northern, western and southern regions, where widespread grazing has reduced vegetation cover and exposed soils to erosion.

Another aggravating factor is the uncontrolled extraction of water resources and deforestation. Officials estimate the amount of forest lost in the last two decades to be 30 per cent. However, local forest officers suggest the true figure lies between 50 and 70 per cent in provinces like Paktya, Khost and Paktika.

In addition to desertification, the incidence of drought has also risen sharply in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, and more specifically in the last 6 years - a trend that might never be reversed. Conditions in large parts of Kandahar, Helmand and Nimroz provinces have deteriorated dramatically and some of these areas will never be able to support their former human populations again.

Unfortunately, data is still lacking which makes it extremely difficult to accurately assess and respond. However, if in 1950 an estimated 94 per cent of the population lived in rural areas, by 2000 this figure had fallen to 78 per cent, with urban populations rising largely in response to drought, although also in response to conflict.

Afghanistan signed the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on January 11th 1995. An Afghan delegation attended the third Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention last May. To mark the day, the Ministry of Agriculture, Husbandry and Food (MAAHF), The National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will be organizing a seminar on this issue. For further information check www.un.org.

Flood Update

In Nangarhar province, heavy rainfall on Tuesday led to the flooding of several villages some 12 km northeast of Jalalabad. The Nangahar Provincial Disaster Response Committee immediately dispatched an assessment team, which has reported that some 500 jeribs of agricultural land had been flooded and 40 houses have been damaged. In response, the Department for Rural Rehabilitation and Development has provided 40 tents and the World Food Programme (WFP) has provided assistance for 153 affected families.

The Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) has also agreed to provide engineering assistance to redirect the water from the Kunar River to prevent further flooding and the Provincial Disaster Committee assessment team is formulating a plan to protect houses and agricultural lands in this area. Funding will be made available by the provincial government and the PRT.

Meanwhile, the city of Bamyan was hit by a flash flood last Sunday. Flooding also reportedly affected the nearby villages of Qafelabashi, Syahkhak, Bursuna, and Manara.

The Provincial Disaster Response Committee dispatched an assessment team to the affected villages while the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) has provided a heavy loader to help consolidate the riverbank near to Bamyan bazaar.

Lastly, a 'lessons learned' workshop on the flood emergency was held in Kabul on Sunday and Monday, and participants included representatives of government departments and leading UN agencies which have been involved in the coordination of the flood response.

The objective was to assess the performance of institutional bodies initiated to deal with flooding, and set up the basis for future emergency responses. The workshop focused on the five pillars originally set up to deal with the flood emergency, namely -- analysis and forecasting, coordination, public Information and awareness, pre-positioning, and emergency response.

Afghanistan to sign agreement on Human Rights Treaty Reporting

Afghanistan will take an important step towards meeting its human rights obligations on Sunday, when it signs an agreement with the Government of Canada and UNDP to initiate a human rights treaty-reporting project.

The project, which will see the Government of Canada put forward CDN$375,000, aims to build Afghanistan's capacity to report to the international community by setting-up an international treaty unit within the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Furthermore, government staff will be trained in international reporting, and an information database will be developed to assist the Ministry in monitoring human rights activities and to compile statistics for use in reports.

Afghanistan is a party to several international human rights treaties and a key responsibility of the Afghan Government is to periodically report on the country's progress to treaty committees..

Business and Economic Journalism Workshop to be held until end of June

The Centre for International Private Enterprise Afghanistan (CIPE) and the Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society Afghanistan (IMPACS) will hold a training seminar for journalists during the 2nd Business and Economic Journalism Workshop to be held from next Saturday, June 18th till June 30th, 2005.

Through this seminar, CIPE and IMPACS will support Afghan media organizations by training journalists in the area of business as well as economic issues and concepts. CIPE's first Business and Economic Journalism Workshop was held in February 2005. Thirteen journalists from various Afghan news organizations attended the 12-day course.

The CIPE/ IMPACS Business and Economic Journalism Workshops, which will be hosted by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and funded by the World Bank, will be conducted in Dari/ Pashto by internationally trained journalism and economic instructors.

Briefing by Sultan Baheen, JEMB National Spokesman

The Joint Electoral Management Body approved the regulation of observers and political party and candidate agents this week. The JEMB will accredit organizations and JEMBS will register individual observers as persons representing the accredited organization. Accredited observers will have access to key components of the electoral process, including voter registration, polling and counting.

As we are talking about observers and political party agents, I would like to mention that yesterday the JEMB had a meeting with political parties to inform them of the accreditation process, as well as about the counting centres.

With the start of voter registration approaching, journalists who would like to visit the registration sites will need to be accredited. This accreditation will be valid for all electoral phases. Journalists will be required to sign the Code of Conduct and to have a letter from the organization for whom they are working.

One announcement: JEMB chairman MR Bismallah Bismal will hold a press conference this Saturday at 1.30 PM at JEMB HQ on Jalalabad Road. He will explain the voter registration process and will answer your questions.

Briefing by Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Spokesman

A new partnership between the Afghan Ministry of Justice, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will help to strengthen the juvenile justice sector in Afghanistan.

The partnership, which will be officially launched on Saturday June 18th, will see UNICEF and UNODC providing a range of training and technical support to up to 250 legal professionals, juvenile judges, juvenile prosecutors, social workers and juvenile police on issues including the new Afghan Juvenile Code, children's rights and international legal standards. UNICEF and UNODC are currently working in close cooperation also to support the Ministry of Justice, together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for the Priority Reform and Restructure (PRR) initiative with the Juvenile Justice Department.

In a separate development, nearly 1,000 street working children in the Afghan capital of Kabul will benefit from a new agreement signed between the local non-governmental organization Aschiana and UNICEF. The agreement secures Aschiana's use of two sites in the city to provide training and education for the children, as part of an on-going partnership between the two organizations.

UNICEF has provided US$ 12,000 of funding towards the costs of the two centres, in the Karte Char and Salang Wat areas of the city. Between them, the two sites can accommodate 900 children, who will benefit from Aschiana's renowned programme of vocational training, literacy tuition and life skills. The UNICEF funding will secure use of the sites until September 2005, and the children's agency has also been pleased to assist with the negotiation of further support from the European Union-funded Child Rights Consortium.

Click here for the full press release on the juvenile justice sector in English.

Click here for the full press release in English, on the training and education of street children.

Questions and Answers

Question: Regarding the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), what sort of complaints have they received and what is the next stage. Also, the security situation in the South [of Afghanistan] has deteriorated recently, has it affected your work?

JEMB Spokesperson: Regarding the first question, as of yesterday the ECC received boxes from 13 provinces and about 200 challenges. The Commission will issue the names of those on the provisional list and the candidates can defend themselves, prior to publication of the final list. Regarding the question about security, our operation continues around the country in 34 provinces. Security is a concern for us, but this is the responsibility of the security forces and the government to secure the country and the electoral process.

Question: Is it true that some candidates have already started their campaign in some provinces?

JEMB Spokesperson: We will issue the final list of candidates on the 12th of July. The official campaigning time for candidates is from the 26th of August until two days before the election [16th of September]. I think at least the candidates should wait until the 12th of July, when the final list is issued.

Question: Dr. Simar Samar [Chairman of the AIHRC] has said that some warlords have been nominated as candidates for the upcoming elections. Are you concerned about this and will they undergo any form of judicial process?

JEMB Spokesperson: Firstly, one member of the ECC was assigned by the Afghan Human Rights Commission. Secondly, the ECC is not a criminal court. The responsibility of the ECC is to see that the candidates are legitimate and eligible according to the constitution and according to the electoral law. Let us wait until the final list is published on July 12th and we hope there will be no room for this type of concern.

Question: What are the complaints about and what do they deal with?

JEMB Spokesperson: They were challenges concerning the eligibility of the candidates according to the electoral law. I cannot say anything more about the content of the challenges.

Question: When in practice is DIAG [Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups] going to start and what is the target?

Senior Public Information Officer: First of all it has started and was launched last Saturday. The first part of DIAG is to provide facilities for the candidates who may have links with illegal armed groups, so that they can surrender their weapons and there can be a process of weapon collection. The idea is that a number of facilities are set up throughout the country in different provinces so that candidates with links to illegal armed groups who want to surrender their weapons can do so.

Question: Do you expect 1800 groups to be disbanded before the elections? What is the plan? Is it only candidates who will disarm before the election?

Senior Public Information Officer: DIAG is a long process and it all depends on who participates and voluntarily surrenders their weapons. However the plan is that all illegal armed groups should disarm. The priority is that we have elections, and there is a provision in the electoral law that says that candidates with links to illegal armed groups cannot run. But the plan is that everyone should disarm and that nobody should bear a weapon in this country without proper authorization to do so.

Question: How many candidates have been challenged over DIAG.

Senior Public Information Officer: We are not going into figures, but you will find out when the first preliminary list comes out.