Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 12 Aug 2004

News and Press Release
Originally published

Afghan Voter Registrants Pass 9.5 Million Mark

As of 10 August the number of Afghans registered throughout the country to vote reached 9,643, 302. Of that total 5,634, 835 (58.4 percent) are men and 4,008,467 (41.6 percent) are women.

JEMB Announces Candidates For 9 October Presidential Election

On Tuesday (10 August) the Joint Electoral Management Body JEMB) announced the names of 18 candidates eligible to contest the 9 October Presidential election. We have a JEMB press release and a list with the names of the candidates in English, Dari and Pashto.

JEMB Announces Establishment of Media Commission

Earlier on Tuesday, 60 days prior to the Presidential Election, as mandated by the Electoral Law, the JEMB also announced the establishment of the Media Commission. This body will oversee fair reporting during the electoral campaign, monitor the media, review media reports, receive and investigate complaints and put forward recommendations to the JEMB. The Commission has six members: three Afghans who are familiar with the media in Afghanistan; two expatriates with expertise in media monitoring and regulatory compliance mechanisms and one JEMB member. (There is JEMB press release available with more details)

Efforts to Provide Help To Political Parties And Presidential Candidates Increase

Since the opening of Elections Training and Information Centres (ETICs) by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Kabul, Jalalabad, Kunduz, Mazar-i-Sharif and Bamyan in the last seven weeks, representatives of political parties have responded enthusiastically to the courses being offered. In some places such as Jalalabad, courses are oversubscribed. To date over 800 political party representatives have graduated in the five locations. A sixth centre will be opened in Kandahar shortly, and future centres are planned in Heart and Khost. These centres provide space for election related training as well as facilities where political parties and candidates have access to meeting rooms, photocopying and computers. The ETICs offer a two-day elections training programme, which includes a simulated election. A media programme is also on offer for political leaders and party representatives to learn the basics of media law and how to work with the media to communicate their messages. The third type of training is for candidate poll agents -- those individuals who will be accredited to oversee the voting process and ballot counting on behalf of Presidential candidates and political parties. This course will begin at the end of the month/early September.

Another effort to support candidates and political parties is being implemented by the non-governmental organization AWAZ (The Voice) with the support of the electoral secretariat. Its aims at giving citizens access to the programmes of all Presidential candidates and providing those candidates with the skills and means to develop and implement their own information campaigns. Without this information, voters would not be able to make an informed decision about whom to vote for.

There is one other initiative that you already know about but one that is expanding. This is the Political Harmonization Committee. Another one was initiated yesterday in Laghman Province following the establishment of the first one in Jalalabad. The meetings of these Committees are organized by UNAMA with representation from the Electoral Secretariat, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the Governor's office, NDI and other observers. The Committees disseminate information on the electoral process, security, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR), and the constitution. They are also forums for registering complaints in order to promote free and fair elections. Parties use the meetings to assign their agents to go to registrations sites as observers and report on irregularities.

Information Coordination Committee (ICC) in Northeast - Raising Political, Human Rights And Electoral Awareness

Another new Information Coordination Committee (ICC) in the Northeast, which shares information and raises awareness on political and human rights as well as the electoral process, met for the first time Yesterday (11 August) in Faizabad. This follows other committees that have already been set up in Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan. The ICC brings together local media, authorities, political parties and community groups, and meet on a monthly basis. The Committees are a joint initiative of the German Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and UNAMA in the northeast.

Friedrich Ebert Foundation Holds Conference On Women And Politics

Last Monday (9 August) the Friedrich Ebert Foundation held a daylong conference in Kunduz on women and politics, which was attended by over 300 participants from Kunduz including government officials, NGOs, political parties, teachers, elders, ulemas, media, and students. Speakers stressed the importance of women's participation in parliament, as well as the significant role of men in recognizing and promoting the equal rights of women.

Improving Women's Rights in Northeast

As of today (12 August) women in Faizabad will receive more legal support to combat discrimination, domestic violence and to also improve their living conditions. The Department of Women's affairs, with UNAMA's support, is establishing Women Working Groups (WWG) which will serve Afghan women by focusing on three areas: protection, public awareness, and creating opportunities for females. These groups bring together Government officials, organizations advocating women's rights and UNAMA. The network is already serving Afghan women in 26 districts in Kunduz, Takhar, and Baghlan.

Disarmament Reaches 13,000

The number of officers and soldiers disarmed has reached 13,142. Of this total 12,067 have been demobilized while 10,516 have begun are about to start reintegration activities. To date 10,235 weapons have been collected, inspected and cantoned. All this equipment is serviceable and will be passed to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to be used by the Afghan National Army (ANA).

Six trucks were loaded yesterday with serviceable small arms ammunition. The Commander of Kabul's Central Corp's 42nd Regiment handed over this ammunition to the New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) the institutions that runs DDR with the Ministry of Defence (MOD). This ammunition is now being transported to the Pul-i-Charki cantonment site where it will be temporarily secured before being handed over to the MoD.

The number of heavy weapons surveyed remains at 5,700 with some 4,300 having been identified as serviceable. The remaining 1,400 will be retained for spares. A total of 1,146 have been cantoned to date outside Kabul, Gardez and Mazar.

The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process continues in Badakshan while disarmament of the 338th Brigade is scheduled to begin in Faizabad on 15 August and of the 1st Corp in Jalalabad on 22 August.

2004 Annual Food And Crop Supply Assessment Reveals Sharp Decrease Due To Drought and Other

[Following the Briefing The Spokesman received additional inputs and changes which have now been incorporated in to the note below]

The annual Crop and Food Supply Assessment (CFSAM) carried out from 8 July to 5 August by the Ministry of Agriculture (MAAH), the Food and Agriculture Operation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and the Famine Early Warning System and Food Network (FEWSNET) at the request of the Afghan Government found that inadequate, erratic and untimely rains had significantly affected crops and livestock in much of the county particularly in the South, West, East, Southeast, and Centre. Except for the northeast, rain-fed cereals, which account for more than 25 percent of the aggregate cereal harvest is down by 70 percent and in some areas it has completely failed.

Drought has left its devastating effects in the West, Southwest, South and East, reducing harvest in some areas to levels similar to 2001 when a devastating drought had decimated crops and livestock in much of the country. In the North, however, heavy rains during the planting season delayed planting by almost a month and sunn pest in some provinces destroyed more than 30 percent of crops. Last year a record harvest of 5.37 metric tones of cereals was collected following nearly three years of drought. This year, in Farah, drought contributed to further desertification, while in Nimroz, crops have almost completely failed.

Animal and poultry diseases are rampant throughout the country and a major threat to farmers' livelihoods and coping mechanisms. In the central Afghanistan, plant diseases and hail damaged some 60 to 80 percent of orchards. In the north and northeast, crop loss due to sunn pest infestation ranged from 20-30 percent in Sar-i-Pul, and up to 60-80 percent in irrigated areas of Faryab. In May we told you about efforts to stem sunn pest outbreaks in Faryab - an insect that can cause losses of 20-70 percent in wheat crops with damage reaching 100 percent in the absence of control measures. Unfortunately appropriate and adequate sunn pest and other common crop disease control measures are still not available in Afghanistan making it difficult if not impossible to control devastating crop diseases

The Government, UN agencies and other concerned partners are endeavouring to identify vulnerable households in severely affected areas to target and provide appropriate and timely assistance. FAO and WFP will issue a joint Crop and Food Assessment Report soon after the CFSAM data is fully and carefully analyzed.

Efforts to Reduce Leishmaniasis in Kabul

This month, over 16,000 insecticide-treated bednets will be distributed to 30,000 people throughout Kabul, as part of an initiative by the World Health Organization and its partners to reduce Leishmaniasis.

Leishmaniasis is a disease transmitted by the bite of a sand fly, which leads to disfigurement, usually on the face and hands, and social stigma, particularly for women and children. Kabul is the largest center of cutaneous leishmaniasis in the world, with an estimated 67,500 cases. The figure accounts for a third of 200,000 cases in Afghanistan as a whole.

This rapid intervention, funded by the Belgian government, aims not only to treat those currently affected in the acute phase of the epidemic but to prevent further transmission of the disease. This initiative is the first phase in a one-year plan to implement a national leishmanisais control programme.

Independent Expert on Human Rights in Afghanistan Due To Arrive for One-Week Visit

Professor Cherif Bassiouni, the United Nations Independent Expert on Human Rights in Afghanistan is due to arrive in Kabul on Saturday (14 August) to begin a one-week mission to Afghanistan. Mr. Bassiouni will hold talks with key Government officials, the AIHRC, United Nations and other international agencies as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs). He will also make some on-site visits, the details of which have yet to be finalized.

The Commission on Human Rights appointed Mr. Bassiouni as Independent Expert on Human rights in Afghanistan in April this year with a focus on developing programmes and advisory services to ensure the full respect and protection of human rights, the promotion of the rule of law and to seek and receive information in an effort to prevent human rights violations.

During his one-week visit Professor Bassiouni will look at a number of issues. Key among them are the specific situation and rights of people in prison, the exercise of political rights, women's rights, human rights education as well as transitional justice. He will assist the work of the Transitional Government and the AIHRC and closely consult with them on a programme that aims to ensure the full respect and protection of human rights.

Professor Bassiouni has scheduled a press conference for 21 August. We will confirm the venue and time when we have it.

Programme On Child Protection And Social Work Begins In Kandahar - Joins Similar Efforts in Mazar and Kabul

A seven-day training programme on child protection and social work began in Kandahar city this week for all the southern provinces. Seven women are among the 24 participants from government departments and humanitarian organizations.

The programme, implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs with support from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), aims to build the capacity of social and community workers. Areas that will be covered include child rights, childcare approaches that stem from children's needs and the development of community-based solutions that address the needs of marginalized and vulnerable children. Similar programmes are also being carried out in Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul. Afghan social and community workers are training some 160 people who will then go on to train other social and community workers.

Training for Prison Staff Members in Afghanistan

In an official ceremony at Pol-e-Charki detention center, the third edition of training courses for prison staff members was completed yesterday (11 August).

In these three series of one-month training, organized by the Central Prison Department in partnership with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 100 prison staff members from all 34 prisons in Afghanistan were trained in Kabul on prison management in accordance with respect for human rights and international standards on prison and detention centers.

There are 34 prisons at provincial level and at least a detention center in each of 376 districts. According to the Central Prison Department (CPD), the number of detainees/prisoners present in the afghan facilities is of some 4500.

The general conditions of the prisons and detention centers are very poor. From the strictly infrastructural perspective, 19 provincial prisons are destroyed and require new construction and the remaining 14 need varying degrees of repair/re-construction. In general, there are no water supplies, sewage system, toilets, washrooms, proper electric system and heating systems. Food is provided but it is not sufficient and it is cooked in "kitchens" with low hygienic standards. Health services are present in every existing facility, but they are not in the condition to guarantee the assistance to prisoners, which in some cases is provided by donor organizations. National measures for ensuring security within prison system facilities are not in compliance with international standards.

Questions and Answers

Question: Will Mr. Bassiouni visit extended holding facilities being run by the United States?

Spokesman: I don't know the details of his programme. As I said that is not finalized as yet so I cannot confirm one way or another.

Question: Apart from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has anyone else been given access to these extended holding facilities?

Spokesman: To my knowledge it is only the ICRC.

Question: The statistics you gave on crops is rather alarming - will there be a need for crop or food relief?

Spokesman: This is what I mentioned when I said that the Government along with UN agencies are looking into the populations that will become vulnerable as a result of this lack of rain and its impact on the crops. Fortunately it is something that Government support systems along with UN agencies such as the World Food Programme have a great deal of experience in - i.e. in assisting populations in need in this country. As you know some years ago the number of vulnerable Afghans was extremely high. If I am not mistaken it was close to nine million people. That has been significantly reduced in the last couple of years by about half. But, as I mentioned they are looking into the impact of this lack of rain and certainly getting ready to assist those who will need special assistance.

Question: Was there an attack on a voter registration site in Helmand on 10 August?

Spokesman: We do not have anything on that.

Question: Has there been a re-assessment of the funding for elections following the separation of Parliamentary and Presidential elections, what are the requirements now and what is the availability of funds?

Spokesman: The new budget of the Presidential election I don't think has been finally concluded so that we can share it with you. Our colleagues are working on it. Originally we were talking about US$102 million budget but that was before the announcement on splitting in the elections. A new amount, however, is not yet available. What I can tell you is that earlier this week, I believe that the electoral budget people had received in the bank US$37.3 million

Question: If there were a run-off for the Presidential elections when would a second round take place?

Spokesman: We have our colleague here who will be our guest after the briefing to tell you about election planning. While I do not I think there is a set date, I think that the different elements that have to be considered are being taken into consideration by the planners -for example the question of Ramadan and the Eid three-day holiday. But I don't think there is any date to be announced for a possible second round of elections.

Introduction of Guest

If there are no further questions I will close the briefing and invite Julian Type from the Secretariat of the JEMB who has been working on the planning of the elections. He will make very brief opening remarks and then he will take your questions. Thank you very much.