Afghanistan + 1 more

Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 16 Feb 2003

We have a guest at today's briefing, Dr. Andrew Harvey who is a plant protection expert in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and he will be giving a firsthand account of efforts to eradicate locusts in northern Afghanistan.

Cave dwellers in Bamyan

UNAMA is concerned about the welfare of more than one hundred families who have recently moved into the honeycomb of caves around the Bamyan Buddhas and will be meeting with UN agencies today to review the situation.

Last year about 105 families living in the caves in the central highlands were moved out by the Governor of the Province. UNAMA coordinated a taskforce involving UN agencies, NGOs and the Governor set up to find a more permanent solution for these homeless families. It was agreed to build new houses for all of the 105 families who had been living in the caves. There were delays while the Governor clarified ownership of the site, which had been disputed. About half of the houses were built before winter set in and some families moved in. The remaining houses will be finished in the spring.

In the meantime about 100 new families from the area have moved into the caves -- and according to the Governor they are living there illegally. There are some indications that they may have moved into the caves to bypass normal assistance mechanisms, in particular it seems that the intention would have been to also get new houses.

There is anecdotal evidence that some of the families have land and homes. These people would have been assessed and if considered vulnerable would have received assistance. The humanitarian efforts by UNAMA and other UN agencies, especially the winterization programme have been targeting help to the most vulnerable, in their own homes and communities. In fact the Central Highlands area was one targeted in the winterization programme because it experiences harsh winters. Over 10,000 MT of food has already been distributed in the region and coal and other non-food items have been distributed as well.

The meeting today will consider how best to deal with the current situation.

Afghan National Army

This coming Tuesday (18 February) the Ministry of Defence is organizing an important ceremony which marks a significant step forward in the formation of the Afghan National Army (ANA). Taking place at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC) on Jalalabad Road will be the 'Activation Ceremony' for the First and Second Brigades of the Central Corps of the ANA.

The six battalions which form the First and Second Brigades of light infantry have already graduated, after completing their ten-week training courses, run by the United States and France with support of other nations and with Afghan Military Officers at the KMTC.

The 'Activation Ceremony' is an important milestone in the formation of an Afghan National Army of up to 70,000, which was decreed by the President on 1st December last year. The ceremony will formally declare the headquarters of the two brigades operational.

We understand the press will be invited to the ceremony which is at 10am on Tuesday.

Afghanistan Joins the International Criminal Court

On 10 February Afghanistan became the 89th State to deposit an instrument of ratification for the International Criminal Court (ICC). That instrument was deposited last Tuesday at UN Headquarters in New York. Following acceptance and approval by the Court's governing body Afghanistan will formally accede to the Court on May 1, 2003, when its State membership will come into effect. UNAMA warmly welcomes this positive step and commends the Afghan Administration for following through with its decision to join the Court on 13 January.

On 1 July 2002, the Rome Statute of the Court entered into force, triggering the jurisdiction of the first permanent and independent world criminal court. The ICC is capable of investigating and bringing to justice individuals who commit - after enforcement of the Rome Statute - the most serious violations of international humanitarian law. These include war crimes; crimes against humanity; genocide and once defined, aggression. Anyone who commits any of the crimes under the Statute after 1 July 2002 will be liable for prosecution by the Court.

Afghanistan, India and World Food Programme inaugurate nutrient-rich biscuits for one million schoolchildren, WFP Public Affairs Officer, Alehandro Chicheri

Today at schools in four cities across Afghanistan, the United Nations World Food Programme is celebrating the distribution nationwide of a gift from the people and Government of India to the schoolchildren of Afghanistan: nearly 10,000 tons of fortified high-energy biscuits.

The biscuits, to be distributed to one million children in Afghanistan's schools, are the first humanitarian donation by the Government of India through WFP. The biscuits are made in India from wheat fortified with micronutrients to give the children a nutritional boost to enhance their ability to learn.

President Karzai and the Afghan Education Minister, Mr. Younis Qanooni, will attend today's celebration in Kabul along with the Indian Ambassador to the country, Mr. Vivek Katjui and the Deputy Country Director of the World Food Programme, Susana Rico.

Once this briefing is finished there are some buses to take you to the venue where the event is taking place.

As we are speaking now satellite launches are being simultaneously held in the cities of Jalalabad, Herat and Kandahar where consular officials representing the Government of India and members of WFP will be handing out the biscuits.

Today we prepared some kites to commemorate today's event which they will try to fly in this weather.

UNICEF -- First National Teacher training programme in Afghanistan gets underway, Communication Officer, Edward Carwadine

A major step towards enhancing the quality of education in Afghanistan is made today with the start of the first nationwide teacher training programme, run by the Afghan Ministry of Education with the support of UNICEF.

During 2003 a total of 70,000 teachers will receive in-service training designed through a partnership between the Ministry and UNICEF. The first round, which starts this week in 29 provinces of Afghanistan, including Kabul, will target some 22,000 teachers. Additional rounds of training will be provided during the summer months.

The training programme focuses on new ways of teaching Dari and Pashtu, building an understanding of child development, improving classroom management skills and how to integrate mine risk awareness into the curriculum. 750 teachers will benefit from the training programme in every province of the country during 2003. Emphasis is being placed on including women in the programme, to help them catch up on the many years when they were denied the right to practice their profession in Afghanistan. Of teachers currently working in Afghan schools, only 15% have graduated from teacher training colleges. A large proportion of teachers have simply attained a 12th Grade education; the UNICEF-supported training will be of particular benefit to these teachers in improving their classroom teaching skills.

The series of eight-day courses will draw heavily upon Afghan traditional literature and folklore to help teachers explore the rich range of material they can use for teaching the two main national languages. The courses will also be interactive, with teachers participating in role-play and practice teaching with classes of children. The inclusion of mine risk education follows a successful pilot programme undertaken in 2002 by UNICEF, which introduced rapid mine awareness sessions into schools around Afghanistan. Landmines and unexploded ordnance cause up to 300 deaths or injuries every month; many of the victims are children.

In 2002, over 3 million children returned to the classrooms of Afghanistan -- 30% of these were girls. UNICEF is planning to support a total of 4 million children in schools this year. The drive to improve the quality of education is an essential element of UNICEF's strategy to ensure that girls continue to return to the classroom, and to reduce the risk of dropout amongst pupils already enrolled.

Media who would like to visit teacher training programmes in Kabul this week are invited to contact UNICEF in order to arrange a convenient time.

Questions and answers

Question: My question is regarding the International Criminal Court -- it is said that it does not address past criminals, so doesn't it mean that the United Nations and the Afghan Government have failed to find past criminals and bring them to justice? From 1 May they will have the authority to bring the criminals to The Hague -- how will that be possible?

Spokesman: The jurisdiction of the court is only for crimes committed after the period it came into force which was on 1 July 2002. Secondly the court only acts when national mechanisms do not function, either by incapability or unwillingness, so you have to first go through national mechanisms. The rest of your question regarding crimes prior to 1st July: the Afghan Human Rights Independent Commission (AHRIC) has as one of its main priorities of its work plan the transitional justice; Afghans through the Afghan Human Rights Independent Commission will be looking into the best way that they find to address past crimes committed here in this country. So I believe that would be the way to go about it. Each country, when they go through situations like this, they find their own method of dealing with past crimes. In some cases you have truth commissions, in other cases you have special courts, in other cases international courts, but the Afghans through the Commission have not yet started discussing how best they think they should handle this.

Question: My question is about DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration). This week there is the International Conference on DDR in Tokyo -- how important is DDR in the reconstruction of Afghanistan? What kind of difficulties do you expect to face in DDR, because you have already experienced it in Mazar-i-Sharif and also how is the UN planning to deal with these difficulties?

Spokesman: I think that the experiences in Mazar or in Kunduz for instance, are different from what a national demobilization, disarmament and reintegration programme might look like. The major differences being that in the north and northeast what you had were exercises as a result of initiatives by local commanders, which are of course important because they certainly brought a reduction in tension and the local population welcomed those initiatives. But that is different, that was just the collection of small weapons. And then what comes next: from the perspective of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme (DDR) the important aspect is, and in the case of Afghanistan, first of all you have your legal reference - the decree of 1 December of President Karzai which establishes a new army and which also indicates the relationship that has with demobilization. Why is that relationship important? Because the new army means that every other military formation must cease to exist. Some of the men who are currently armed most likely will apply to be candidates in the new army and if they qualify they can go to the training programme and hopefully they will succeed in joining the new army. Many others though either will not qualify or will not want to join. We see many people who have been armed for a long time that they are tired of that, they want an alternative lifestyle and a different way to provide for their families. So as you build the new army, some people from the current military formations may be phased into the new army and [the military formations] will be phased out and that's the idea. Will that be easy to be accomplished, I don't know. Will that have some difficulties as you mention, probably yes. But it is important that these decisions have been taken after many discussions and negotiations within the Defence Commission which was established by the President following the Loya Jirga which brings together not only the Ministry of Defence but also the key factional leaders so they have been part of the process from the very beginning. People say that the devil is in the detail, the devil is in the implementation and we'll have to see how it goes. But they have been part of the process which is very important and nobody has said 'I want out', everyone want to be part of the transition process. Quickly, other elements which are important: the demobilization requires money because as people get out of the military formations and are not absorbed into the new army they need an alternative livelihood, they need jobs, or they need to be given the tools or the means to develop their rural activities for instance, or they need to be trained or educated, many of them are illiterate, and need to have some education in order to be able to compete in the market. So the demobilization, reintegration also brings in this aspect which brings together obvious the Government which leads this process but several actors in the international community. Japan plays a very important role as the lead nation in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process. Afghanistan is a poor country, [there are] difficulties overcoming very low levels of poverty to bring the population up to certain standards. The DDR will hopefully help that process but it means you are not working in a vacuum, it is in the context where there is already a lot of poverty, where there is already a lot of destruction as a result of the war. So all of these things have to happen together, the DDR has to happen not only as you build a new army but also as you have the reconstruction projects gaining momentum, because they will be providing job opportunities, they will be one of the ways of getting people reintegrated.

Question: There are some rumours of problems over funding of the programme from the Japanese Government -- are you aware of that?

Spokesman: No I'm not aware of problems of that nature. This conference in Tokyo will bring together donors. It's the first time there will be an international conference that will be dedicated to DDR [in Afghanistan] so I think problems of that nature, if they exist, after this conference we will be able to have a better feel for how people are reacting to this.

Question: UNAMA's concerns about the 100 families living in the caves in Bamyan -- can you elaborate what your concerns are - are they for the refugees or for the caves?

Spokesman: Well primarily for the individuals, that people's lives may be at stake. They moved into caves which are not houses, not proper abodes. But there's also a concern from the authorities regarding the cultural heritage. Those caves do have a very important cultural value and they need to be preserved as well. It's a complex problem, it has been solved with the first 105 families but as they vacated more came in. Unfortunately the kind of problems that we have seen in other situations of poverty, of people needing assistance, when they see that some assistance is given here people think well if I move there I will get the same thing or I'll get something faster. It's not always like that because there are plans, there are studies, people are considered by the level of need and so forth. It's a sad situation which is being tackled and today they will look into it further and we will be able to report to you in the coming days I hope.

Question: Who wants them moved?

Spokesman: The Governor says it's illegal so there is a legal aspect to begin with, but there's also the humanitarian issue, the conditions they are living which has to be further, to use a bureaucratic jargon, further assessed in order to see how best to clear up again the caves which had been vacated before, how best to do that and how quickly that can be done.

Question: A question on the war in Iraq -- will it have any effect on international efforts in Afghanistan?

Spokesman: I hope not, but it's a good question. Well we have heard and there have been public statements by important officials from the United States, from Britain for instance that they will not abandon Afghanistan. Prime Minister Blair, not recently but sometime ago, stated that we should all have learnt the lessons of the 1990s and should not abandon Afghanistan again. Recently you have heard statements from US officials and others that Afghanistan must remain top of the agenda, it is important, they will continue to support Afghanistan so this is all very encouraging. We will have to see reality though, we will have to see the pressure of reality if anything happens. The best thing is if no war takes place, but we'll have to see how things develop.

Question: You mentioned that the main factions want to be involved in DDR (inaudible) but the process of disarmament has stopped [in Mazar]. How do you explain that?

Spokesman: I think I would prefer to say, according to what they tell us, it has stopped temporarily, and they did not cancel it. In fact they are making public statement that they want to resume it. I understand that General Dostum is out of the country and I think that General Ata recently said that upon his return they would be ready to take this up again with new momentum. I don't have an explanation for you, this is not mathematical science. Many times since they started this they have stopped and they have resumed, they have stopped and they have resumed. Let's hope that they resume again and most importantly when the national disarmament programme starts that all areas can be assisted and taken care of under that programme.