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

News and Press Release
Originally published
We have a briefing today, with the exception of one note, all of them are forward-looking; they are things which will be happening this week.

DSRSG Fisher Travels to Brussels

The Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Relief, Recovery and Reconstruction, Nigel Fisher left Kabul yesterday for Brussels. There he will participate in the Afghanistan High-Level Strategic Forum, which starts tomorrow 17 March. He will deliver a statement on behalf of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi. This meeting is the second part of the Consultative Group of the Afghanistan Development Forum (ADF) which took place here in Kabul from 13-14 March. The Brussels Forum will look at possible mechanisms to meet Afghanistan's financing gap for the short- and long-term.

As many of you already know at the first meeting of the Consultative Group the Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) presented donors with the 2003/1382 National Budget, which incorporates the ordinary and the development budgets.

Funding of the 1382 ordinary budget will require US$550 million, of which US$200 million are expected to be generated by domestic revenues with another US$350 million from donor financing through direct budget support or trust funds. Pledges of over US$116 million have been received by donors so far leaving a US$234 million gap. Funding of the 1382 development budget will require US$1.7 billion which is expected to be financed by donors through direct programme support. Pledges of US$712 million have been received, leaving a financing gap of US$1 billion.

In his opening remarks at the Kabul Conference Mr. Brahimi said the ambitious and important agenda before the government and people of Afghanistan required the sustained support of the international community. "We in the international community need to match these national efforts by extending sustained support to the process of state-building and national recovery that must advance during this coming year", he stated.

We have copies of the Chairman's summary of the Kabul ADF at the side of the room as well as copies of Mr. Brahimi's statement at the opening on 13 March.

Launch of AIHRC Satellite Office in Herat

On Wednesday 19 March the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) will officially open in Herat the first of seven regional satellites offices it has planned to establish throughout the country.

The Commission will open other satellites offices in Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, Bamyan, Jalalabad, Gardez and Fayzabad. The nationwide presence and activity of the AIHRC will enable it to respond more effectively to its mandate and to the immense expectations of Afghans. Now that the Commission has completed most of its organizational setting in Kabul, it is moving to the provinces and making progress in substantive issues. The Commission has already begun to prioritize the more than 600 complaints that have been lodged with it. This exercise will help it to decide the most pressing cases to investigate, while ensuring that its resources are used as effectively as possible and that positive results are demonstrated.

The inauguration of the Herat Office will be presided over by Dr. Sima Samar, Head of the AIHRC. Other Commission members, representatives from the Afghan Transitional Administration, Local Government, and UNAMA, senior representatives of donor countries and embassies will also attend.

The AIHRC is being assisted through a joint UNAMA/Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights OHCHR/United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project, which came into force on 28 October 2002. The Project has received good support by donor countries. Mobilized resources amount to US$3.1 million and the total annual budget for the first year is 4.3 million USD.

There is a flight on Wednesday to Herat, which is returning on the same day. While we cannot confirm the number of seats available there may be some for interested journalists who wish to cover the opening of the Commission's new office. We would like to keep the proportion of press going to two-third Afghan media and one-third internationals. We would also ask that those who do go on the flight to pool information with their colleagues who do not get seats on the plane. For more information about seat availability please contact David Singh in OCPI at 070 282 160.

Afghanistan Ratifies the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women

In less than two months, on 4 April the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), will enter into force for Afghanistan.

The CEDAW, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. It defines discrimination against women as any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex that impairs or nullifies the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including incorporating the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system; abolishing all discriminatory laws and; adopting appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women.

On 5 March, Afghanistan, ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a treaty it had signed in 1980. The decision to deposit the instrument of ratification by the Afghan Transitional Administration was based on recommendations from the AIHRC. The Convention will enter into force for Afghanistan on 4 April 2003 - 30 days after ratification.

We have at the side of the room a list of the International Human Rights Treaties to which Afghanistan has either signed or ratified.

Press Conference of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General

This Thursday 20 March at 10:00 a.m. the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Lakhdar Brahimi, will give a press conference right here in the UNAMA Conference room. The briefing is predicated among other things by the upcoming Nawroz (New Year) Celebrations, which will begin the day after Thursday on Friday 21 March. In that light Mr. Brahimi will talk about developments and achievements in Afghanistan during the last year as well as plans and targets for 2003. As you may be aware the SRSG has also been involved in a number of close consultations and talks with the Government recently particularly during the Afghanistan Development Forum (ADF), which we mentioned earlier as well as during a recent seminar with the Afghan Ambassadors.

World Water Day

Next Saturday - 22 March - is World Water Day. It will be commemorated in Kabul with events being planned by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which is the lead UN agency for World Water Day this year. We will have more details on the planned events on Thursday.

Also the first ever World Water Development Report will be published on Saturday by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in conjunction with 23 other UN agencies and convention secretariats.

The report is a comprehensive review which gives an authoritative picture of the state of the world's freshwater resources, aiming to provide decision makers with the tools for sustainable use of our water.

The report, Water for People, Water for Life will be launched at the Third World Water Forum which is starts today (16 March) in Kyoto, Japan and continues until World Water Day on Saturday.

Mine clearance projects in Afghanistan receive 7.5 million US dollar boost

An agreement has been signed by the UN Mine Action Programme for the Afghanistan demining agencies with USAID which will contribute 7.5 million US dollars for mine clearance projects in Afghanistan.

The agreement which was signed in Kabul on 14 March will mean the funding of mine clearance on the Kabul-Kandahar road and other clearance projects which will assist rehabilitation and reconstruction around the country.

We have copies of the press release available today and we also have the UNAMA factsheet on mine action available today in English, Dari and Pashto.

UNICEF - Visit of Executive Director, Carol Bellamy to Afghanistan - Edward Carwardine, Communication Officer

The Executive Director of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy, is due to pay an official visit to Afghanistan next weekend, from Friday 21 to Sunday 23 March. The focus of her visit will be on developments in Afghanistan over the last year to improve opportunities for women and girls, and to discuss future priorities for UNICEF in Afghanistan in 2003.

There will be a number of media opportunities here in Kabul during her visit, including the official launch of the new school year on Saturday 22, and the inauguration of the first salt iodation plant in Afghanistan.

Full details of her programme, and the associated media opportunities, will be announced at the UNAMA press briefing on Thursday, so this is a heads-up to you all to ensure that - if you are interested in covering Ms. Bellamy's visit - you have a representative here at the briefing on Thursday.

UNICEF - New education materials - Edward Carwardine, Communication Officer

Some of you may remember our former UNICEF representative, Eric La Roche spoke to the media last year about education and he reminded Afghan colleagues in the media that you have a role to report on education but also to advocate for education. Today I've brought with me some of the new campaign materials for the education campaign here in Afghanistan here this year. The message that the government's trying to get across is that education for every child means more prosperity for the country, that's the slogan being used on all the materials. Please take some of the materials, display them in your offices and help us to advocate for education for every child in Afghanistan this year.

Questions and Answers

Question: Do the UN agencies here see an increased security threat in view of the possible war in Iraq and are you taking any intensified security measures accordingly?

Spokesman: I think all of us anywhere in the world are thinking what will this war, if it happens, mean to my corner of the world. I think people who are here will do the same. Yes of course we have concerns regarding the kind of support for Afghanistan. It is very important that we have had reiterated statements from important leaders in the international community that, no matter what happens, their support - political and financial - for the Afghan process will continue. That's very good, that's very reassuring. However of course we'll have to see what happens later on. The day has only 24 hours and if you have to spend 22 of these 24 hours on one activity that's taking too much of your attention, you only have two hours left for all the other things you're also committed to do. It's very good that there's reassurance but we also have to see what reality will impose on everybody.

Regarding security here, of course Afghanistan is not yet a country where the security situation is yet stable. We have been saying this for a number of months. Work is going on to stabilize it but we're still not yet there. I think if a war happens we would of course have to pay attention to what this could mean; if there are any kind of repercussions in the region. I think the bottom line is pay attention, be cautious, but let's not panic and let's be responsible. That I think is the guiding principle that we all have here.

Question: My question is regarding ADF - the NGO community is concerned that, based on the ADF strategy, most of the activities of the NGOs will be more humanitarian and the long-term reconstruction work will be through government national priorities. The financial transactions of the NGOs will be through the Afghanistan bank and they say it's going to lead to delays. What is the United Nations response to that?

Spokesman: I haven't seen these comments from NGOs, so I think if you want clarification on that you'll have to talk to them. What I can tell you from the UN side is that it is very positive that the Afghan administration is becoming more and more capable of taking matters into their own hands. I think I would like to remind you that the first person, long ago, who talked about Afghans in the driving seat, an Afghan-led process, was Mr. Brahimi. It's good that the Afghans now want to be in the driving seat. The question of how the money will be channeled - that decision does not belong here it belongs to the donors. They are the ones who decide what will be the appropriate channels. The government is asking for this to be directly through government or through the trust funds. This is very, very positive. I really don't know how soon that will be achieved. It is for the donors to decide how the money is channeled. Another point that we have been the first ones to emphasize is the need to strengthen Afghan institutions. You know that one of UNAMA's main focuses is helping to further develop the capacity of Afghan institutions. We have now about 150 UN personnel working in the ministries. We are working with the government to see how we can be of further support for this kind of strengthening to go beyond the national Kabul level and to get to the subnational level. The UN presence earlier in this process was basically in 8 provinces. Now we have a UN presence in some 20 of the 32 provinces, not only because projects are expanding and conditions allow for that, but also because there is as an objective the idea of helping to develop Afghan institutions. So it's a long answer but I hope I got the point to you.

Question: There was more than 1.2 billion US dollar gap between the budget and the pledge. I think this is huge. Do you, as UNAMA, think it's possible to remove this gap in Brussels in a short meeting? Do you think that this gap has anything to do with Iraq, because Under-Secretary-General Guehenno said the donors might be withholding funds for possible use elsewhere?

Spokesman: My opinion depends on the usual old statement - is the glass half-full or half-empty. It's your perspective which determines how you look at things. Instead of looking at the gap, you could also look at how much has already been pledged before the fiscal year starts. It's quite significant, but there is still a gap, which is an important gap. And as the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ghani mentioned in the ADF, as important as having the indications of the commitment, is for them to know the regularity of these funds coming in so they can do proper planning, proper work. Any government needs to have a clear understanding of the resources and the flow of these resources so they can do their planning for their own expenditure. I don't know how much will be pledged in Brussels. Our hope is that as much as possible to bridge this gap will be pledged by member states there. You heard what I just quoted from Mr. Brahimi when he said the international community now needs to match the efforts being made by the Afghans. This budget process was a very important one and it involved all the cabinet. It is indeed a budget put together by the ministers of this government. They did a lot of their own negotiating, because the resources are limited, and the needs of this country are huge, not only for this year but for the years to come. So they reached, in a very collegial manner their own agreements - the money goes here the money goes there and I don't get so much now, I get so much later or whatever. They did their homework. Now it's the turn of the international community to show that they also did their homework and in Brussels to come forward with pledges to bridge these gaps. I would not be in position to tell you how much money is expected because that is the whole purpose of the meeting, we'll look at what the donors will say.

Question: So you don't see any connection between the Iraqi issue and this situation?

Spokesman: Let's see what the donors will say.