Afghanistan

Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 18 Jul 2004

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News and Press Release
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TALKING POINTS
First Report Of Joint Verification Of Political Rights

The First report of the Joint Verification of Political Rights by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and UNAMA covering the period from 15 June -7 July (2004) was released yesterday. It shows an uneven situation throughout the country. The degree of political freedom appears higher in the country's capital and in the East, and lower in parts of the South where violence by extremists is hindering popular participation in the electoral process. And in the West, registered political parties complain that local authorities are curtailing their freedom of expression and operation.

The report observes that there is a high level of self-censorship among groups, parties and individuals who do not share the beliefs of the factions in power in different regions. This self-imposed restraint is strengthened by the behaviour of local representatives of the central Government who tend to consider any political activity as subversive. The report tables a number of recommendations aimed at addressing shortcomings identified by verification and improving the environment in which the electoral process currently unfolds. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Jean Arnault who yesterday, along with Chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) Dr, Seema Samar officially made public the initial findings to the diplomatic community in Afghanistan the media. Earlier they had also presented the Report to President Hamid Karzai.

At the request of Afghan Government, which is contained in the Government Work Plan annexed to the Berlin Declaration [March-April 2004], UNAMA and the AIHRC are verifying the exercise of political rights throughout the country to ascertain the situation regarding those rights in different provinces.

We have more copies of the report available at the side in English, Dari and Pashto for those of you who missed yesterday's press conference. Also available are the addresses of the AIHRC and UNAMA field offices where those persons who feel that their political rights have been violated can file complaints.

More Than 7.3 Million Afghans Registered As Voters

As of 15 July the voter registration figures reached 7,356,892. Of that total 4,400,758 (59.8 percent) of registrants are men and 2,955,734 (40.2 percent) are women. As we continue to reiterate these figures updated to 15 July are incomplete because as the voter registration process spreads to remote areas of the country the figures take longer to be transmitted Kabul.

Female registration continues to rise with the number of women registered this week increasing faster than the number of men. But although the number of women registered countrywide last week was 44 percent, only 12 percent of southern registrants were female. As registration progresses we are reaching the peak in some and conversely there is a decline in number of people going to registration sites as is to be expected. This is the case in the Central Highlands and also in the East.

200,000 Audio Cassettes To Promote VR And Elections

We have some news for you on an innovative approach amongst many others to civic education by the Electoral Secretariat.

In order to encourage Afghans to register as voters and vote on Election Day, 200,000 audiocassettes have been produced with free distribution beginning today in Kabul then spreading throughout the country after that. 100,000 contain music written and sung by famous Afghan artists to promote national unity, brotherhood, hope and peace. The other 100,000 contain dramas that promote women's participation. Famous actors have recorded pieces about the importance of free choice, freedom of expression and women's role in the transition towards democracy. Magazines and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are distributing these cassettes. In a further effort to reach even more Afghan women, some of these cassettes will be available in stores and as women purchase soap powder they will be given these cassettes free. In addition, at the entrances and exit points of major cities, cars leaving the cities will also be given cassettes free. The Asia Foundation funded the project while the NGO Awaz (The Voice) did the production of the tapes.

Nangarhar Parties Respond Positively To Political Harmonization Committee

Some 16 political parties are responding positively to the Political Harmonization Committee in Nangarhar since its first meeting on 27 May. Leaders of registered and yet-to-be registered parties that have opened offices and have been holding rallies as well as meetings are attending the twice monthly meetings of the Committee. These meetings are organized by UNAMA with representation from the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the Governor's office, the Electoral Secretariat, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and other observers

These meetings disseminate information on the electoral process, security, DDR, the constitution and are also a forum to allow complaints to be registered to promote conditions for free and fair elections. Parties have also used the meetings to assign their own agents to go to registrations sites as observers and report on irregularities. Despite the fluctuating security situation in Nangarhar, complaints registered to date are minor - usually intimidation and threats. Local Government has been supportive of the parties and the overall process.

Security Council Welcomes 9 October Presidential Election In Afghanistan

Last Thursday (15 July) in New York, the United Nations Security Council in a regular meeting issued a statement in support of the Afghan elections.

In that statement the Council called on the Afghan Government and the international community to maintain and intensify, ahead of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections, efforts to strengthen the national army and police, to accelerate disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR), and to support the Government's strategy to eliminate opium production. On the specific issue of DDR the Council stressed the importance of accelerated progress to create a safer environment for elections, including security for electoral staff and Afghan voters; to help ensure a free and credible outcome to the process; and to create a secure environment based on respect for the rule of law. The Council further stressed the importance of providing the necessary funding for the timely implementation of the electoral timetables set out by the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB).

Japanese Scholar To Give Seminar About Democracy

Tomorrow (19 July) at 2:00 p.m. Professor Rei Shiratori, President of the Institute for Political Studies in Japan and Professor of Political science at Tokai University, will conduct a seminar for the media on elections, electoral systems and democracy at the International Media Center of the Ministry of Information and Culture. You are all invited to attend.

Voter Registration In Nuristan Continues Despite Heavy Rains

We have been informed by the Electoral Secretariat that the heavy rainfalls in Nuristan on 15 July did not affect registration. Between 1300 and 1400 people continue to register on a daily basis, with 1467 yesterday and 689 of them were women.

Floods In Bamyan

Assistance is on the way to areas in Kahmard district in Bamyan, which have been flooded since 12 July. At this time, the number of displaced people is not known. We have received reports, however, that two children aged approximately 2 and 8 have died. A detailed assessment of the worst affected areas - Bajga, Ruy Sang and Deqala - is being conducted by Government offices, the United Nations and the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and a number of actions have begun.

Deqala is the site closest to Ajar where there is a large lake-like water build up, which is reported to be quite deep. This body off water is preventing villagers from crossing to the other side and thus making it impossible for them to have access to a spring, which is the source of clean water in the area. Additional potential problems, which can be caused by this large body of stagnant water, include water borne diseases, and destruction of agricultural land.

As a result of the coordination efforts by Provincial Government, UNAMA, and aid agencies, seven doctors are now in the area. The World Food Programme (WFP) is assessing the immediate food needs and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is assessing the needs of Internally Displaced People (IDP). The New Zealand PRT is also providing overall support to this process.

Floods in Badakshan

The UN assessment missions are on the ground in Shohada and Jurm in Badakshan to assess areas that have been severely flooded due to heavy rains yesterday (17 July).

In Darghab village, Shohada district, around 31 houses have been completely damaged. Eight people including five women and children as well as three men have died while 12 others have been injured.

In the villages of Hatta, Chab-dara, and Da-i-dara in Jurm district, more than 20 houses have been completely destroyed but at this time we have no information on casualties. All affected families have been registered by World Food Programme (WFP) and will receive food assistance, tents, and emergency kits. We will keep you updated as we get more information.

100 Families Displaced As A Result Of Severe Flooding In Samangan

A Natural Disaster Management Task Force, comprised of the United Nations and Government representatives, is assessing flooded area in parts of Ruyi Du Ab district in Samangan Province. Information gathered to date indicates that up to 100 families have been displaced and severe crop damage has occurred.

Again we will keep you informed as we get more information.

Overall Numbers of Disarmed Soldiers Edges Towards 11,000 Mark

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) continued the disarmament of military units in Jalalabad, Kabul, Bamyan and Heart last week. To date some 10,925 officers and soldier have turned in their weapons under the overall DDR programme; 10,600 have been demobilized and 9,280 have started or are about to begin their reintegration programmes.

Although the majority of personnel who have entered the disarmament programme to date have started reintegration, ANBP is also working to develop new projects that will address those who will enter the programme in the coming months. ANBP and the Association of Experts in the Fields of Migration and Development Cooperation (AGEF), for example, are planning to use former soldiers who have entered the programme to expand a clinic for the rehabilitation of drug abusers in Gardez. Soldiers who opt for vocational training can help with the construction of the clinic, which is run by the Welfare Association for Development of Afghanistan's Treatment Centre for Drug Addicts (WADAN).

WADAN's residential therapeutic centre for abusers, the first of its kind in Afghanistan, was inaugurated in March this year. DDR has referred former soldiers with drug problems to the clinic in the past and hopes that the clinic will be able to take in and rehabilitate more abusers - former soldiers and civilians - after the expansion. Japan will fund the project estimated to be at just over US$100,000.

Afghanistan's First National Human Development Report

The national consultation workshop for Afghanistan's first National Human Development Report (NHDR) will take place this Monday, 19 July at 2:00 p.m. in the UNAMA press briefing room. This event is open to the Media.

The draft of the report, with the data and analysis on the key areas such as health, education, income, poverty, and gender disparity will be addressed. Government officials, academics, and civil society representatives will discuss the findings and prepare the National Human Development Report with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The outcome of this workshop will help the Afghan Government to identify development gaps, measure progress, and prepare itself for early warning signs of potential problems. The report is scheduled for release in September 2004.

Throughout the world, UN promotes this process, which is used by many countries as a tool to adopt policies to accelerate human development based on the findings and also develop a national framework and strategy for the years ahead.

The United Nations Development Programme's Global Human Development Report for 2004 was launched on Thursday 15 July in Brussels. The report, entitled "Cultural Liberty in Today's Diverse World," emphasizes that Cultural Freedoms should be embraced as basic human rights and as necessities for the increasingly diverse societies of the twenty-first century. In this report Afghanistan is not included but it will be in next year's report as a result its own National Human Development Report.

UNHCR Spokesperson Mohammad Nader Farhad

Registration And Relocation Of IDPs Is Ongoing In Spin Boldak

More than 2,000 individuals have been helped to move from Spin Boldak to Zhar-e-Dasht via daily convoys of 50 families composed of 250 individuals provided with the transportation assistance.

The Department of Refugees and Repatriation and UNHCR together with its partner agencies have registered so far is 3,059 families, with more than 15,000 individuals. Of the 15,000 individuals registered about 40 percent have indicated their wish to move to Zhar-e-Dasht. Nearly 14 percent have asked to remain in Spin Boldak, and be locally reintegrated with UNHCR assistance on property they have purchased.

As the relocation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) continues, we now see more IDPs currently residing in New Wamy camps expressing their interest for relocation to Zhare Dasht. The registration, initially planned for completion by mid-July, is now extended for at least one more week to give IDPs sufficient time to make a decision and participate in the relocation operation.

Upon their arrival in Zhare Dasht, the Spin Boldak IDPs will receive aid packages including wheat flour, pulses, vegetable oil, sugar and salt. Various household items will also be distributed, including blankets, sleeping mats, Jerry cans, buckets, lanterns, soap and hygienic items. They will receive material to help them construct their shelters, such as a wheelbarrow, tool kit, plastic tarpaulin and bamboo.

Questions and Answers

Question: There is also report of some flooding and deaths in Baghlan. Have you heard anything about this?

Spokesman: I don't have anything on that but we will check.

Question: We have heard about translators being abused by US Soldiers? What is the UN reaction to this?

Spokesman: Although this question is not applicable to us I would like to refer you to something I saw in this morning's new stories where a Spokesman from the Coalition Forces totally denied this story.

Question: The date for the Presidential election has been set for 9 October [2004]. How much money has been pledged?

Spokesman: As of now pledges amount to about US$40 million while some US$22 million are in the bank. I should take this opportunity to tell you that with the decision of the JEMB regarding the dates of the two elections, one [Presidential] on 9 October and another (Parliamentary) six months later in April, the budget has to be reviewed. I believe that by the end of this month there will be a new revision of the budget to respond to this new calendar.

Question: Do you think the decree on DDR will have a positive impact?

Spokesman: It is a very positive decree.

Question: But if you look at the numbers there seems to be no difference.

Spokesman: The Decree is a very important initiative, which of course is within a legal framework or adds to the legal framework. Of course the action on DDR has to come from those who control the militia and enable the disarmament to gain speed. It is necessary that this effort be re-energized in order not only to meet the commitments of the Government but also to meet the aspirations of the Afghan public. As you will see in this First Joint Verification Of Political Rights Report that was released yesterday by the AIHRC and UNAMA one of the issues that is very important for the population is the disarmament of the factions in advance of the elections.

Question: Do you have any information and numbers for the people displaced because of the floods in Bamyan?

Spokesman: I am afraid we do not yet have any numbers for people displaced by these floods. The teams are on the ground working on it but as of now we do no have a report.