Afghanistan

Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 22 Jul 2004

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News and Press Release
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Posted
Originally published
TALKING POINTS
Almost 80 Percent Of Estimated Afghan Voter Population Registered

Almost 80 percent of Afghanistan's estimated voter population has registered to vote in the upcoming polls. As of 20 July voter registration figures reached 7,836,281 of these 4,637,499 (59.2 percent) are men and 3,198782 (40.8 percent) are women.

As you can see little by little the number of women continues to increase.

Despite this increase in the number of registrants as we have been telling you, one of our major concerns is the unbalanced registration. By that we mean registrations in some areas of the country that are lower than the national average. This for example is the case in the South. While the national average for women at this point is 40 percent of registrants; in the South that is about 20 percent as I told you in the last briefing.

Electoral Secretariat Director Meets Kandahar Leaders and Elders to Promote Voter Registration

In order to address and look into the situation of under-registration in the South, the Director of the Electoral Secretariat, Dr. Farooq Wardak and the Chief Technical Advisor, Professor Reginald Austin went to the South and are in fact on their way back today. But they have been able to let us know how their trip has gone. They have had a number of meetings with the Governors of Kandahar, Helmand, Nimroz and Zabul. In addition, they held talks with Government officials, security officials, elders, religious scholars, the Coalition, the Electoral Secretariat and UN agencies in the area including UNAMA.

The three key problems identified were security, and insufficient numbers of educated women to take part in the process and assist with it. Primarily we are talking about women to work as registration officials - a problem I have been telling you that we have encountered in some areas of the country. The third problem is the difficulty in making public information activities widespread due to lack of access and scattered populations.

Some of the actions that will be taken in order to address these concerns are that wherever there are no women with a sufficient degree of education to be hired and trained as registration officials, that registration, following a suggestion of the elders in the South will be conducted by respected elders and religious scholars. In response to the need to respect traditional forms of behavior in that part of the country, wherever there are women who are qualified to be registration officials, they will be hired along with their Mahrams so that they can move and do the work that they have to do. And finally, there will be a review of areas in the South in order to consider the expansion or enlargement of the number of registration sites in the five Provinces of the South.

While there, Both Dr. Wardak and Professor Austin already met, as I told you, with a number of people from the civil society. As a result of that, already in Helmand, the day after their meetings with the religious scholars and elders, the number of registrants immediately increased significantly. So let's hope that this will indeed be a turn around in the number of those who are registering in the South.

Kandahar Hold First Televised Political Roundtable on Voter Registration

Still on the South, I would like to tell you that as part of all these effort to increase registration in that region, on 18 July, the first televised political roundtable on questions and answers related to the registration process was held in Kandahar city. Participants included the Deputy Governor, the Electoral Secretariat, President of the University, a 2nd Corps representative, and a female Constitutional Loya Jirga (CLJ) Delegate and UNAMA. Discussions focused on issues such as security and the number of registrants, which are all hampering the registration process. Participants called on both men and women to urgently register. UNAMA invited all parties to participate in the next political roundtable to be held at its offices in the near future.

Uruzgan Governor Supports Voter Registration Activities

As parts of the efforts in the South, In Uruzgan, civic educators recently (14 July) arranged a big meeting at the Governor's House that was attended by over 1000 people from the capital and districts. The Governor delivered a speech encouraging people to register and at the end of the meeting registered himself first as a way of setting a good example.

Agreements Reached on Allowing Afghans In Iran And Pakistan to Vote In Elections

Still on electoral but moving to a different subject: you may have received the press release we issued the day before yesterday. If you did not, we do have copies for you on the table informing you about the recent signing of two separate agreements that will allow Afghans in Iran and Pakistan to participate in the Afghan elections through out of country arrangements. Based on memorandums of understanding the two countries and the UN have agreed to facilitate and support the organization of an out of country electoral process. In Iran this will entail just voting, as Afghans in that country also went through a registration exercise in 2003 and were given registration cards. In Pakistan both voter registration and voting will be carried out. The activities in both countries will be undertaken by the International Organization of Migration (IOM) in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) .

Ministry of Justice Approves 27 Political Parties

We have been told that the Ministry of Justice has now registered 27 political parties. Out of the 62 political parties who are seeking approval from the Ministry of Justice 27 have now received their licenses. The latest three parties that were registered last week are: Hezb-i-Tafahum wa Democracy Afghanistan (Party of Understanding and Democracy of Afghanistan); Hezb-i-Sulhi Aqwam-e-Islami Afghanistan (Party of Peace of the Islamic Tribes of Afghanistan) and Sazman Islami Afghanistan Jawan (Islamic Organization of Young Afghanistan). So that is the latest on political party registration.

JEMBS Small Grants Programme Supports 219 Projects

In part of our commitment to inform you about public outreach, I would like to tell you about the Electoral Secretariat Small Grants Programme. It is a programme that up until now has provided US$130,000 to 219 different projects countrywide. Each project has received an average of US$585 Dollars. How does this work? Communities propose the projects to the Secretariat, all of which are related to voter registration activities and the upcoming elections. Last week, for example, 18 projects were awarded small grants in seven provinces. And using this last week as an example, we will tell you little bit about these projects, which illustrate the diversity of the initiatives that we see around the country. These include funding to promote gatherings for women and Kuchis; sport events like football matches; the publication of a local newsletter focusing on the registration process and a photo exhibition. Since February this year when this programme began, some 75,000 Afghans nationwide have participated in these different projects and events.

High School Students Participate In Mock Elections

Another initiative that we told you about long ago has now concluded. It is the mock elections that happened in Esteqlal High School in Kabul. The process took place in June and July. It was undertaken by the Electoral Secretariat with support from the Ministry of Education and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The pilot school election project involved some 100 students from grades 10 to 12 who participated in a simulated general election and elected one candidate to promote and defend their interests before the school.

All the processes and phases that we see in a vote registration and electoral campaign were followed during these two months. And as a result of that young Abdul Matin was elected President by classes 10 to 12. His term will finish when the school year ends.

His electorate expects him to represent student interests to teachers, the administration and the Headmaster. He will also act as their spokesperson. This entire process was filmed by International Security and Assistance Force for Afghanistan (ISAF) to illustrate how an election happens and will broadcast after editing on TV Afghanistan.

Afghan Women Mobilizing For Elections, Rights and Participation In A Democratic Society

Finally still on Elections, just to tell you that this week on 21 July, UNAMA organized a workshop for women's NGO and activists in Jalalabad on building women's rights and political participation in a democratic society including the electoral process. The workshop also focused upon rights protected by the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women(CEDAW) and encouraged participants to think of ways in which they can take action to advocate and push for the protection and strengthening of women's rights.

Also in July in Kabul, the Ministry of Women Affairs and its key Provincial representatives took part in a four-day National workshop to discuss operational activities and the role of the Ministry of Women Affairs in support of the electoral process.

Emergency Assistance Mobilized and Dispatches to Flood and Drought Prone Areas

Emergency assistance continues to be dispatched to drought and flood affected areas while assessment missions are also taking place. These affected areas are: Samangan, Badakshan, Balkh, Bamyan, Nuristan, Nangarhar, Khost, Baghlan and Lagman Provinces.

The most significant needs at this time are food and tents.

Forty tents and 500 blankets, along with hygiene kits, clothes and other household items have been delivered to Jurm and Shohoda districts of Badakhsan Province. The Khamard district of Bamyan has received 450 tents along with 1,443 blankets. Two mobile clinics were also deployed there. In addition, also in Khamard, emergency food aid will be required for approximately 10,000 people for at least one month.

In Khamard, we would like to note that the assessment and distribution of relief items are supported by the Community Development Councils (CDC), which are grass-root institutions that promote the development needs of their villages and have been established as part of the National Solidarity Programme. I want to mention this because this is a novelty in the country. They were established some months ago and our colleagues from Bamyan tell us that their involvement and active participation in the assessment exercise was extremely important and significant.

Moving to the north, in Rau-I-Daub District in Samangan Province, a mission comprised, of the Ministry of Reconstruction and Rural Development, IOM, and UN agencies are conducting assessments of the situation there. Reports indicate that 20 houses, 1 mosque, 3 shops and an area of farmland were damaged however, this is yet to be confirmed by this mission. A truck loaded with tents, clothes, and medicine has been dispatched to the area in advance of the mission's assessment.

In Baghlan, in the district of Tala wa Barfak, it is reported that 3 villages and 12 shops were damaged by floods but no casualties were reported.

Relief efforts for at least 15,000 affected families nationwide are being coordinated by Provincial Natural Disaster Management Task Forces which are led by the Provincial Government with support from UN agencies; and non governmental organizations.

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is releasing funds to deal with infrastructural damages around the country. That means at this point over 20 bridges, 40 culverts and 50 dams that were completely or partially destroyed recovered.

Number of Personnel Disarmed Approaching 12,000 Mark

The number of officers and soldiers who have turned in their weapons under the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme is nearing the 12,000 mark with the total number of men from the Afghan Military Forces who have entered DDR now standing at 11,575.

DDR continued this week in Jalalabad with the disarmament of personnel from the 84th Parachute Regiment, 9th Armored Brigade and 743rd Regiment and in Heart with personnel from 17th Division. Demobilization and reintegration have also begun in those two areas and continues in Kabul, Kandahar, Kunduz, Gardez, Mazar and Bamyan. So far, 9,430 ex-soldiers have entered reintegration programmes.

Heavy weapons cantonment is ongoing in Gardez and to date 140 weapons have been cantoned. The process is expected to begin next in Kunduz where a weapons collection team of the Ministry of Defence and the Afghanistan New beginnings Programme was deployed yesterday to identify two cantonment sites and prepare for cantonment.

New Report Assesses Situation Of Afghan Children Deprived Of Parental Care

A new report examining the situation of children deprived of parental care in Afghanistan will be launched on Saturday, 24 July 2004 in Kabul at 9:30 a.m. by Noor Mohammad Qarqien, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, at Sederat, the Prime Minister's Compound, in Kabul. The report - "Whose Responsibility" - has been produced in a partnership between the Afghan Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The report, commissioned by UNICEF on behalf of the Afghan Government in an effort to better understand the situation of children deprived of parental care in Afghanistan and to help inform policy makers and assist service development. Following decades of under-investment in support structures and a general decline in social services as a result of Afghanistan's previous international isolation, many communities have grown to rely upon institutions to provide support and care for children deprived of parental care, raising questions about the appropriateness and quality of care being provided.

The report will make a number of key recommendations about how services for children deprived of parental care can be improved in the future.

There is press release from UNICEF available at the side with more details.

Kabul University Cisco Networking Academy Promoted from Local Academy to Regional Academy

The Kabul University Cisco Networking Academy was recently upgraded from a local to a regional Academy. This will enable it to train more trainers as Cisco Instructors. As a result thousands of dollars spent on training Instructors abroad will be saved. Additionally, the new Regional Academy can offer now offer training for instructors from neighbouring countries in central Asia and Iran. So far four Afghan Instructors - two female and two male from the Ministry of Women's and the Ministry of communications - have been trained.

The decision to upgrade the Academy was announced on 18 July at a graduation ceremony at the Kabul University, which awarded certificates in networking to 113 students - 66 women and 47 men. Speakers, including Government officials emphasized the importance and the need for information technology specialists in Afghanistan's future. Kabul University, the Ministry of Communications and CISCO are implementing the programme with support from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the United Nations Development Programme. Some 240 students are currently being trained.

This is an example of cooperation between public and private sectors.

Expansion Of Attorney-General Headquarters Commences In Kabul As Rehabilitation Of Kunduz Provincial Court Is Completed

Expansion of the Offices of the Attorney General began this morning with a groundbreaking ceremony in Kabul attended by Government officials and representatives of the international community. The construction of a two storey annex will provide much needed additional space within the Attorney-General's office and enable the relocation of key staff that are currently placed elsewhere in Kabul due to lack of space.

The construction of this annex begins just after the completed rehabilitation of the Kunduz Provincial Court, which was completed on 7 July. The rehabilitated Kunduz court which will also be provided with training for its staff and equipment will now be better equipped to deliver justice services to the local population. Construction of an integrated Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General's Office in Kunduz is now at the design stage.

Both projects are implemented under the Rebuilding the Justice Sector of Afghanistan Programme of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Judicial Reform Commission of Afghanistan. The Governments of Italy, Canada and the United Kingdom are providing US$5.8 million in funding. Nationwide the aim is to construct and rehabilitate justice buildings destroyed by conflict staring initially in Kunduz, Badakshan, Badghis, Heart, Nangarhar, Paktia and Kabul city.

UNESCO's EDUCATIONAL RADIO AND TELEVISION PROJECT

I have a final note which is on a new radio and television programme supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that will address the educational needs of Afghans living in remote areas.

Programming will include literacy, life-skills advice for health workers, farmers and other people living in remote areas of the country.

UNESCO has a team of 70 Afghan staff members who are already producing a range of educational programmes. This team had three-month of intensive training in broadcasting techniques, programme production, English language proficiency, and computer literacy.

The programmes will be broadcast via FM radio and television services in Kabul as part of an experiment, which will eventually expand throughout Afghanistan.

The project has received funding for US $2.5 million from the government of Italy to completely upgrade and rehabilitate distance education services in the country.

Announcement of Guest

I will now be happy to take any questions you might have before we go to our special guest today

Mr.Mohammad Reza Amirkhizi who is the Representative of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). He is also the Senior Advisor on Drugs Control to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan.

Questions and Answers

Question: According to reports from South Waziristan, refugee camps have been completely destroyed by the Pakistanis and 250,000 refugees have been sent back to Afghanistan. Do you have any information on this?

Spokesman: I don't have information on that we have to look into it.

Question: My first question is about the refugees in Pakistan, Is there enough time for them to register? The second question is about Iran; what about those refugees who do not have cards?

Spokesman: This registration process [in Iran] already took place for Afghan refugees. And I do hope that those who wish to vote and are eligible to vote will have gone through this registration exercise. In the case of Pakistan, it is big logistical challenge. You have refugees in many places of the country. There is very little time but we have to try to do our best. We will have the cooperation of the Pakistani authorities as we will have the cooperation of the Iranian authorities [for the electoral exercise in both countries]. We count on that because it is essential for this exercise to reach as many Afghans as possible. I think the same motto we have had for the registration of Afghans in Afghanistan applies to Pakistan: we will do all we can to register as many Afghans as possible within the constraints that we have.

Question: Do you have any idea on the numbers of eligible voters in Pakistan and Iran?

Spokesman: I have a very rough idea. I think probably together we are talking of around 2.3 million or something like that.