UNAMA Year in Review March 2009: UNAMA mandate extended for a further year

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The United Nations celebrated International Women's Day on 8 March in Afghanistan. Speaking at a function to mark the occasion, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Kai Eide urged more women to be appointed to senior positions in the country and for leaders to speak out in support of women.

Around 50 per cent of Afghanistan's estimated population of 26 to 30 million is women. Mr Eide noted that the country cannot ignore half of its population: "For the strengthening of institutions, women are needed. For economic growth, women are needed; competent and educated women, in order to lift this country out of poverty."

Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon also underscored the UN's commitment against violence and harassment of women. "Violence against women cannot be tolerated, in any form, in any circumstance, by any political leader or any government. The time to change is now. Let our voices be heard," he said.

Two major human rights reports were also released in March. Earlier, the annual report on Afghanistan of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was presented to the Human Rights Council. The report observed that "Afghans have continued to suffer significant rights deficits that pose serious challenges to the enjoyment of their human rights and to the country's long term prospects for peace, stability, democracy, development and the rule of law."

The report further noted the rise in the number of civilian casualties and asked anti-government elements and pro-government forces to ensure greater respect for the protection of civilians, including women and children.

Another report on arbitrary detention was released by UNAMA and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights which found that Afghans are often detained without lawful reason and in many instances detainees do not enjoy basic rights that are enshrined in Afghanistan's Constitution.

The report also recommended changes to laws, policy and operating procedures

The Secretary-General Ban released his Report on Afghanistan in March, which acknowledged that the Government and people of Afghanistan, as well as international partners, faced a critical test as they prepared to hold credible Presidential and Provincial elections in August.

While there are reasons to believe that security in Afghanistan may worsen, there are also some reasons for optimism, Mr Ban stated referring to the situation in the country. Despite the reports of violence and instability, there are also some key areas of progress that are "neither accidental nor negligible" and should not be overlooked, he said. These include strengthening Afghanistan's own security services and efforts to lower poppy production.

The Special Representative Kai Eide, too, gave his report to the UN Security Council, where he emphasized that although international priorities in Afghanistan, including security and institution-building remained valid, adequate resources and political will was lacking.

While expressing hope on the international conference on Afghanistan to be held in Hague at the end of March, Mr Eide also outlined some of the positive developments in Afghanistan. He said that the Afghan Government is "today better and more competent than ever before." He added that economic ministries are working in a more coherent way, comprehensive police reform is underway and that a national agricultural strategy was ready to be launched.

Meantime, the Security Council extended UNAMA's mandate until March 2010.

By Aditya Mehta, UNAMA