Press Briefing by ArianeQuentierSenior Public Information Officerand United Nations Agencies in Afghanistan

Secretary-General recommends UNAMA’s mandate be extended for one year
In the framework of the discussions by the Security Council on the extension of UNAMA’s mandate, the latest report of the Secretary-General (SG)on Afghanistan was circulated among members of the Security Council last Tuesday in New York. The report – entitled “The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security” – covers the period since the publication of the previous one, on 6 November 2004.

In the report, the Secretary-General acknowledges that after the holding of parliamentary elections, the implementation of the Bonn Agreement will be complete, adding that the post-Bonn agenda and the role of the international community in Afghanistan will need a broad examination in consultation with Afghan partners. He also recommends an extension of the mandate for another year.

There port also reiterates the strong consensus – as expressed at the Berlin Donor Conference last year – on the continuation of peace-building in Afghanistan, including the “restoration of countrywide security, the full resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons, the reconstruction through the rehabilitation of key economic and social infrastructure [as well as] the establishment of functional state institutions across the country.”

Regarding security, the SG praises a relatively calm environment, citing “progress made in the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration programmer, the increased strength of the Afghan national Army and police forces “as well as “the popular support to the new President and Government”.

On narcotics, the SG emphasizes the need to revert Afghanistan’s position as a main supplier in 2005, insisting that “a comprehensive programmer [is required], with the commitment of supplier, transit and recipient states”

Finally on elections, he confirms that UNAMA “continues to provide political and electoral expertise while the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will continue to oversee trust fund management and donors relations”. The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) will be the executing agency, the reports adds. The report also refers to the cost of the elections: US$ 148 million.

Namak was established on 28 March 2002 and the current mandate will expire on 27 March.

UNSRSG, Jean Arnault, briefs the Security Council on latest developments in Afghanistan
On the occasion of the presentation of the Secretary-General’s report, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan (SRSG),Jean Arnault, briefed the Security Council on the latest developments in the country.
He confirmed the date of the elections, scheduled for the 18th of September, acknowledging that they will take place after “the completion of the poppy eradication campaign”, with more time for civic education and the demilitarization process. He added that this will also allow more preparations for the establishment of the National Assembly, with a conference to be held in Paris next week to raise funding for this purpose.

Jean Arnault cautioned that security remains a concern despite improvements, but recognized the presence of “better trained police and army units, at the disposal of the electoral process”.

Finally regarding UNAMA’s mandate after the electoral process is completed, he confirmed that a variety of options are being contemplated and that intensive consultations with the Afghan government and its international partners would take place in the weeks and months to come.

Based on these reports, the Security Council will discuss the resolution on the extension of UNAMA’s mandate later today.

Flood Update

Preparations for and response to flooding continue. President Karzai himself has called for relevant Ministries and Provincial Governors to raise people’s awareness on potential floods.

In Helmand, following reports of flooding yesterday, the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) is in the process of dispatching 700 tents and 1000 blankets. The World Food Programme (WFP) is also distributing 407 Metric Tons of food to 6,200 families. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), dispatched assistance from Kandahar last night, including – among other relief items – 10,000 sachets of oral re-hydration salts to protect against the effects of diarrheal diseases. The assistance should reach Helmand during the course of the day.

In Uruzgan, the WFP and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) joint assessment mission to Defraud district returned last Tuesday. They reported that the river had eventually receded and the flood is over. However, because these floods had been expected, the relief response was very effective. As of Monday – before the assessment was even concluded – the Coalition Forces (CF) airlifted WFP assistance to the district and by Tuesday, 11 Metric Tons (MT) had been delivered, following 220 MT earlier brought by land. On the same Tuesday, UNAMA sent 92 tents for 200 families, in addition to 400 tents already allocated by the Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT). Medical staff are also presenting the district with full medical supplies. It turned out that the people worst affected by the flooding had built their houses in the riverbed during the draught and eventually found themselves cut-off by the floodwater.

Toucan download pictures of the floods in Uruzgan on the photo gallery of UNAMA’s website: www.unama-afg.org

Izabal, the value of pre-positioning 800 MT of food through WFP was demonstrated after the flooding of the Tarmac River last Sunday and Monday. WFP has delivered 44 MT of food for 820 families in Tarmac district and 49 MT of food for 910 families in Shako district. In anticipation, the governor had also given instructions for tents to be pre-positioned.

Pre-positioning of humanitarian relief continues throughout the country. In Ghor province, 32 MT of WFP assistance has been pre-positioned in Chaghcharan and a further32 MT will be pre-positioned in Doliana district. In Herat, WFP and UNHCR are maintaining significant stocks of assistance while UNICEF has pre-positioned on-food items in Bamyan and 9 Northern provinces ranging from Farias to Badakhshan.

44,414military personnel disarmed; 8,694 heavy weapons collected
Forty-four thousand four hundred and fourteen (44,414) Afghan Military Forces (AMF) personnel have disarmed, a figure which has not changed significantly since Sunday because of the New Year’s break.
Thirty-nine thousand four hundred and sixty-six (39,466) former military personnel have entered into the reintegration process. Most of the ex-soldiers, about 44 percent, continue to choose support or training in the agricultural sector. The next most popular choice, at almost 28 percent, is vocational training or direct job placement. Help toward setting up a small businesses chosen by about 20 percent. The remainder includes work in demining, national police, national army, and other activities.
Heavy weapons collection and ammunition survey are also conducted by the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme (ANBP). Both programmers have shown little activity as a result of the New Year’s holiday and also because of continued difficulties in road movement due to the bad weather. The total number of heavy weapons collected and placed in guarded compounds is 8,694. The ammunition survey teams continue their work and we hope to be able to give you data on the type and amounts of ammunition being found in the coming weeks.

Mine Action for Peace (MAFP) Graduation Ceremony
hundred and fifty-eight Afghan men trained in de-mining by the Mine Action for Peace (MAFP) will graduate at a ceremony in Kabul today.

Mine Action for Peace is a re-integration initiative within the Afghan Government’s Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programmer and has provided mine action employment in de-mining, permanent marking and mine risk education to 767 Afghan ex-combatants.

The ceremony will include speeches by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

For further information contact Patrick Freshet, UNMACA External Relations Officer Tel: 070276645.

World Tuberculosis (TB) Day
Today, 24 March, is World Tuberculosis day, a disease also known after its initials TB. Despite the fact that it is both preventable and curable– TB kills 5,000 people each day throughout the world.

In Afghanistan, tuberculosis remains a severe problem. In 2004, 18,402 Afghans were diagnosed with the disease, of which two in three (67%) are women. The Ministry of Public Health (Mop), the World Health Organization (WHO) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are coordinating efforts to try to address the problem. The number of TB clinics in Afghanistan has consistently increased from 32 in 2001, 76 in 2002, and 144 in 2003 to over200 in 2004.

Each year on World Tuberculosis day, the United Nations draws attention tithe dangers of the disease. In his annual message, the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said:

“We must work harder if we are to achieve, by 2015, the Millennium Development Goal of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of TB as one of the world’s major diseases. Thanks to a massive scale-up of the strategy for TB control recommended by the World Health Organization, with 17 million persons treated in nine years, our prospects for reaching the goal have improved greatly. But huge obstacles remain”.

Press Briefing by Peter Breen, Chief Electoral Officer of the Joint Electoral Management Body

Ladies and Gentleman I am the Chief Electoral Officer of Afghanistan. The President of Afghanistan, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Afghanistan and the Joint Electoral Management Body have asked me to come and assist with the holding of the elections in 2005.

I have been holding elections all over the world for the last ten years and have primarily focused on holding elections in post-conflict and transitional democracies. I have been very fortunate to work in Afghanistan before. I arranged the election for the Emergency Loyal Jirga in 2002. Last year for the Presidential Election I was in charge of the Out-of-Country election in Pakistan and Iran and it is an honor to be back here to be part of holding the in-country election for this year.

The Joint Electoral Management Body is the commission that will oversee this election in 2005. It has just been reinitiated and members have been fully appointed to this body. The JEMB consists of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan which has nine Afghan members appointed by the President. They have been joined by four international commissioners who have been appointed by the SRSG. Three of them are here now. The last of the four International commissioners will arrive next week. Aside from these 13 voting members of the JEMB, I, as the Chief Electoral Officer, am a non-voting member of the JEMB and therefore sitting with the Jamba’s it sets the policy framework for this election.

The Organization that will carry out the election is called the JEMB Secretariat; it is the executive arm of the JEMB. This secretariat is the same that conducted the election last year. It is now being re-staffed and will deploy over the next couple of weeks. Our headquarters is on Jalalabad Road where we are now co-located with the Commissioners; the commissioners and the secretariat therefore work in the same compound and work very closely together on a daily basis.

Weill have eight Regional Offices corresponding with the UNAMA regions and there will be 34 Provincial Offices. The Secretariat will carry out its activities through these offices.

Our core staff strength will be about 4,300 Afghans and 425 internationals. This number of staff will be engaged starting a couple of weeks from now and through until the end of the process. Many of these will be Civic Educators who will travel throughout Afghanistan to talk to people about elections and tell them about their rights to participate in this electoral process. Around Election Day the organization will grow and will have about 187,000 staff members who will be active on Election Day in the Polling Stations around Afghanistan.

We’ve just finalized an operational concept for this election. This concept lays out the vision for how the election will be carried out over the next six months. The operational concept itself is still subject to the final amendment of the election law which should be adopted over the next four weeks. It is also subject to the policy decisions of the JEMB. Butte Secretariat finds it important to move forward and has proposed an operation that leads to an election in September of this year. This operational concept has been presented to the donors and to various stakeholders in order to show what our vision is on this year’s election. The goal of the operation is very clear: We would like to be able hold an election this year which is widely accepted and which is credible.
A very important aim for me is that the election itself and the process leading to the election adds to stability in Afghanistan and to the continued democratization of the country.

Elections are happening in small steps. We see in countries around the world that the first elections after conflicts often have some imperfections. This one will have imperfections too but hopefully show progress and improvement, leading into an even better next election. It is our important goal that we will improve on what happened last year and lay the ground for even better future elections in Afghanistan.

Weill attempt to meet the highest possible standard with these elections and see if it is possible for us to improve on some of the issues which were criticized during the last election.

The second election is always very difficult as people’s expectations are much higher and scrutiny of the process will be much more comprehensive.

I believe that we will be capable of meeting these expectations –with the current plan – within reasonable standards.

I believe that these elections will be possibly the most challenging that the international community have assisted with. We have been having international elections in many different countries; Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and so forth. But there is no doubt that these elections will be some of the most challenging that the international community has assisted with sofa. The timeline for the election was announced last Saturday; the Election Day will be the 18th of September. In order to move towards the 18th of September there are many activities that have to happen between now and this date.

One of the initial activities is the candidate nomination process; when candidates can come forward and nominate themselves for the process. The candidate nomination will take place from 26th of April. We expect that it will last for a couple of weeks. Given that this is only one month away, toucan imagine the urgency of deploying the field structure to be ready to receive the candidates throughout Afghanistan at provincial level, where the candidates will be asked to register.

We expect that there will be a supplemental registration exercise in which people who have returned to Afghanistan; people who have become 18-yearsold; people who did not have the opportunity to register the last time, will have the opportunity to register so that they can participate in this year’s election. It is anticipated that this supplemental registration exercise will happen in a four-week window in the July timeframe.

Elections, as I said, will happen on the 18th of September and immediately afterwards the count will start, which we expect to have finished around the start of October. The count this year will be much more complex because there are more and bigger ballots than we had last year, but we still hope to have it finalized by the start of October.

The registration exercise as such will give people the opportunity to get registered to participate this year. We hope that this registration exercise will happen at district level so that we will be able to offer people reasonable service and proximity to the registration facilities. Polling itself will take place in about 30,000 polling stations, which we expect to be in about 5,000 locations.

One of the great challenges of these elections will without doubt be the fact that we have 34 separate provinces, each of them will have two elections– one for the Provincial Council and one for the Wolesi Jirga. This means that we will have 68 different ballots with an estimated 5,000 –10,000 candidates nominated. We do obviously not know how many candidates would actually be interested in participating yet, but it is possible that the numbers could be that high. This means that some of the ballots may have hundreds of candidates on them; you can imagine how a ballot might look if there are hundreds of candidates on it and the voter have to find their specific candidate in order to cast the vote.

Another great challenge will be the process after the candidates have nominated themselves where candidates will be vetted to establish whether there are some who do not meet the eligibility criteria; of which one is that candidate is not be linked to an armed group. The process of looking through that many candidates in only a matter of weeks and stands as one of the most significant challenges to us.

Last Wednesday (March 16, 2005) we presented the budget for this election tithe donor community and as was mentioned it was 148 Million US Dollars covering from the 1st of January and through this year. We are now hoping that the donors will come forward and contribute these funds so that we can move on and implement the election. The donors now have the operational concept, they have the amount and negotiations are going on with the capitals to secure these funds which will be administered by UNDP.

This election will be very challenging; one of the greatest challenges being time. We have only six months left to the election and within these six months we have to redeploy the secretariat all over Afghanistan and achieve number of tasks which are in many ways more complex than we were to achieve last year – so many different ballots; so many candidates and probably more voters.

The logistic reality of Afghanistan poses a specific challenge – to get all the material out there, to get people out to do the training, to see that things happen in an orderly fashion is definitely again one of our main challenges.

And last but not least, security is an aspect that we are very aware of; that we must make sure that the staff engaged in the operation and the people that participate, the voters, are kept as secure as possible. On that we also have spent considerable time and resources to make sure that this election becomes as safe as possible.

Questions and Answers:

Question: UNAMA’s mandate expires after three years. Do you think the UN organizations and UNAMA still have things to do in Afghanistan and what?

Senior Public Information Officer: – actually, it is not a mandate of three years expiring now. In fact, since the establishment of UNAMA, the mandate has been given by the Security Council for one year, with – at the end of each period of 12-months – a review of UNAMA’s activities, taking in consideration Afghanistan’s – the host nation – views. The extension of the mandate has been discussed in the Security Council every year and so far there has always been recommendation and an extension of the mandate. So it is not the mandate suddenly expiring after three years. It is a regular process of extension of the mandate as every year.

UNAMA’s mandate, among other things, has been to support the implementation of the Bonn agreement. But that is only part of UNAMA’s mandate – dealing with the transition of Afghanistan from an immediate post-war country into a normalized country with representative political institutions. There are other UNAMA activities, amongst them there is the coordination of relief, reconstruction and recovery activities. In this respect, UN mans the umbrella for seventeen UN agencies working and implementing programmers in Afghanistan. This is one of the activities UNAMA could still be in charge of.

There are also number of issues that will still need to be supported, such as police reform or justice reform – for example. There are still a number of sectorial activities that require support and expertise from the United Nations agencies. What we are now going to have is a discussion within the UN family, but also with Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the host country and there is nothing that can be done without discussions with Afghan Partners. Discussions will also be with other international players to see the role of UNAMA. I am sure UNAMA will be relevant, but to what extent and in what field? This is where we are right now.

Question: how will you avoid mistakes like the one with the confusion about the indelible ink?

Chief Electoral Officer: firstly, we will obviously have a careful look at the methodology that was used for inking voters last year and do our utmost to try to optimize this. It is likely that we will use different kind of ink and a different kind of application. We will also focus on training to see to that it is absolutely clear how this ink is to be applied on the voters. Furthermore this year we intend to establish dedicated complaints commission that will be appointed throughout the period. It will be able to take complaints, not only from around Election Day as was the case for the Expert Panel last year, but from any part of the process, should voters, political parties, candidates feel there is something that is incorrectly implemented by the Secretariat or byte JEMB, or any party or candidate is not acting in accordance with the code of conduct.

Question: last year 12 voter registration staff members were killed. How do you think you can provide security to avoid this happening again?

Chief Electoral Officer: it is very clear that the environment last year led to some very unfortunate casualties of election staff and we are well aware that of the problems that might be facing us this year. It does look as if the environment is slightly safer to work in this year. We believe in very close cooperation with the Afghan and international security forces; that we will be able to go further in our ability to secure our staff and the voters all over Afghanistan. But there is no doubt that this year is also subject to security incidents and we should not be too surprised if there are elements that wish to move against the electoral process. Unfortunately I think this is a tendency that you seeing elections of this kind all over the world. It is not unique to Afghanistan. There are certain elements that do not want to see democracy established. I think the vigilance of the Afghan people combined with our efforts to try to provide protection will hopefully be enough to make this a safe exercise this year.

Question: will the JEMB hire armed security personnel?

Chief Electoral Officer: the JEMB will not hire an international security company as such to protect our staff. We will rely on the Afghan security forces, the Coalition and so forth. We do have security specialists deployed all over Afghanistan who we have hired for each of the provinces and each of our regional offices. We have these international security specialists in what is a very comprehensive security network that control the movement of staff, make sure people live in safe housing, move in convoys, report in every evening and so forth. All of these measure are happening within our own security organization. With regard to armed personnel we will be relying on Afghan and Coalition forces.

Question: how will they deal with criticisms raised by political parties? What is the JEMB’s position on the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV)?

Chief Electoral Officer: with regards to the election system itself it is very important to stress that this is not a decision of the JEMB. The election system is part of the electoral law and therefore it’s the decision of the government what election system is going to be applied in Afghanistan. The JEMB has not participated in the decision process of the election system and would in most countries not be part of this. It is a legal matter.

The government has decided on SNTV and the JEMB is obliged to carry it out, as is its duty – and it will do so. But the JEMB to my knowledge, does not entertain a discussion on whether it should be one or another election system as it is a neutral election management body that is not involved in politics in that sense. Any grievance that political parties might have with regards to the election system should obviously be directed to those who have decided it.

Question: how do you plan to deal with voter intimidation?

Chief Electoral Officer: intimidation of voters is something that is seen in many elections all over the world. It is very difficult to control because it usually happens outside the venues that we control. It happens on evenings before elections and in the campaign period and so forth. The most important control mechanism that we have is if we register that any candidates have any involvement in intimidation, such a candidate can be disqualified. They will have clearly signed a code of conduct, which says that they will not participate in such activities. But it Isa very difficult issue to address and there are limited means with which this can be done, because we don’t have intelligence out there looking at who does the intimidation. But should a candidate be involved in intimidating voters, they can be disqualified as a result of that, and this is exactly why we have in the Complaints Commission that I mentioned earlier to adjudicate. If there is a case of a candidate intimidating voters it can be brought to the Complaints Commission.

Question: what measures are envisioned by the JEMB to avoid multiple registration? For example, what is to prevent me from getting another card even though already have one?

Chief Electoral Officer: there is no method to stop you lying about your registration and getting a second card. It is up to people honesty since they have to declare that they have not registered before. It is not possible in Afghanistan, without a national ID card system or any individual documentation, to prevent a person from impersonating somebody else to try and obtain a second card. This would entail much more elaborate mechanism to be set up than are currently in place in Afghanistan. But remember the main protection against double voting will be on Election Day itself, where we will do everything we can to avoid people voting more than once.

Question: how many candidates will there be and how many will be women?

Chief Electoral Officer: I don’t know how many candidates there will be. We will see that only when they start nominating themselves. But there could easily be 5-10,000 candidates registered for this election. We do not know who will register to be a candidate in this country; there is no measurement for that. We will have to see how many will come forward once we tell people how to become a candidate. This will start in the latter half of April, when we will be ready to start taking peoples nominations. By then I will be able to tell you how many people have been nominated and by then I can also tell you how many women candidates have come forward to run for office.

Question: will there be out of country voting in both Pakistan and Iran?

Chief Electoral Officer: the government has yet to decide whether there will be voting in Pakistan or in Iran, in the sense that the election system will have to allow for this to take place; The JEMB still needs decision on how the system can accommodate the election in Pakistan and Iran. Specifically, which seats would the voters in Pakistan and Iran be voting for. This still has to be decided by the government.

Question: the budget is already in place. Is out of country voting included in the budget? If not, how will it be financed?

Chief Electoral Officer: the current budget does not include provision for elections in Pakistan and Iran. If there is a decision on an election in Pakistan and Iran, it will be a supplementary budget, which will be developed at that stage.

Question: will there be district council elections?

Chief Electoral Officer: as was specified in the decision byte JEMB and also was noted in the press release last Sunday – elections will only be the Wolesi Jirga and the Provincial Council elections. The district elections will be postponed to a later stage when these districts can be decided upon by the Wolesi Jirga. You may know that there are many districts which are disputed; officially I think there are about 48 in dispute. It is anticipated that the Wolesi Jirga will decide on these districts and that after the 2005 elections district elections will be held.

Question: how will the JEMB prevent people known to be linked to armed groups being candidates?

Chief Electoral Officer: there will be very little time available; the timeline for the nomination of candidates and the production of the ballots is extremely tight. Databases are being developed over these illegal armed groups and it is anticipated that these will be used to identify which candidates are linked to armed groups and hence be the basis for disqualification. It is anticipated, and again it is still subject tithe new law and decisions by the JEMB, that the Complaints Commission will be hearing cases against candidates. We also anticipate that candidates will be signing a code of conduct, where they will clearly testify that they have no links to armed groups. This means that the individual will have to sign a very clear statement about their eligibility before they can nominate themselves for this election.