Conferences: SRSG 18 February 2018

Joint Press Conference by
Dr. Seem Samar, the Chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and Mr. Jean Arnault, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan

[The following are introductory remarks and answers to questions by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan.]

Thank you all for being here. Indeed this is quite an important event. The campaign, which we are about to launch, will, we hope, make significant difference in the way in which the electoral process will be conducted. At the same time, I would like to start by reminding you that this is not the only measure. As a matter of fact, this initiative is a part of a larger context. At the Berlin Conference couple of months ago, the Government of Afghanistan committed itself to a package of measures in order to create a proper environment for the upcoming elections.

Some of these measures had to do with security. One important one is the request of the Afghan Government to NATO and the Coalition to expand their forces in advance of the elections to ensure proper security. You know that in a couple of days, an important meeting will take place in Istanbul where this request will be formulated again very vigorously. There was also a very important commitment to DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration) – demobilization of 40 percent of the troop strength of the AMF (Afghan Military Forces) and vigorous disarmament after that and ahead of the elections.

There was also a package of measures having to do with the political context. An important one, for example, is the instruction that has already been dispatched by the Minister of the Interior, Minister Jalal, to all of the governors and district administrators concerning their duty with regard to the elections. Another measure that was committed to at Berlin has to do with freedom of the press and the equitable access of the various candidates and political parties to the media during the campaign. And overall, and perhaps most importantly, a commitment by the state as a whole to promote freedom of organization, freedom of movement and of opinion for voters and candidates.

The verification exercise that the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and UNAMA is starting today means to ensure that these commitments are in fact implemented. Starting today throughout the country as a whole, staff from the Human Rights Commission and staff from UNAMA will go around discussing with communities, with elders, with political parties to try to ascertain whether or not these freedoms are currently available and if not, what should be done to make sure they are enforced. Together we will gather facts, make recommendations and publish our findings.

Let me say why this exercise is important. First of all, all of the measures that I mentioned previously make sense of course only if they translate effectively at the level of the voters and the candidates into actual freedom of movement, freedom of organization, freedom of opinion [and freedom of assembly]. This is why verifying the situation in the districts, in the provinces is so important. Verification will also help the government itself to identify where the problems are, who is behind them and how they should be corrected.

In the Berlin Declaration, the government is committed to take sanctions against those who would violate those basic rights during the electoral process. We hope very much that the publicity that we will give to our findings will act as a sanction on its own. After all, during the electoral process, public opinion is strong. It can reward those who behave properly by supporting them with their vote and it canals sanction them by refusing to provide them with election support. We also hope that this activity will encourage candidates from a variety of affiliations, all independent candidates to step up and go out to campaign with the knowledge that there is an impartial body that is watching over the process.

Weal so hope that this campaign will push this important agenda that mentioned before – more access for independent candidates and political parties to the media, more DDR, and more of these commitments that the government has given in Berlin. We are also very proud and excited to work very closely with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. In a short period of time – hardly 20 months – the Commission has become an important actor inhuman rights with its presence throughout the country, a larger presence than UNAMA. Each institution of course will remain independent, as the name of the Commission indicates, but by bringing our resources together we are convinced that we will do a very good service tithe electoral process as well.

Our international colleagues will bring a thorough knowledge of international standards, but we all know that international standards without an understanding of the cultural reality and of the aspirations of the people themselves are not enforceable. We look forward very much to the synergy between the two organizations that has already been proven on the ground in joint investigations that we have done in the past. We hope this will now be taken to a much higher level.

And finally, an appeal to you – the media. This is all about public opinion and how the grievances or the aspirations of ordinary Afghans can be brought to bear during the electoral process to bring about real changes in the country. We will bring these opinions to young we count very much on you to give them the strength that will achieve these objectives.

Question and Answer

Question: You say that both UNAMA and the Human Rights Commission will launch the exercise but in the past for the Emergency Loyal Jirga and the Constitutional Loyal Jirga, these two bodies were also involved and there were many violations brought to your attention. Nothing came out of this. Again you are saying that you will try to get the attention of the authorities but is there any guarantee that you will redress these problems?

SRSG: Verification is not a magic wand. You cannot just go about identifying problem and guarantee that it will be resolved. It is part of process. I tried to tell you in my introduction why I feel that there are now circumstances that will make verification hopefully more effective. At no time is public opinion more powerful than at the time of elections because the sanction is not only in the hands of the authorities but also in the hands of the people themselves. This is the case for political sanctions, electoral sanctions. Butte all know that many of the people who are currently involved in these patterns of intimidation or interference also have political and electoral ambitions. This is why we want to give, during this very unique window, another chance to verification.

Question: Can you talk about whether the election will be postponed and also on the issue of security? Of the 10 million people who are eligible to vote, there are now 4 million who have registered. What is your opinion?

SRSG: I understand your interest in the numbers but I would rather deal with this type of question at another time because this is not really the subject of this discussion. I will still say something about the issue of registration and postponement. There may already be issues that are out there in the districts and provinces in terms of freedom of movement and freedom of expression. This verification campaign will already be in the position to identify if there are today political problems that one way or another affect this process of registration. Dr. Seem Samar mentioned the under registration of women in some parts of the country. There may be other cases of under registration in other parts of the country. Do we have problem with bias and partiality? Is there an effort being made in parts of the country to under register? This is what the verification campaign will bring into focus and we hope that on the basis of these findings if something has to be done about the issue, it can be done.

Inyo want, we can meet after and talk about figures.

Question: How can you ensure that your work will be effective and that there will be a positive result?

SRSG: One key tool for the effectiveness of this effort that we are going to carry out jointly is the publication of reports. That puts some pressure on both of us. We do not want to have bad quality information. Our credibility as an organization continues to depend very essentially on the quality of our information. This is an issue of making more effort of bring timing and quality together. As to the result, I think you will be the judge of that. We are striving to bring out our first report by the middle of July. I hope all of you will realize then that these two organizations can do a good job in terms of presenting an objective picture of what is the situation of the country and in terms of giving realistic recommendations to improve it.

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