Press conference with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Kai Eide

2 Aug 2009

Press conference with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Kai Eide

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Kai Eide, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Aleem Siddique, Spokesperson, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit.

SRSG: Thank you for coming here. First, I would like to repeat what I said at the Independent Election Commission (IEC) the other day. It is really the most complex and challenging election that I have ever experienced. I said at that time that this is due to a number of elements. First of all, this is a country in conflict. Second, this is a country with weak institutions, weak infrastructure, and a very high illiteracy rate. This is the most complex election I have ever witnessed.

This being said, it is my assessment that what we have seen is by and large a dignified political campaign. Let me go one step further: We have never witnessed such a vibrant political debate in this country. And we have never seen such involvement by the public, as we have seen during these few weeks.

We have seen a number of campaign events which have gathered thousands of people. And we have seen media events that have been witnessed by millions of Afghans. And it is the first time that we have seen such an engagement and mobilization of the Afghan public in an election campaign of this nature.

It is important that in the three remaining weeks, we see a continued engagement by the public and also of those conducting the campaign to focus on mobilizing that engagement by the public.

There has been – and there is – concern about irregularities, and those are concerns that I share and I condemn, in particular, the attacks that have taken place on candidates and on supporters of candidates.

It is critically important that in the next three weeks, we see a continuation of political debate, and that we do not get into a situation where the debate is focused on irregularities and accusations and counter-accusations.

And it is important that we all share responsibility for ensuring there is a stable environment after the elections have taken place. All must conduct a campaign in a way that the results are accepted by the people. I repeat this is a shared responsibility. Whoever wins this election will have to govern the entire country.

And allow me, on this occasion, to direct an appeal to the media: It is tremendously important that we avoid incorrect or misleading reports that could inflame the situation.

There has been much talk about fraud, and I would like to emphasize that under the leadership of the IEC, a number of measures are implemented in order to avoid fraud and irregularities on Election Day.

Let me mention some general categories: For instance, the fact that the election commission is basing what it is doing on the highest quality materials that one can obtain. There are strict controls on the movement and handling of all sensitive materials. And these measures are based on international best practices to avoid fraud and to detect fraud.

A number of measures are being implemented to discourage fraud and to ensure detection of fraud, should it occur. And there is maximum transparency, in particular, with regard to scrutiny of observers, political agents, in order to maximize the detection of errors and irregularities. So let me repeat: Everything that is doable is being done in order to prevent and detect fraud and irregularities.

Let me say a few words about the polling centres: As you know, a provisional list of polling centres was drawn up by the IEC some time ago. There have been meetings on this question regularly over the past weeks.

And, the election commission, security institutions and the United Nations are doing whatever can be done to make sure that a maximum number of polling stations are open on polling day. It is clear that some polling stations may be relocated due to technical reasons, or due to the security situation. But efforts are being made to keep that number to an absolute minimum.

But, since the logistical as well as the security operations in preparation of the elections are still going on, it is too early to say how many polling stations will have to be relocated.

I am sure you have questions about the elections, so I won’t spend more time on the introduction. But let me touch upon one other issue that is of concern to me.

I have been concerned about the situation in detention centres. I visited one centre here in Kabul a few days ago, I will visit more and I plan to visit a detention centre in Bagram.

You will understand that it is too early for me to draw any conclusions since I only started this round of visits. But three elements seem to me to be of particular importance.

First there is a need for improvement of these facilities. For this to happen additional resources are required from the donors and from the Government and we are appealing to the donors and to the Government to allocate additional resources to these centres in order to improve them.

Second it is important to me that families of detainees are provided as much information as possible about the whereabouts of their family members and their situation.

And finally there is a need to increase the capacity of the justice system to ensure that the detainees are not held without access to the due process of law.

It is important that the situation for the detainees is such that they are in accordance with the international law, international standards and that they do not lead to further radicalization.

As I said I will visit several such centres in the future and I will come back to you with this issue in a press conference when I have visited several more.


KILLID GROUP [translated from Dari]: The first part of the question is that there are ten districts that are still under the control of the Taliban and the Ministry of Interior has confirmed that 700 polling stations or centres will be at risk and 20 other districts will have problems with transportation and security. Giving all these facts, do you think that the elections will be transparent and that there will not be any fraud?

The second part of the question is that there is speculation that the election will go into a second round. If the election goes into a second round, are there resources and preparedness to handle that?

SRSG: With the number of the districts and number of polling stations, I can only repeat that there are intensive efforts underway in order to ensure that as many polling stations are opened as possible.

There has been a meeting this morning about it and there was a meeting yesterday and there will be continued activities over the next few days. Every effort has been made.

With regards to fraud, I have given you the reply already. We are taking quite extensive efforts in order to minimize the risk of fraud.

On your second question, it is not my job to speculate on the first or second round results. I have asked the same question and I can assure you the answer I get from all involved is that the resources that are required, should be there for a second round, they are there and available to us.

AL JAZEERA: Regarding the Media Commission’s statement this morning. How worried are you about the bias of the state run media in favour of President Karzai?

SRSG: I must admit that I have not read the statement of today since I have been in meetings all the time since I came here. I have read previous statements. There is no doubt that there is bias in some media and we have also pointed that out with those responsible. That concern I share with the Media Commission but must add to it that a wider media debate is quite a rich debate and is a more stimulating debate than I believe we have ever seen in this country. I must repeat it. This is a first in this country. It is the first time it happens. Yes I am concerned about the irregularities but I am stimulated by seeing a debate that is richer than I had felt it would be. And it is focused on politics. It is important to keep that focus also in the next three weeks.

AL JAZEERA: My second question is also relating to the media. The statements – they now say they were misquotes – by Dr Abdullah’s campaign manager – inflammatory comments that people will come on the streets with guns if the results do not go their way. You talk about positive benefits for Afghanistan for democracy, but isn’t there a worry that the result of this election may be further polarization, possibly inflammable. Are you worried about the day after the election?

SRSG: It is in the nature of an election campaign that it is divisive. But it is also a fundamental need of this country to make sure that when the elections are over there is a unity of purpose that includes all candidates and that we avoid situations where dividing lines continue. I must say I feel confident that all candidates that are involved are wise enough to join in that unity of purpose.

REUTERS: The issue of detentions centres and detainees in Afghanistan has been an issue for quite a while. I was wondering why you have decided to speak out now? Also I wanted to know if you have been in touch with the Americans about this and Bagram Airbase. What’s their reaction been so far?

SRSG: This is hard for me to say why I didn’t address it last month or not next month, why I did it now? Well I did it now, because it is an issue that has been an issue of growing concern for me, so I decided to inform you about it now and to start visiting some of the centres and to look at the conditions and as I said the relations to families and also to the judicial system. When you ask me about Bagram, yes of course I have been in touch with the US authorities. The signals I have received have been positive and I wait for the final confirmation of the day I can visit.

Let me add, when I approached Afghan authorities about this, there was an instant approval, also because I believe there are shared interests here in many respects.

ASSOCIATED PRESS: You got yourself in the middle of the debate regarding the talks to the Taliban with the comments you made a couple of days ago I suppose. Can you just clarify what you mean when you say that when you want to maximize the results you must go to the top of the people who you are discussing with, did you mean Mullah Omar? Because, that is how they interpreted your words, or who do you mean? Who should the Government be talking to or the Americans or the international community on the opposition side?

SRSG: Let me first say that I see that in the Sunday Times today. There is a headline that is slightly misleading because, in fact, I gave my comments before Mr Miliband made his speech, because they have not been printed before this morning. What I have said is if you want relevant results, you have to talk to the relevant people. If you want to have important results, you have to talk to the people who are important. If you only have a partial reconciliation process, you will have partial results. I think if you do want a comprehensive peace process, it is not enough to talk to commanders on the ground. It is a political process I think you also have to approach the more political structures of the insurgency movement. Now I do not want to go further and identify individuals. I think you see two approaches here; my approach is more comprehensive than that you see from some others.

Over the last few weeks, we have seen a more engaged debate on the reconciliation topic, involving more of the main actors on the ground. I believe that is an important development. Second, I have always said that the reconciliation or peace process must be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. It cannot be led or devised by the international community.

And third, I have never seen a reconciliation process as a replacement or substitute for the other things we are doing I have seen it as an integral part of the partnership between the Afghan Government and international community and that is an important point to make.