Press conference with SRSG Kai Eide and Dr Sima Samar Chairperson

9 Aug 2009

Press conference with SRSG Kai Eide and Dr Sima Samar Chairperson

KABUL - Transcript of today's press conference with Dr Sima Samar, Chairperson Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and Kai Eide, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan.

AIHRC [translated from Dari]: Good afternoon to everyone. As you all know UNAMA and AIHRC are jointly monitoring political rights in Afghanistan. I want to say that we have not been able to cover the entire country, but wherever we have had our presence we witnessed that the campaigning was conducted actively and in a dignified manner. The campaign for the presidential elections is more vibrant than the provincial council elections. We are happy to see that despite the insecurity in the country, many Afghans are interested in the process and waiting to see the elections happen in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately during the campaign period we have witnessed four cases of killing which are related to the elections. I will try to give you the specific locations of these incidents. On 6 July 2009, the head of the Chimtal district (Balkh) IEC civic education team and his ANP guard were killed. On 15 July there was the killing of the Nijrab district (Kapisa) campaign manager of Dr Abdullah Abdullah; On 19 July the abduction and killing of an independent provincial council candidate and his friend in Dasht-e-Archi district (Kunduz) and on 30 July a remote controlled Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack on a vehicle of President Karzai’s campaign that killed four (including Karzai’s district campaign manager) in Aqcha district (Jawzjan).

The other issue is the insecurity that has impacted on women candidates and has limited their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and their movement.

For example the three women candidates in Kandahar cannot live there because of the insecurity. Or even female candidates who want to put up their posters, their families oppose them or some people living in their neighbourhood will not let them do so.

One woman was intimidated in Takhar province and later her office was closed down and they issued a night letter to her warning if she continues her campaign she will be responsible for the consequences. Her house was set on fire. This is one of the serious issues for women.

The other issue which still remains of high concern – and that should in no way stop people from participating in the election – is the threats by Anti-Government Elements.

The issue of insecurity in some parts of the country has limited the freedom of movement for all candidates, especially for women, as I said earlier. Some of the districts that are not totally under the control of the Government remained inaccessible for some candidates and the civic education staff cannot go out of the centre of the district to the remote villages to do their public outreach, which is a problem.

Due to this insecurity, in some provinces and districts, IEC staff have resigned because they cannot continue their work normally.

Another problem is the recruitment of 160,000 polling staff who will be working on polling day, looking after ballot boxes, voting, etc. In some areas it is difficult to recruit female staff to search female voters who come to vote at the polling sites. The number of the polling stations is yet to be finalized.

During this reporting period the Electoral Complains Commission disqualified two provincial council candidates from Kunar and Nimroz because they did not resign from their official posts.
Insecurity in some parts of the country has also limited people’s access to the ECC. The ECC could not send out its officials because of logistical problems throughout the country.

The other violation we witnessed during the reporting period was the misuse of state resources by one special candidate. It is claimed that they were in support of President Karzai. They have also been used by a governor or chief of police in favour of other candidates.

In conclusion, despite increasing insecurity, people feel responsible and they want to take a very active part in the elections.

I just want to add that each and every one of us has the responsibility to ensure that the elections are a success in this country and we witness a positive outcome on these elections that build a trust in the Afghan public.

The main force to bring about a change in this country is the people of Afghanistan. It is a shared responsibility for all of us, especially the media to raise public awareness and encourage the people to take part in the elections.

And there is no doubt that the international community must support us to have transparent and acceptable elections for Afghans. Thank you.

SRSG: Thank you very much. Dr Samar has outlined the main findings of the report and there is no need for me to repeat what she has said. I must say, I believe that the value of this partnership and these reports are significant. We are approached very often by the candidates, their staff, their supporters, who want to draw our attention to specific incidents and specific events. As I said it is being taken seriously by those engaged in the campaign, and I do hope that these facts can make our reports contribute to deterring candidates and their supporters from violating the rights and freedoms that we are monitoring.

I must repeat what Dr Samar said: I really believe that this has continued to be a vibrant political debate – that is what we ask for. And we ask for not only a vibrant debate but a political debate – a debate between political alternatives, and not a debate dominated by accusations and counter-accusations. What we ask for is that the people of Afghanistan should not only be able to know who would be there next president, but what is the policy, the vision, the agenda that a next president is offering to the people? And I do sincerely believe that this is what we have seen over the last few weeks.

Let me also say – since this is a press conference – that I do compliment the role that the media has played in this respect. There is no doubt that your contribution to a public involvement has been very important. There was before this debate started any impression that there was widespread apathy in the Afghan people. What we have seen is not wide-spread apathy, but we have seen a broad engagement. I was told there was great disillusionment. That may be the case among some, but there is a strong expectation of what a future government can bring. I believe that is encouraging.

Dr Samar pointed to the difficult security situation that we are all aware of. You know there was a provisional planning list of possible polling sites elaborated by the Independent Election Commission (IEC). It is clear to all of us that not all those sites will be open during polling day. But I do believe that more polling sites will be open during this elections, than were open in 2004-2005. That I must say demonstrates to the strong engagement of the security institutions, the IEC, and the United Nations in a supporting role over the last few weeks.

I also believe that what we see today is that there will be more international observers and there will be more national Afghan observers during these elections than what was the case during the last elections; although, of course, the security situation will have a negative impact on the accessibility in some parts of the country.

Could I also say – while looking ahead – that whoever wins these elections – I repeat this, I have said it before – it is tremendously important that other candidates, other political leaders, other leading personalities join in the national consensus, when the elections are over and a new agenda has to be formulated.

I have seen over the last few months a very significant momentum – an improvement in the way some key issues are being addressed by the Government. It is important that, that progress is being projected into a future government and is being continued over the period ahead of us no matter who is the future President of Afghanistan.

And there are also some new challenges: Most prominently a peace process that can only be addressed if there is national consensus in this country. If there is fragmentation then these challenges cannot be addressed effectively.

And Afghanistan is entering into a critical period in building stability. And if it’s a fragmented political leadership that we will have to live with for the period to come, Afghanistan will not be able to address those critical challenges.

These elections are obviously not only followed with great interest in Afghanistan, but also in the entire international community. And that reflects on the very significant human resources and financial resources that are being invested by the international community in this country.

And I am convinced, if the leadership and leaders of this country can demonstrate unity of purpose after the elections, then that will, first of all, stimulate the international community in its efforts in Afghanistan and, second, it will also facilitate what we all want to see, which is the Afghan people taking over more and more of the roles that are today played by the international community in this country.

And that's what we all want to see: Increasing Afghan ownership, a different relationship between the international community and Afghanistan, where Afghan authorities will take more and more responsibility for its own country. But that process – and the speed of that process – depends on the unity of purpose over the next period when the elections are over.


IRNA [translated from Farsi]: The question is addressed to the SRSG Kai Eide. You mentioned the peace process. This question has been raised since last year with no result. I just want to know how do you achieve this process and with whom do you want to make this peace?

SRSG: This is a question that comes up at every press conference and every encounter with any of you bilaterally. I have already said what there is to say about it. I don’t think I have anything to add unfortunately but hopefully when the elections are over we will all have much to add. Hopefully there will be an elaboration of a plan and of a dialogue that can lead this country into a kind of peace process that can bring stability and peace. And you see every time I am asked about this that becomes a headline. Now I want to focus on the topic of today’s press conference

KILLID GROUP [translated from Dari]: My question is addressed to Dr Sima Samar. You mentioned the misuse of state resources in favour of certain candidates. I want to know where this kind of action would not bring the process under question? And also have you witnessed some of the government officials who are doing this during this process?

AIHRC [translated from Dari]: I just want to answer your question in two parts. The first part has to do with the misuses of state resources in favour of certain candidates. Anyhow this is considered to be an electoral violation. It is also against the decree of the president in which he asked government officials to stay away and be impartial in this process.

One of our recommendations to the Government is to ask all the Government officials, including governors, chiefs of police and chiefs of districts and whoever that they should not interfere and should stay impartial in this process.

As an Afghan they all [government officials] have the right to vote for a candidate but they cannot do campaigning in favour of certain candidates.

The second part you mentioned about fraud in the elections. We hope that with the measures put in place and also with the monitoring which will be done by the people we can prevent this fraud. I just want to emphasize that each responsible Afghan has this responsibility to work and make efforts to prevent fraud in the election.

ALJAZEERA ENGLISH: The same question to you both. Given what’s in this report which seems to be a pretty grim catalogue of problems [including] Killings, intimidations, threats, the government taking sides…. Do you think there is any hope that we would certify that these as fair and free elections. Or is that no longer the benchmark you are working to?

SRSG: if you are talking about free and fair in terms of an established democracy then I think that goes beyond the expectations of a country like Afghanistan: in conflict with weak structures and institutions etc. I have said this before that this is the most complicated elections I have ever seen. The terms that I would use and that is used by many in the international community as well as among Afghans is what we want to see is credible elections, inclusive elections and elections where the results are accepted by the afghan people. I think those are the important standards that we see as a basis for how to evaluate the elections result.

Just a fact: that this is a country in conflict. It means that if we mean freedom for all to be able to cast there votes that is our ambition but you can see how difficult it is.

The fact that not all will be in the same position with regard to deliver their votes also affect what you in an established democracy would call fairness.

That is a complication of organizing an election under such circumstances. But we must organize them and we will do this to the best of our abilities. And we must do that in respect of overwhelming majority of Afghans who want this election to take place and who will want to take part in the elections.
AIHRC [translated from Dari]: I just want to add that nowhere in the world can we ensure one hundred per cent fair elections. And what is important is to make sure that the people of Afghanistan can participate in the elections and the results are accepted by them. And that’s why we urge all Afghans to use their votes wisely and wait for the results of the election in the interests of the Afghan people. And the peaceful way to reach power it’s through elections, and we really hope to have such an election in Afghanistan. And as an Afghan I am confident that we have survived so many years of war and will be able to be successful in these elections too.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE: What do you base your optimism on that there will be more polling sites open for this year’s elections and therefore bigger turnout when security is the main issue?

SRSG: First of all, I did not talk about turnout. Turnout is always difficult to judge. I said that what we have seen is an engagement and involvement of the public in the debate which has encouraged me. What I said was the number of polling centre I believe will be open greater than previous elections. That’s the results of efforts taken by the IEC supported by the UN. We will see in a matter of few days how we end up.

I am not trying to give an optimistic spin because the elections are ten and eleven days away. So we will see in ten and eleven days if I was sober in my assessment or not and I know that in ten to twelve days you may come back to me.

VOA [translated from Dari]: Dr Samar mentioned about election monitoring by the people. There are already 55,000 people accredited to monitor the process. Now you’re inviting all the people for monitoring. Is there any mechanism to regulate this?

AIHRC [translated from Dari]: I did not mean that all the people could come to the polling sites and do the monitoring. I meant that if you, anybody else, or I, see a person with a bagful of voter registration cards who comes to the polling booth, then we have the responsibility of informing officials of this act, which is illegal. That’s what I meant by monitoring.

DE VOLKSKRANT NEWSPAPER: In chapter five you paint a disturbing picture of the constraints in the provinces that female voters and candidates face. You said that in general political rights will be respected. Does this conclusion go for women also or for men only?

AIHRC [translated from Dari]: As to rights constraints on women, I persistently mention the problems and obstacles that they have encountered. Unfortunately there were the problems that left women disadvantaged from this process. And if you look at the reports, we have made specific recommendations in particular for women to the Government on which measures should be taken in order to enable the women to use this period to campaign.

And another issue is the access of women on polling day. And this is of concern so that is why I am recommending there should be a way in order to encourage women to have access on the polling day. Also I mentioned even women who are going to be recruited, just for physical searches or observers; we still have problems to recruit those women. We need to recruit women for those kinds of jobs.

The emphasis that I want to make is that the polling stations should be in a location where women can access them. Because you know women have problems taking care of children. And the polling stations should be in a location where they are accessible by women.

Of course without participation of women, we would not be able to achieve democracy nor would the election be successful.

SABA TV [translated from Dari]: I want to specifically know whether there will be fairness and creditability in the elections given the fact that the IEC says there will be fraud in these elections? Secondly, the participation of government officials in campaigning by candidates or in support of candidates: How much does this concern you?

SRSG: First of all, let’s have no illusion about this. First I believe that what is being done today to prevent fraud and to detect fraud is of a completely different nature than what happened during the last elections. There have been important lessons learned and conclusions have been drawn from those lessons.

Will there be irregularities? Yes, I feel there will. I believe and hope with the measures that have been undertaken it will be possible to keep it at the level and we will keep it at the level which will not affect the credibility of the elections as such.

In addition to all the technical preparations that have been made to prevent fraud and all the mechanisms that are being installed to detect if fraud takes place. There are still risks of course that in particular we have to deal with. There is a need in addition to that to make sure that election observers, political agents and others are able to monitor and observe what is going on at the polling stations.

I was very worried at some point that we would not have a significant number of observers, party agents, I mean national and international observers.

But I think what we have seen in the last couple of weeks is that the number of party agents and observers have increased dramatically. That’s encouraging. But then you do have the question of access, which is a problem in many areas.

That’s why I say the current efforts by the security institutions and others to ensure access as much as possible is of absolute critical importance.

On government interference, yes it is a point that has been raised in the report. It is an important element. We are in a regular dialogue with all major candidates to address this issue and to address specific incidents. I believe that dialogue has also contributed in a positive sense, although we have seen a number of incidents that I would have liked to be without. And that interference does not only go in favour of one candidate. We have seen incidents in various parts of the country in favour of several candidates.

Sometimes we get into a very interesting debate on what constitutes government interference? I am not saying that in order to excuse and you have the incidents of the interference that we have seen, but it has been an interesting debate I think from which we must learn for the next elections.

ASSOCIATED PRESS: Mr Eide, reports say there is insecurity in significant portions of the country causing inaccessibility for the elections. We heard the word “significant”. Could you define that word in an another way, like the number of districts, percentage of the country, the number of polling stations and also what is UNAMA and the commission’s position on the number of registered voters which has the potential for over-voting and fraud?

SRSG: The answer to your first question is no I do not want to be precise. The reason is that it is a situation that is evolving; it has evolved in the last couple of weeks and it will continue to evolve in the next few days. What the word “significant” means in the end will depend on the efforts by the security institutions and also other political efforts taken in order to ensure that as many polling centres as possible will be open. I am not saying this to avoid your question but I am saying this not to mislead you by giving you a figure today that maybe will be wrong tomorrow.

AIHRC [translated from Dari]: I will answer your second question. As we do not know the exact population of Afghanistan it is difficult to say whether the number of registered voters is high or low. If everyone comes to vote on polling day, that should prevent the possibility of one person voting multiple times. But we cannot say that one person has not been issued with several voting cards and this is unfortunately true. To summarize I would like to say that the role of media is very important and the media should play its role responsibly and record and report any fraud so the people can have confidence in the transparency of the elections.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE: Are you concerned about low turnout especially due to the security situation in the country?

SRSG: Yes of course I am concerned that security will affect the turnout on the voting day. There is no doubt about that. I have seen the mobilization and interest of the public during the campaign. It is of course sad that we have conflict ongoing in the country which will not allow all Afghan voters to come to the polling stations and do what they want to do, to give their vote and have their say what the future of Afghanistan should be. So my appeal to everybody is don’t block the road for Afghans, male or female who want to do what the constitution entitles that person to do.

AIHRC [translated from Dari]: On this question I would like to say that the vast participation of the people is a guarantee of the security for the elections because if few people come to vote then the opposition can threaten them but if the people come to vote in large numbers the opposition cannot threaten everyone. So my request is that the people should take part in the elections in large numbers and this itself will guarantee the security of the elections.