Press conference with SRSG Kai Eide and Sima Samar
KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Dr Sima Samar, Head of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission and Kai Eide Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan.
DR SIMA SAMAR, HEAD OF AFGHANISTAN’S INDEPENDENT HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION: Good morning. Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and UNAMA have worked jointly in previous elections to monitor the political rights of the people. The objective was to monitor the electoral process starting from voter registration, during election campaigns, and until polling day.
We released joint reports on our findings. What we would like to monitor [in this year’s elections] are four rights that are important during elections. These are freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of peaceful gatherings and freedom of establishing political parities and associations. There are three principles as well – non-discrimination, impartiality, and no-intimidation.
We will jointly monitor these four rights and three principles. In our reports we will name those who have committed violations. It is a good coincidence that today is World Press Freedom Day. The theme this year is dialogue and reconciliation. As you all know freedom of the press is a fundamental need for strengthening democracy and having an open society. It is obvious that freedom of press is required at anytime, especially in a situation we are in this year.
As Afghanistan will have presidential and provincial council elections this year it is important for the media to have its independence. A society cannot be democratic if it lacks free press. You [journalists] have a very crucial role in strengthening democracy in any society – especially in Afghanistan. I request you to play your role in strengthening press freedom and freedom of expression especially in encouraging women to run in presidential elections as well as in provincial council elections. Unfortunately, a very small number of women have registered as candidates for provincial council elections. Now I would like to give the floor to Mr Kai Eide and if you have any questions I will answer at the end.
KAI EIDE, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE UN SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR AFGHANISTAN: Thank you very much. Can I also say a few words on Press Freedom Day. Of course, I join Dr. Samar in saying that the freedom of the media is a fundamental element of an open and democratic society – and it must be respected. It is totally unacceptable that journalists are obstructed in their professional activities. It is of course important everyday, but it is even more important in the period that lies ahead of us with an election campaign starting and the Election Day approaching.
I think the media and we are often on different sides of the table so to speak. And you have criticised us as much as you desired. But there are fundamental principals that we must stand together on – and there I would appeal for partnership. That is with regard to freedom of the media – which is essential to all of us. I am pleased to see that Afghan journalists are coming more and more together in defending their rights. But when it comes to the elections, of course I would call on all of you, but in particular the public [nationally owned] media to ensure access for candidates to express their views. I would also appeal to you to contribute to public awareness about the elections and the election process that we need in order to mobilise as many as possible to go to the polls on voting day.
Dr. Samar has outlined the framework for the efforts that we are undertaking together. I am pleased that we could sit together here again and conduct the exercise as we did in 2004 and 2005. And what do I see as the basic purpose of this exercise? It is to contribute to a fair and free environment for the political process to take place where the basic rights of candidates, supporters and voters are respected.
I believe that it is of particular importance this year to make sure that a level playing field is there. We will issue of course reports. But we will also speak out when we see that these principles and freedoms are violated and these violations are documented. So in my view if I called it a ‘watchdog’ in the election process then I think it will reflect my sense of what we are trying to do. This is not the only one. There have to be many components contributing to that level playing field. I am thinking of the Election Complaints Commission, the Media Commission, observers that will come in, and those that will be mobilized inside Afghanistan. And I hope that the President of Afghanistan will soon issue a decree about the non-interference of government institutions and officials in the election process.
Let me just say that I am today, on behalf of the UN, and with the support of the wider international community issuing a two-page paper which sums up the basic guidelines for the conduct of all those who are engaged in these elections.
And these guidelines are related to the election campaign, to the election day and the immediate post-election day process. They relate to government officials, they relate to candidates and their supporters, and they relate to the electoral officials. And may I also say that they relate to the media and international representatives.
We hope that it will be a reminder and a set of guidelines that is accepted by all for an election process that can strengthen Afghanistan’s democratic institutions.
Let me just finally add one important consideration. These elections are not organised by the international community. As you know, they are organised by Afghan institutions and authorities. The international community is now here in the supporting role and we will try to play that supporting role to the best of our ability and resources.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
AZADI RADIO [translated from Pashto]: You mentioned about the freedom of the media, and wanting them to act in a free way. What do we expect from the media in return and when are you going to disclose those who are violating human rights?
AIHRC [translated from Dari]: Thank you very much. I must say that the Commission has never said that they would disclose any list of those who violated human rights. However, we have tried to give names of those who have committed some serious violations, in our reports and you know about that. I mean that there is no list that we have not yet disclosed.
And this is also not of the Commission’s responsibility to collect and disclose the names of those who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. But it has come out in other reports. Do not mix up the duties of the Commission and the duties of a prosecutor’s office. The Commission is working in documenting, but we are not ready to release our report before the election. And you will have the report as soon as it is ready.
FOLLOW-UP AZADI [translated from Pashto]: Who is going to disclose the names as it is the right time as we are approaching the elections? If such a list is not disclosed then the people would hardly understand who is a criminal and who is not?
AIHRC [translated from Dari]: There is an Election Complaints Commission (ECC), and Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission is one of the members of it. There are five people in this Commission: one from the Supreme Court, three representatives from UNAMA, and one representative from Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission. Every Afghan has the right to file a complaint with the Election Complaints Commission. Then the Commission, if they want can ask us, the Attorney General’s Office, the Supreme Court or even from the DIAG [Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups] committee regarding the background of a particular person. If we have any complaint against a particular person, we will let the ECC know about it. I would like to say that some names are very familiar so there is no need to repeatedly announce their names.
SRSG: As Dr. Samar said, I have appointed three members to the Election Complaints Commission. I do think that it is important that the various mechanisms, formal or less formal that we have available – that they supplement each other and do not compete or duplicate each other and that is the only way to make the whole exercise effective I believe.
TIMES NEWSPAPER: I want to ask both of you. Given the security situation and the irregularities alleged already during the days of registration by some bodies. And given the fact that the Government does not have a presence at all in some districts in the south of the country. Are free, fair and representative elections realistic expectations?
AIHRC [translated from Dari]: I as an Afghan expect that the elections should take place in each district of the country, even in a district that is controlled by the opposition. I urge all those who are opposing the Government to participate in this process as it is a peaceful process and it is a process where they can share the power.
What I am concerned about is that there are women that received registration cards but the women themselves were not present at the time of registration. And if they are not given the right to register themselves how should we know that the women will have a physical participation on the polling day? There are two important things in that regard, one is the right of women that has been taken away, they are not allowed to attend and cast their votes on the following day. And the second concern that I have is that there might be a fraud in the elections due to this fact I just mentioned.
IRNA: My question is referred to Mr Kai Eide. With regard to the international observers, I would like to know how many observers will come and from which countries and whether they will be sent to insecure areas or not?
SRSG: There has been a fact finding mission here, as you may know, from those organisations who have been invited to send observers. There is a difficult security situation in parts of the country, but I do hope and I would appeal to those organisations in particular the European Union and the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe], to send as many as they possibly can under the current security circumstances. It’s quite obvious that observation is an important tool, and of course, in addition to foreign observers coming from abroad, there will be Afghan observers that I know will also contribute to doing what we expect from observers in the election process and during the Election Day.
If I can also just answer to the previous question. Yes, of course, my hope is that the elections will be as free and as fair as possible under the current security circumstances, and we know that those circumstances are difficult. But we must ensure elections that are transparent and credible, that the result reflects the will of the Afghan people, and the result is accepted by the Afghan people. That is tremendously important. Then we come to the security situation – we do not know exactly what it will be on 20 August [Election Day]. My hope is of course that this situation will enable us to carry out the elections across the country, and I will join Dr. Samar in repeating to all, including the opposition, to take part in these elections.
AFP: The next question is for Dr. Samar. Regarding the women who cannot go out, and someone else that has taken their electoral card on their behalf. You also mentioned about the possibility of fraud during the election. On what facts are you telling us this? And do you have thoughts about how, and by whom this fraud is being committed?
AIHRC: About the number of cards that have been collected on behalf of women, we do not have accurate figures to tell you. But I can give you an example of the province where 72 percent of the total registered people are women, which is really surprising. What really surprises me is the fact that the men are bringing the names of women and getting registration cards on their behalf. That is why I can say that there are possibilities of fraud. And also there is another possibility that those people who have collected the registration cards on behalf of women are going to vote for one favourite candidate and that is also a possibility of fraud. And the other question you have asked regarding the technical aspects of this issue like the ink etc, it is possible that those people would come with ten or twelve cards to vote and then get inked only once.
SRSG: I think this is going to be one of the major challenges of the election commission to carry out on Election Day. There is no doubt that there are irregularities. How significant are they, I do not think we quite know. And we know also from the previous elections that polling day has been a particularly difficult day. Much focus must be paid by the election commission as to what happens on polling day at the polling stations to reduce the danger as much as we possibly can.
GUARDIAN: Could you please expand more on the possibility of the opposition taking part in elections given the fact that a large part of that opposition is involved in a revolutionary war against the government?
SRSG: It is a complex process. I have always said that I want a political process to get underway, call it reconciliation, call it a peace process, or whatever you want. I believe that the opposition should know that those who wish to take part in the elections and respect the Constitution should have an open door to do that. I don’t underestimate the difficulties, but I think it is important to stretch out a hand and say it is better we compete at the ballot boxes than to fight in the battlefield. That must be the objective of all of us. Is it complicated? Yes, tremendously complicated politically, but a signal has to be given.
AIHRC: I want to add on this. We cannot take deny the right of voting even to those who are fighting against the government if they are Afghan citizens.
8AM NEWSPAPER: There are reports that Mr. Kai Eide has said that Marshal Fahim cannot run for elections as a running mate of President Karzai. There are other candidates that accept Afghanistan’s Constitution and are not against the Government but their slogans are anti-constitutional and against human rights values. Are there any red lines for such candidates?
SRSG: I have very frequent discussions with the President of Afghanistan. I am pleased to have open and constructive discussions with him on a number of topics. Has the question of Marshal Fahim come up in those discussions and have I expressed my views? You will have exactly the same answer if you ask about any of my conversations with the President. And that is I do not comment on the specifics of conversations I have with the President. If I start doing it today, next week you will ask me about something else and the following week about a third issue. So then it is no longer confidential discussions between the two of us, but a public discussion with the media involved and you will understand that it is simply impossible. So I do not deny nor do I confirm the report that your newspaper had yesterday.
AIHRC: On your question about those candidates whose slogans are anti-constitutional there is a mechanism in place, which is the Election Complaints Commission. The second solution is with the people themselves. They should not vote for those they think are against the Constitution and against human rights values. I think it is a better way as Afghanistan’s judicial system is not in a position to name those who have committed war crimes.
VOA: I just want to ask a short question to Dr. Sima Samar regarding the high number of registration cards received. I would like to know who is managing this process, who is doing these kind of things?
AIHRC: In my view, the Independent Electoral Commission should not allow males to represent their females, bring their names and receive the registration cards on their behalf because in that way we do not encourage democracy. On the question you mentioned – is the government involved in these kind of things? Again it is the responsibility of the Independent Electoral Commission to address this issue.
REUTERS: I would like to follow-up with what you have mentioned on registration. Do you have any figures or even anecdotal evidence that this is happening anywhere apart from Logar – I mean in other provinces? There are different rules in other provinces and in the south of the country? But, principally, the persons who are registering should be present in person to take their cards. Has that been a problem at the local level during registration?
AIHRC: I did mention Logar as an example but there are instances of this in other provinces like Paktika, Khost, Paktia and some other provinces in the south of the country. The principal is that persons who are registering should be there in person to take their cards and a photo or a fingerprint should be taken.
FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: If that is not applied, it means that the official laws on the registration side are corrupted?
AIHRC: The principal is that person who is registering should be there in person to take their card and a photo or a finger print should be taken.