Press conference with UNAMA Senior UN Spokesman, Adrian Edwards

16 Mar 2009

Press conference with UNAMA Senior UN Spokesman, Adrian Edwards

KABUL - Press conference by Adrian Edwards, Senior UN Spokesman, UNAMA; Nilab Mobarez, Press Officer, UNAMA and Nader Farhad, UNHCR.

Dari - Pashto

SRSG Kai Eide is in the United States this week, where among other meetings he will be addressing the Security Council ahead of UNAMA’s mandate renewal.

The Secretary-General has already recommended a 12-month extension of UNAMA’s mandate, which expires on 23 March, noting that support for the electoral process will be a key area of work over the coming months.

Twice every year the UN Secretary-General issues a report on the situation in Afghanistan to the General Assembly and Security Council – whose members fund missions like UNAMA. These reports are public documents, and as many of you know the latest report was issued last week.

For those who haven’t seen it we have copies here today, on the side table. The report points to the critical test that Afghanistan will face in 2009 including the re-legitimisation of the Government’s authority through elections, building rule of law, and of course the security situation.

President Hamid Karzai launched the latest polio vaccination campaign yesterday at the Palace by administering polio vaccine to children. The campaign will cover all 34 provinces of the country and will target 7.7 million children from newborn babies to five year olds throughout the year.

This vaccination drive is led by the Ministry of Health and supported by the United Nation’s Children’s Fund and the World Health Organisation. Over 50,000 staff are currently engaged in this three-day campaign.

So far, this year Afghanistan has had four confirmed polio cases. Three are from Shahwalikot, Panjwai and Daman districts of Kandahar province and the fourth case is from Nadeali district in Helmand.

The UN’s Refugee Agency, UNHCR, is scheduled to resume return operations over the next few weeks following the annual winter suspension. The focus of UNHCR’s programmes is to assist the repatriation, reintegration, and protection of Afghan returnees and internally displaced persons or IDPs.

For more detail on UNHCR’s 2009 programme please see the press release on the side table. Our colleague Farhad from UNHCR will also be happy to speak to you in more detail after this briefing.

In February, the World Food Programme helped nearly 600,000 people through food-for-work programmes, over 39,000 tuberculosis patients and their families with food, nearly 220,000 people through general food distribution programmes, and over 245,000 children received WFP food in schools.

For those interested in following the humanitarian work that goes on in Afghanistan, WFP is now producing a regular monthly update with full facts and figures. Copies of the latest update are on the side table.

Afghanistan is a country of origin, transit and also a country of destination for children and women who are the victims of people trafficking and subject to various types of exploitation.

The International Organization for Migration, IOM has recently engaged different key groups in their counter-trafficking initiatives, including law enforcement officials, judiciary personnel, community leaders, religious leaders, teachers, students and civil society – at both senior and grass root levels nationwide.

IOM’s information campaigns have helped many Afghans take preventive measures against trafficking as well as report potential and actual cases and help refer victims for assistance.

World Poetry Day is being marked around the world this coming Saturday, 21 March. The aim is to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry.

As you all know, poetry in Afghanistan has long history and it is an integral part of the culture.

UNESCO in Afghanistan hopes that World Poetry Day will be a means to promote peace through culture and also to preserve Afghanistan’s rich and long poetic heritage.


RAH-E-NEJAT [translated from Dari]: You said that the return of refugees is going to start in two weeks time from Iran. My question is that given Iran has forced Afghans to repatriate during the winter, and given the bad situation in the refugee camps, has the UN raised this issue with the Iranian authorities?

UNHCR (NADER FARHAD): What we have to know is the distinction between registered Afghan refugees who are living legally and officially in Iran. They have been registered by the Iranian Government. So far none of the registered Afghans have been deported by the Iranians, while the numbers that have been deported in the last few months are largely economic migrants – those who are crossing the border illegally and are residing in Iran and eventually they are deported. Those who are not holding any legal documents and those who go to Iran these days without any passport, visa or agreement between these two countries, no doubt they are arrested and treated in a different way. We have always asked from a humanitarian perspective that no one should be mistreated. There should be respect for the human rights of these people. If they are deported, it should be in an acceptable manner. We also had assistance for those who do not hold any legal documents. Nonetheless, the resumption of the repatriation programme is for those who hold legal documents, those who are refugees, and that will resume on 1 April.

RFE/RL: A few days ago the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. He expressed deep concern on this and also some words were expressed by the commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan. Don't you think that Afghans will lose their hopes with such comments and what can the UN do about it? Don't you think that an emergency meeting is needed by the Security Council and what are your recommendations for the Government of Afghanistan and foreign troops?

UNAMA (ADRIAN EDWARDS): The Secretary-General’s report, which I think is what you are referring to, lays out the situation in Afghanistan for the General Assembly and the Security Council. The headlines there have been from it tend to relate, as you said, to the security situation and the sense of disappointed expectations in other areas. But there are also very significant sections of the report that point to areas in which we see progress. As you know that we have a meeting coming up in The Hague on 31 March where Afghanistan and its partners will again to look at how best Afghanistan can be supported. Our hope is that this meeting will focus on the areas where progress is being made, and that it will provide momentum to build on these areas more rapidly.

To give some examples, look at the reforms ongoing in the security sector and within the Interior Ministry. You’ve heard from us before about the prognosis for lower opium output this year. That is potentially positive and needs to be built upon. We are seeing signs of improved regional cooperation, recent improved relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and also with other neighbours. So our recommendation is that we all take stock of those areas where progress is being attained and that we build on those areas.

REUTERS: I’m wondering if you could comment on recent statements made by President Barack Obama saying he’s open to talks with moderate Taliban and indeed reports that these talks are already happening between Afghan political leaders and Taliban somewhere outside the country. Is this something the United Nations promotes or would be involved in?

UNAMA (ADRIAN EDWARDS): We’re not involved in these reported talks in Dubai. UNAMA’s core purpose in Afghanistan is helping Afghanistan achieve peace. We argued, long before it became popular to do so, that a political solution is part of what is needed for the situation in Afghanistan. Special Representative Eide has also said there must be no sacrificing of the principles which make up Afghanistan’s Constitution in any kind of peace effort and not least those pertaining to women’s rights. So in summary, we’re encouraged by any talk of peace initiatives, but let’s keep our principles in place.

ARIANA TV [translated from Dari]: SRSG Kai Eide is in New York this week to address the Security Council with regards to the situation in Afghanistan. Given some of the facts like insecurity, concerns about civilian casualties, corruption and lack of confidence people have towards the Government, as well as the international assistance which came to Afghanistan and was invisible, on which facts and achievements will the SRSG address the Security Council about?

UNAMA (ADRIAN EDWARDS): I disagree that there are no visible achievements. Afghanistan has seven million children in schools as you heard many times here. I have a colleague who just drove to Moscow from here; the best roads he travelled on were in Afghanistan. You have numerous other and very visible achievements, so let’s be a bit more realistic first of all. I think the SRSG can be expected to address the Security Council about areas where there needs to be faster progress. Development of institutional capacity is one. If you’re going to get rid of corruption, if you’re going to affect narcotics problems, if you’re going to deal with security on the border, if you’re going to have rule of law, you need a better police for a start. And we need progress with other institutions too.
I travelled with the SRSG in the last few weeks to Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. We have seen in all these countries a very significant interest in working more closely with Afghanistan, particularly with infrastructure projects, but also in terms of water, in terms of expertise sharing in all kinds of areas. We are seeing a growing coming together in the sense of regional cooperation with Afghanistan. In other areas I mentioned earlier the potentially improving situation with the opium crop this year. We’re seeing too a number of positive changes in Government in recent months: a new reformist commerce minister and a new and very capable agriculture minister, and of course a new Interior minister and others. We have spoken before about the need to really emphasise the agricultural sector. These are the kind of messages that the SRSG may want to deliver.

AFGHANISTAN TIMES [translated from Pashto]: The elections date has been set for August 2009. In order to maintain the legitimacy of the current Government and not violate the Constitution, what is UNAMA's responsibility in this regard?

UNAMA (ADRIAN EDWARDS): We have a mandate which allows us to provide technical support for Afghanistan’s elections. The mandate is about to be renewed and you will see it when it comes out. There are certain things that the UN can’t do and one is to dictate Afghanistan’s future. That’s clearly for Afghanistan’s people and its leaders to decide upon. A related issue that is on everyone’s minds is of course the constitutional dilemma facing us all as we head into the period after late May. Let’s bear in mind that a constitution is strengthened by overcoming such dilemmas. And such dilemmas in Afghanistan will have to be overcome.

RADIO NEDA [translated from Dari]: Regarding the elections and as the budget for this year's election has been estimated about more than US$ 200 million. How much of this money has been pledged so far and how much of this money has already been given? I mean the exact amount of the money which has been pledged and the exact amount of the money which has been given?

UNAMA (ADRIAN EDWARDS): Indicative figures for the budget of the election this year are US$ 223 million. If I recall correctly, and as of just a few days ago all but US$ 71 million had been pledged. That is without a pledge from a major donor which still has to come. So at this stage it looks like the funding issues are on track and there are no immediate concerns.

BBC PASHTO RADIO [translated from Pashto]: How many people are expected to be repatriated this year and how many people returned last year and are living a difficult life? What kind of assistance programmes will you provide them with?

UNHCR (NADER FARHAD): On the repatriation of people from Iran and Pakistan the returns since 2002 are all voluntary repatriations. The repatriation process must be voluntary with dignity and security. This is one of the main principles of the return of Afghans. Neither UNHCR nor the Afghan state is able to estimate accurately the number of returnees who might return this year because it should be a voluntary return. The other issue is that with regards to the budgets and programmes we have an estimated number of around 220,000 Afghans who might return back to Afghanistan. But I insist that this is just an estimate and could change based on developments in Afghanistan. Last year around 280,000 Afghans returned mainly voluntarily from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the majority of them were able to get back to their places of origin. But some of them unfortunately suffer from a lack of shelter. This is exactly why UNHCR is insisting on voluntary and gradual repatriation with dignity.