Press conference with UNAMA Spokesperson, Aleem Siddique
KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Aleem Siddique, Spokesperson, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit and Dr Nilab Mobarez, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit.
UNAMA ON THE UPCOMING ELECTION
Today is one month from the beginning of the presidential and provincial council campaign.
The Security Council on Wednesday welcomed the Afghan-led preparations for next month’s presidential and provincial council elections, and stressed the importance of “free, fair, transparent, credible, secure and inclusive” polls.
The council also called on the Afghan people “to exercise their vote in this historic opportunity for all Afghans to make their voices heard.”
The Security Council while recognizing the ongoing efforts of the Afghan Government, encouraged additional efforts by the authorities with the assistance of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), to ensure security during the electoral period.
In the meantime, the huge logistical operation in support of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission continues.
Millions of ballot papers arrived in Kabul over the weekend on four flights.
The special elections free phone helpline, 190, has increased the number of operators from 30 to 60 and is taking 30,000 to 40,000 calls a week with the capacity to receive up to 60,000 calls a week.
More than 1,600 civic educators are briefing voters across the country with an 11-page flip chart detailing the process.
The Election Commission (IEC) has also started a massive broadcasting campaign of informational television and radio advertising spots.
The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) is expanding its reach across the country and the Media Commission is monitoring the media coverage by Afghanistan’s television and radio stations.
IEC – MEDIA ACCREDITATION
Media who want to cover the elections at Afghan government facilities, for example, at polling stations, need to ensure they are accredited by the IEC in order to be able to gain access.
Please complete the IEC forms, which are also available for you on the side table and return them to the IEC before Thursday 6 August.
AFGHAN REFUGEE RETURNS CROSSES 50,000 MARK
The number of assisted returns of refugees from Pakistan and Iran to Afghanistan this year has surpassed the 50,000 mark.
Since the resumption of repatriation operations from Pakistan on 1 April, some 48,000 registered Afghan refugees have returned under the UNHCR programme from Pakistan. Only 2,500 Afghan refugees have returned from Iran.
A majority - about 60 per cent – of Afghan refugees this year have come back from the North-West Frontier Province.
We have some statistics about the returning refugees…you can find details on the side table. Among the Afghans who returned: 32% said their stated destination was the eastern region, while 30% said they were heading to the central region, mainly to Kabul province.
Registered Afghans returning to Afghanistan with UNHCR assistance receive an average of US $100 per individual as a transport and reintegration grant to help them settle in Afghanistan.
The UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation of Afghans through Peshawar in NWFP is currently suspended for operational reasons and UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation centre (VRC) in Hayatabad, Peshawar is closed.
WORLD BANK NEW PROGRAMME
International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, announced Afghanistan will benefit from a US $3 billion Global Finance Program to support and guarantee trade with emerging markets worldwide, promoting the flow of goods and services between Afghanistan and other countries, and supporting its sustainable economic growth.
The IFC Global Trade Finance Program facilitates trade by providing guarantees that cover the payment risk in trade transactions with local banks in emerging markets. This enables the continued flow of trade credit into the market. In response to the current financial crisis, an additional US $1.5 billion was added to the existing US $1.5 billion bringing the programme's ceiling to US $3 billion.
Since the inception of the program in September 2005, US $3.2 billion in trade guarantees have been issued to support 2,600 transactions.
AGREEMENT SIGNED BETWEEN THE MINISTRY OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY AND UNIDO OFFICE IN AFGHANISTAN
Under a three year agreement signed between the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) and UNIDO office in Afghanistan on Thursday 16 July, United Nations Industry Development Organization (UNIDO), will support the government to meet its ANDS (Afghan National Development Strategy) priorities.
UNIDO is the lead UN agency for industrial governance, trade capacity building, private sector development, agro-industries, energy and climate change, and environment management. Under this agreement UINIDO will assist the Government with providing:
1) Support to national institutions;
2) Promotion of private entrepreneurship; and
3) Basic services: clean environment
This will contribute to poverty alleviation and rural development through creation of a competitive export-oriented agro-industry and improving small-scale private sector development activities.
US $ 28 million is planned to be spent on support projects under this agreement.
UNAMA RADIO LAUNCHES ON iTUNES
For those of you who use iTunes, you may be interested to know that UNAMA has started its own special page on iTunes for its radio programming.
To launch the free service a special 45 minute briefing in English on the forthcoming 20 August presidential and provincial council elections, has been produced.
The podcast features interviews with the IEC, the ECC, the Media Commission, the UN’s elections support project UNDP/ELECT, journalists, voters and more.
The iTunes page also includes the latest reports from UNAMA Radio in Dari, Pashto and English.
UNAMA’s weekly radio show in Dari and Pashto – “Afghanistan Today” – produced with RTA is also available for downloading.
Listeners with iTunes installed on their computers can search for “UNAMA Radio” and then subscribe for free to all the latest audio reports and programmes on Afghanistan.
FIRST AFGHAN CLIMBERS HAVE REACHED AFGHANISTAN’S HIGHEST MOUNTAIN
For the first time ever, two Afghan climbers have reached the summit of Afghanistan’s highest mountain.
The two climbers, Amruddin and Malang, reached the 7,492 metres summit of Noshaq in the Hindu Kush in the Wakhan, on Sunday 19 July.
The expedition left the village of Qazi Deh on 2 July with 65 porters.
After a three-day trek to base camp they began their ascent. The climbers unfurled the Afghan flag on the summit and are said to be in good health.
UNAMA wants to take this opportunity to congratulate the climbers and the people of Afghanistan for such an impressive achievement.
SRSG SPEAKING AT MFA CONFERENCE ON TUESDAY
And finally, a quick reminder…Special Representative of the Secretary-General Kai Eide will be speaking at a conference organised by the Foreign Ministry tomorrow, Tuesday, the 21st of July.
He will give a speech on the importance of human rights during the elections, as well as other relevant topics such as human rights and transitional justice and women’s participation in this election.
You may have already received an invitation from the Ministry…the function starts at 9 AM at the Protocol Hall of Foreign Affairs.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: The question is address to Aleem Siddique: Despite that a delegation of monitors of the European Union have arrived --and also there are some other national and international observers you mentioned with many national observers -- but there are still concerns about places where there is insecurity and the observers can’t go there. If these people are not able to go to those areas, there will not be transparent elections. Just want to know UNAMA’s position on that?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: Thank you for your question. Security is imperative for the forthcoming elections. Voters must have confidence so that they can vote without fear, without intimidation, and in safety.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General has been underlining the importance of this very issue to all parties involved in delivering this year’s elections, including the IEC, including government security institutions, and including, both, domestic and international observer organisations.
There is a Joint Security Planning Group established, which streamlines planning between Afghan National Security Forces, the IEC, ISAF, the combined security transition command of Afghanistan, and also, us, the United Nations.
This group is now addressing security issues around candidates travel, planning for the distribution of sensitive election materials, and the establishment of provincial operations command centers, which will specifically focus on providing security for this year’s polls.
These provincial command centers will also be conducting ongoing security assessments over the coming weeks for proposed polling center locations, to ensure that every step that can be taken, to ensure safety and security, is taken.
We do not underestimate the difficulty of this task. But, the United Nations and all partners involved in this election process, will be making it clear that this is one of the key priorities over the coming weeks. And, in return, we ask the Afghan people not to let those who bring violence to Afghan communities to steal their opportunity to vote in these historic polls.
AFGHANISTAN TIMES [translated from Pashto]: While the operation has started in Helmand province to retake those districts that are out of the control of the government, yesterday the Ministry of Interior said that insecurity has increased by 14 per cent. Don’t you think that the increase of insecurity will affect the electoral process? While efforts are being made in one part of Afghanistan – in the South – to retake some of the districts under Taliban, insecurity is increasing in other areas of Afghanistan, such as Kunduz or Paktya. I just want to know whether this insecurity will not affect the electoral process?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: Allow me to remind you that at the start of this very process we made clear that security was one of the main challenges we will face in ensuring the integrity and security of this year’s polls. From the very start, we said that this was the biggest challenge that we will face.
There can be very few countries who face the challenge that Afghanistan faces in delivering these elections in the prevailing security climate. But let’s look back at the last few months. We have seen 4.5 million Afghan voters across this country in all 34 provinces registered to vote—that’s new voters and voters who have renewed their voter registration cards. Four and a half million of them came out without significant security incidents.
During the candidate nomination period, thousands of Afghans nominated themselves to participate in this year’s polls. Twenty per cent more women are standing for the provincial council in this year’s polls than those who stood last time. Again, this took place without significant security incidents.
As we speak, 17 million ballot papers are being transported, across the country, to every province, in a safe and secure manner. These are all encouraging signs and bode well for the coming weeks as we approach polling day.
But no one wants to underestimate the size of the security challenge. And allow me to assure you that there will be no let up on behalf of the international community in underlining the importance of security over the coming weeks, so that every Afghan who has the constitutional and democratic right to vote is provided with that opportunity on polling day.
Let’s be clear about one thing here: success of failure of the elections does not depend on the international community or the IEC by itself. We need every Afghan to play their part and come out and vote on 20 August.'
SABA TV: [translated from Pashto]: The question is regarding the statement by the former president of Pakistan (Pervez Musharraf) that the approach the Government of Pakistan or Afghanistan has taken to fight with the Taliban is not the way to solve the problem. He says it should be solved through negotiation. The Government of Afghanistan has said this in the past that the issue should be solved through negotiation. I want to know whether it is the opposition who are strong that they don't accept this negotiation, or it is the Government of Pakistan who are trying to disrupt the process by supporting the opposition?
UNAMA, DR NILAB MOBAREZ: [translated from Dari]: As for talks with the opposition, our position has been clear: We will support any solution - any way - that will lead us to peace. As for reconciliation: If the Government of Afghanistan asks UNAMA for support, UNAMA will be ready to give its support to this process. The condition for reconciliation is they should accept the constitution, the achievements of the people of Afghanistan and also international obligations—these are the conditions.
TAMADUN TV [translated from Dari]: A number of presidential candidates are concerned about fraud and violations by the IEC itself. And they say: if this fraud and violations are not tackled, they will boycott the elections and will demonstrate on the streets of Kabul. They are mainly concerned about the printing of ballot papers outside the country. Are there really fraud and violations by the IEC in this regard?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: Allow me to point you to a report that we issued in the last weeks. This is a joint report by Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission and UNAMA, which has specifically looked at the implementation of the electoral law and the ability of the Afghan people to exercise their constitutional rights, as part of this election. That report was issued two weeks ago and is available on our website.
The headline finding from that report is we have found that the electoral law, up until this stage, has been implemented according to Afghanistan’s Constitution and the rule of law. However, having said that, the report also made clear that we had identified cases or incidents where the law had not been followed, or where there had been instances for the integrity of the polls to be compromised. But, it’s important, at the same time, to recognise that the report found that these incidents did not compromise the overall integrity of the poll. The key thing to remember here, and the appeal that we make to the Afghan people, is to bring such concerns to the attention of the ECC and the IEC, so that corrective action can be taken to ensure the integrity of this year’s polls.
We will continue to monitor the progress of the polls over the coming weeks very closely to ensure that the Afghan people can have faith and confidence in the integrity of these polls.
You questioned why the ballot papers had been printed outside the country. If I can remind you that for the 2005 and 2004 elections, ballot papers were also printed outside the country. There should be no mystery about why these ballot papers are printed outside the country – quite simply it is to ensure that the ballot papers cannot be fraudulently duplicated inside Afghanistan.
There are a number of security measures on the ballot papers, which I’m sure the IEC will be happy to brief you on. And this is just one of the many measures that the IEC is taking to protect the integrity of those who come out to vote on the polling day.
RFE/RL [translated from Dari]: My question is regarding complaints about the financial resources of the major presidential candidates that are not clear yet. Also there are complaints that President Karzai is using government resources for launching his campaign. Do you have any information about these two points? How can these two factors overshadow the overall electoral process?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: Our position is quite simple on this. We believe that the electoral law of Afghanistan should be followed as it has been agreed by the parliament and the people of this country.
Those candidates who have not submitted their financial resources account to the election authorities need to do so as soon as possible. This is important not just to ensure that the law of this country is abided by, but also to ensure that the voters can have the confidence in the financial background of all those who are standing as candidates in this year’s polls.
And let us not forget that the most powerful people who can have an impact on this are you - the voters. If you have doubts about the financial background of any of the candidates, if you have any concerns about the background of the candidate, do not vote for them. Let the Afghan people be the final judges.
RFE/RL [translated from Pashto]: The question is regarding the order of the US President to investigate the Taliban massacre in 2001. We want to know if the UN will support this investigation? And the second question is: there is some speculation that the United Nations, at that time, was not supporting investigations of crimes that happened then. What does the UN say about that?
UNAMA, DR NILAB MOBAREZ [translated from Dari]: UNAMA has repeatedly called for all alleged crimes and past abuses to be investigated (not just individual cases) as part of Afghanistan's own transitional justice action plan on peace, reconciliation and justice.
We welcome indications from US authorities that they will investigate this incident. The Special Representative, Kai Eide, only recently made clear that "if we fail to address the crimes of the past, then we face serious problems for the future"
UNAMA's mandate is to assist the Afghan authorities with these efforts and, as part of this, the mission facilitated several forensic missions by the NGO Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), to the site in 2002.
Since then, we have also asked the government to protect the site for future investigations and offered to support the authorities with their investigations.