Press Releases

    DSG/SM/154
    AFG/192
    SC/7339
    27 March 2002

    HUMAN RIGHTS TO BE CENTRAL TO NEW UN MISSION FOR AFGHANISTAN, DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS IN BRIEFING TO SECURITY COUNCIL

    NEW YORK, 26 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of a briefing to today’s Security Council meeting on Afghanistan by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette:

    I am pleased to be able to address the Security-Council on the question of Afghanistan this morning –- but it is sad to have to do so on a day when there is yet more bad news from that unhappy country. You will have heard by now of the severe earthquake in the north of the country, which has caused heavy loss of life, thousands of injuries, and left tens of thousands without shelter. The Secretary-General issued a statement this morning expressing his distress at this news, which I am sure we all share.

    United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations have already sent relief items and assessment teams into the area. A helicopter with people from the UN and from the International Security Assistance Force is currently surveying the damage. Chairman Karzai and Nigel Fisher, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, intend to visit the area tomorrow.

    I note the large number of non-Council members participating in this open meeting, and am encouraged by the continuing interest and support of the international community in helping the Afghans rebuild their society. Above all, I am pleased to be able to introduce the Secretary-General's report to the Security Council on the situation in Afghanistan. As you know, in addition to providing an update on recent events, the report also presents the Secretary-General's concept for the future United Nations presence in Afghanistan, for which we will seek the endorsement of the Security Council.

    Before addressing the structure of the new mission, I would like to highlight a few developments that have occurred in Afghanistan since the report was issued. As the report was released only last week, and as the list of speakers before us is very long, I hope to be brief.

    The Interim Administration and the United Nations have made education a key priority. The first day of the school year, which was last Saturday, marked a major step in getting children back to school. Chairman Karzai launched the nationwide ‘Back to School’ programme at a high school in Kabul, and similar ceremonies took place throughout the country. UNICEF's Carol Bellamy was also in Kabul for the occasion. It is estimated that around the country, 1.5 million students were able to return to school.

    As part of the programme, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) organized the delivery of over 7,000 tonnes of supplies to 3,000 schools across the country. These will provide primary school learning materials to over 1.8 million children, and teaching materials to 51,000 teachers. The UNICEF is also working to help restore some of the 2,000 schools that have been damaged or destroyed since 1979. In addition, 500 tents will be provided in areas where there are no schools.

    There is other good news, too. Increased rainfall has left many farmers in the west, north and north-east of the country optimistic about the next crop after three years of drought. There has been a massive increase in land under cultivation.

    This optimism is reflected in recent population movements. Internally displaced persons have, in some areas, started to return home spontaneously, without waiting for assistance from aid organizations. Similarly, a record number of refugees have benefited from an assisted return programme organized by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Interim Afghan Administration, and the Government of Pakistan. An average of 10,000 refugees a day crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan between 18 and 22 March. More than 83,000 Afghans have returned since the programme began on 1 March. Six more registration centres will be opened by UNHCR in Pakistan within the next few weeks to cope with this accelerating increase in demand. Preparations are under way for the start of a similar scheme for refugees from Iran, beginning in April.

    While we are heartened by this demonstration of popular confidence in Afghanistan's future, we are also concerned about nutritional deficits in some parts of the country. Rapid emergency assessments are being undertaken in areas identified as having high rates of malnutrition. The recent outbreak of scurvy in Taywara District of Ghor Province, which resulted in 20 deaths, highlights the severity of the malnutrition problem and the need for carefully targeted interventions.

    The World Food Programme will shortly launch a new emergency programme in the most affected areas. Up to 8.8 million people, including internally displaced persons (IDPs), will receive food assistance over the next three months. In addition, by December, an estimated 1 million school children will receive food handouts.

    And yet, Mr. President, even while United Nations agencies have been gearing up to meet these major challenges –- the back-to-school programme, the return of refugees and the continuing malnutrition crisis –- they have also become increasingly alarmed by the slow pace of funding. Almost a month ago, in Kabul, we presented the Immediate and Transitional Assistance Programme for this year, spelling out requirements of $1.18 billion. We now urgently need to convert the generous pledges already made into actual contributions. Otherwise we shall not be able to carry on with the vital activities I have just described.

    In turning to the political front. Here too, we can report significant progress. The first stage of the Loya Jirga process will soon be completed with the public announcement of the rules and procedures for the selection and indirect election of participants in the Loya Jirga, and for the convening of the Loya Jirga itself. These rules have been developed by the independent Loya Jirga Commission, following a process of consultation that took place across Afghanistan and at all levels of society. A budget has been drawn up to cover the complicated organizational and logistical arrangements needed to convene the Loya Jirga. We are extremely grateful for the generous contributions already made by Germany -– which has contributed $3 million –- and by the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Commission.

    The Commission Secretariat, with the support of Mr. Brahimi’s office, has designed a public information campaign to inform Afghans throughout the country about the Loya Jirga process. This campaign is in part supported by the Open Media Fund for Afghanistan, which was recently established on the initiative of the well-known journalist and expert on Afghanistan, Ahmad Rashid. It is perhaps a sign of how things have changed that a man who became famous for his reporting on war and oppression in Afghanistan can now lend his name to the process of democratic change there.

    Recent trips by the Loya Jirga Commission to the provinces have confirmed the enormous interest in the Loya Jirga process across the country. In Herat, a meeting hastily convened in the space of two hours was attended by over 1,000 people. When it was discovered that no women were present, another meeting was organized at a girls’ school nearby, and was attended by several hundred women.

    On the other hand, the possibility that the Loya Jirga might be intimidated or corrupted remains a key concern. There are reports that, in Herat, people have been arrested for speaking out in favour of the Loya Jirga. In other regions, people claim they cannot speak openly about the process for fear of their lives. Addressing these concerns is directly related to the question of security -– to which, Mr. President, I will now turn.

    The security situation across the country as a whole appears to have improved somewhat over the past few weeks. There have, however, been further violent incidents in a few places.

    In particular, clashes took place between different Hazara factions in Daikundi, in the province of Uruzgan. Mr. Brahimi met with representatives of these factions, who then agreed to accept an independent delegation from the Interim Administration to mediate their differences. That mediation process is under way. In Kandahar, a grenade was thrown into a crowded bazaar, killing one person and injuring others. Finally, there are reports that Taliban elements are regrouping in southern Paktia for a guerrilla campaign against the Interim Administration and against foreign troops.

    These incidents remind us how volatile the situation in Afghanistan still is, and should warn us not to be complacent. The concerns about security expressed in the Secretary-General’s report remain all too pertinent.

    I would also like to address the related and increasingly important question of demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants. A working group comprised of the Interim Administration, the United Nations, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and other parties has been established to find solutions to this question. This group, which has already met twice, is preparing proposals that will be considered at a conference on security financing in Geneva on 3 April. There have been encouraging signs from the Ministry of Defence, commanders and soldiers that many ex-combatants would be interested in taking part in reintegration programmes. Work is under way to identify labour-intensive projects and other schemes that can employ former combatants and provide them with an alternative to war. One promising possibility is to train a further 5,000 deminers to help clear the vast number of mines still scattered around the country.

    The ISAF has continued to build on its success in reducing crime and improving security in Kabul. On 19 March, the command of the Kabul Multi-National Brigade was handed over to the German contingent, while the United Kingdom continues to maintain overall command of ISAF. The ISAF is about to complete its training of the 1st Battalion of the Afghan National Guard. The unit will hold a parade on 4 April, and thereafter assume its new role alongside the existing Palace guard.

    Preparations for the training of a national Afghan police force are progressing. An advance party of the German training team arrived on 16 March. The six-week basic training courses will start in July, when the renovation of the Police Academy is complete. A public information campaign is under way to attract new recruits. The Commission on the reform of the police has also started its work.

    I would like to turn now to the important issue of human rights. As stated in the Secretary-General's report, four standing working groups were established at the Afghan National Workshop on Human Rights held in Kabul on 9 March. With the support, in particular, of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, these working groups are planning programmes to implement the human rights provisions of the Bonn Agreement, including the establishment of the independent Human Rights Commission, the investigation and monitoring of human rights abuses, and the provision of human rights education. The establishment of the Commission is particularly pressing given reports of continuing human rights abuses, such as the attacks on ethnic Pashtun civilians in the north of the country that are described in the Secretary-General's report.

    On a related matter, after wide consultations, the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General has prepared a paper on the Judicial Commission, outlining its proposed mission, composition, powers and operating procedures. This paper provides a necessary basis for proceeding with the establishment of this Commission, as required by the Bonn Agreement.

    Finally, Mr. President, let me say something about the future United Nations Mission to Afghanistan, which has provisionally been named the "United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan", or UNAMA. In his report, the Secretary-General proposes a structure supported by two pillars: pillar I for political affairs, and pillar II for relief, recovery and reconstruction activities. The proposed structure contains mechanisms for inter-pillar coordination both at headquarters and at the regional level, thus ensuring that political and reconstruction activities support each other rather than run at cross-purposes.

    A key innovation of UNAMA is the integration of humanitarian relief, recovery and reconstruction activities within a single pillar. The Deputy Special Representative for the Secretary-General in charge of pillar II would thus be responsible for the direction and oversight of all United Nations relief and reconstruction activities in Afghanistan. This integrated configuration will make it easier to work closely with legitimate Afghan authorities to rebuild Afghanistan in a sustainable way.

    Another innovation is the Secretary-General's proposal that the mission have a "light expatriate footprint". This is to ensure that Afghans take the lead in the post-conflict recovery phase, and that the bulk of foreign aid pledged to Afghanistan actually goes to Afghans.

    Human rights will be central to the purposes and functions of the new mission, both as the mission fulfils the provisions of the Bonn Agreement directly related to human rights, and as it seeks to fully integrate human rights into its humanitarian, reconstruction and political activities, including the rule of law and national capacity building. A senior Human Rights Coordinator in the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General will work with staff in both of the mission's main operational pillars, and will also coordinate human rights activities under both pillars. The Coordinator will serve as the principal contact for the independent Human Rights Commission and will liaise with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other United Nations human rights mechanisms. Staff, including Afghan nationals, will be equipped to perform the human rights aspects of their work, including the integration of rights-based and gender-sensitive approaches in the mission’s relief and reconstruction activities.

    With regard to policing, Germany has taken the lead in this sector and initiated a number of significant projects related to police reform. It has dispatched a highly experienced team of police advisers to Kabul to undertake this work. Germany has made clear, however, that assistance will also be required from other donors and international organizations. The two meetings convened in Berlin over the last two months on the subject of policing were aimed at securing such commitments. In order to support German efforts in Afghanistan, and to ensure that UNAMA has adequate resources to coordinate closely with the German team, the Afghan Ministry of Interior and ISAF, as well as to provide advice to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, the Secretary-General has recommended that three police advisers be added to the Mission. Both Germany and the Ministry of Interior have welcomed this recommendation.

    The new mission in Afghanistan will face extremely complex challenges. The Secretary-General's proposals, developed in close consultation with Mr. Brahimi and his team, are, I believe, an imaginative and constructive response to the operational challenges on the ground. I look forward to your discussion of these proposals, and I very much hope you will endorse them.

    Thank you very much.

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