25/04/2002
Press Release
SC/7376



Security Council

4521st Meeting* (AM)


UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL PRENDERGAST BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL ON AFGHANISTAN,

SAYS RECENT PROGRESS ENCOURAGING, BUT BY NO MEANS ASSURED


Security Challenges Remain, Substantial Financial Assistance Still Required;

Interim Minister for Women Says Little Aid Received Compared to Pledges, Need


After so many years of war and civil war in Afghanistan, the political and humanitarian progress of the last several months was very encouraging, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast told the Security Council this morning.  However, he added, the progress was by no means assured.


Security remained a major challenge in many parts of the country, and substantial financial assistance was still required, he continued.  He appealed to the international community to speed up the delivery of its assistance and to broaden its scope to include unmet needs related to security.


Discussing political developments, he said Afghanistan's emergency Loya Jirga was to comprise some 1,500 delegates, of whom approximately 1,000 would be elected indirectly by the people and 500 would be selected by the Independent Loya Jirga Commission.  Given the logistical difficulties, the security environment and the extremely short time frame, even indirect elections presented a great challenge.  Nonetheless, phase one of the process had begun on schedule and with success.


Some results were particularly heartening to those who hoped to see a multi-ethnic, representative government in Afghanistan, he said.  He was referring to the fact that Pashtuns had been chosen in areas where they were in a minority, and that at least one woman had already been selected -– a modest achievement in most societies other than Afghanistan.  He added that 160 women would be selected by the Independent Commission itself.  There was no limit, however, on the number of women who might be elected.


He said another significant development was the return of the former King, Zahir Shah, who had been exiled since 1973.  The former King had declared his support for Chairman Karzai and the Interim Administration.  He had emphasized that he had not returned to revive the monarchy, but to unite and be close to his fellow Afghans.


__________


*     The 4520th meeting was closed.

Amid those signs of hope, a series of violent incidents had heightened security concerns, he said.  The Interim Administration had taken some actions, though its capabilities were limited, to respond to the deterioration of the security situation.


Mr. Prendergast also briefed the Council on:  efforts to eradicate Afghanistan's poppy crop; reconstruction and recovery; refugee return; humanitarian assistance; and the health sector.


Also taking the floor this morning was Sima Samar, Vice-Chairman of the Interim Administration of Afghanistan and Minister for Women.  She said the Interim Government had received very little aid compared with the pledges made, and especially compared with the tremendous need.  It needed financial resources to demonstrate that peace created changes in the conditions of people's lives.  The job of restoring peace in Afghanistan should not be left half-finished.  "Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past", she stressed.


Women’s rights were particularly jeopardized by the absence of security, she said.  Women continued to fear violence and worry about the imposition of Taliban-like restrictions.  Unless more security was provided, the inclusion of women in the Loya Jirga may be undermined and the distribution of identification cards to enable their participation in future elections imperilled.


The meeting was called to order at 10:45 a.m. and adjourned at 11:15 a.m.


Statements


SIMA SAMAR, Vice-Chairman of the Interim Administration of Afghanistan and Minister for Women, said the United Nations commitment to the peace process in Afghanistan had given the Afghan people the confidence to stand against the forces of oppression and evil.  Great progress had been made in putting in place political processes and a government framework for reconstruction.


She said the Afghan people looked forward to the day when an Afghan national army would be mobilized well enough to respond to violence in any part of the country.  However, a four-month-old government could not be expected to respond to the challenges that Afghanistan faced after more than 20 years of destruction and war culture.  Without the immediate expansion of international peacekeeping forces, democracy, reconstruction and the restoration of women’s rights and human rights would not be possible.


Women’s rights were particularly jeopardized by the absence of security, she emphasized.  Women continued to fear violence and worry about the imposition of Taliban-like restrictions.  Unless more security was provided, the inclusion of women in the Loya Jirga may be undermined and the distribution of identification cards to enable their participation in future elections imperilled.


They were told that an expansion of peacekeeping forces was too expensive, she said.  But, another cycle of war would be even more costly in terms of human lives.  Another period of violence would also risk the money and support that had already been invested in support of the peace process.  Continued instability might also undo all the political work that had been put in place with so much effort by the people of Afghanistan and friendly nations.  It would waste the last real chance to reverse the decades of violence and to create peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region.


She said it had been said that Member States were reluctant to extend the security forces in Afghanistan for fear that soldiers would face the risk of kidnapping and killing.  They must respond by putting everything in place to give the soldiers the proper support, so that they were not left vulnerable.  If action was not taken against the problems, the risks would be even greater.


Security meant immediate and long-term funds to strengthen the Government, she said.  The Interim Government had received very little aid compared with the pledges made, and especially compared with the tremendous need.  It needed financial resources to demonstrate that peace created changes in the conditions of people's lives.  The job of restoring peace in Afghanistan should not be left half-finished.  "Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past", she stressed.


KIERAN PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said the emergency Loya Jirga was to comprise some 1,500 delegates, of whom approximately 1,000 would be elected indirectly by the people and 500 would be selected by the Independent Loya Jirga Commission.  In the first phase, district assemblies would gather to select a slate of representatives known as electoral colleges.  Those colleges would then travel to one of nine provincial centres.  During the second phase, between 20 May and 3 June, the colleges would elect a number of delegates from among themselves to represent each province at the Loya Jirga.


Given the logistical difficulties, the security environment and the extremely short time frame, even indirect elections presented a great challenge.  Nonetheless, phase one had begun on schedule and with success.  Following the holding of the first district assembly on 14 April, 10 other assemblies had been held, and a total of 200 electoral college members had been selected.


Some results were particularly heartening to those who hoped to see a multi-ethnic, representative government in Afghanistan, he said.  He was referring to the fact that Pashtuns had been chosen in areas where they were in a minority, and that at least one woman had already been selected -– a modest achievement in most societies other than Afghanistan.


He noted that 160 women would be selected by the Independent Commission itself.  There was no limit, however, on the number of women who might be elected.  He hoped to see that positive precedent repeated many times through both phase one and phase two, so that the incredible sacrifices and tremendous responsibilities that Afghan women had borne through the past decades of war were suitably reflected in the composition of the Loya Jirga.


At present, it was possible to say that the Loya Jirga was on track, he said.  At the same time, he would not wish to disguise the many problems and obstacles that lay ahead.  The period would be a busy one for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the Interim Administration and its international partners.  “But we remain hopeful and confident that the emergency Loya Jirga will take place on schedule, and that it will lead to a smooth transition to the next phase of the Bonn process”, he said.


He said another significant development was the return of the former King, Zahir Shah, who had been exiled since 1973.  The former King had declared his support for Chairman Karzai and the Interim Administration.  He had emphasized that he had not returned to revive the monarchy, but to unite and be close to his fellow Afghans.


Amid those signs of hope, a series of violent incidents had heightened security concerns, he said.  Those incidents included a failed attempt in Jalalabad to assassinate the Minister of Defence.  Six bystanders had been killed and many more injured.  There had also been, among other incidents, a rocket attack on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).  The Interim Administration had taken some actions, though its capabilities were limited, to respond to the deterioration of the security situation.


Among the measures taken were mass arrests in April by the Administration’s National Security Directorate, the aim of which was described as being to pre-empt suspected terrorist attacks.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had been given access to the prisoners and a few had been released, but more than 200 remained in custody.  Three weeks after the arrests, no charges had been brought, nor evidence against the suspects produced.  The head of the Directorate had assured the United Nations that the investigation would be completed soon.  The UNAMA would be following the issue very closely.


He said the Interim Administration had, at the same, time made a determined attempt to eradicate this year’s poppy crop.  With the financial assistance of the United Kingdom, the Administration had given farmers the choice between accepting a financial compensation per hectare destroyed or facing the forcible eradication of their crop.  The policy had provoked fierce opposition from the farmers.  The Administration had nonetheless managed to destroy over 2,000 hectares, and had paid $3 million compensation.


The need for an effective police and corrections system was demonstrated by recent allegations of human rights abuses, he said.  For example, in early April, a member of the Loya Jirga Commission and representatives of the Hazara community had approached UNAMA with allegations that mass graves had been found in Bamiyan province.  The UNAMA had fielded a preliminary mission to the area and, based on its findings, had requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to identify experts who could travel to the region to conduct a more thorough investigation.


He said that in the past few months there had been signs that the economy had begun to recover and that the recovery was reaching many Afghans.  While the international community must remain focused on meeting basic human needs, there was growing scope for rehabilitation and reconstruction activities, as well.  It was, therefore, of great concern that funds pledged at Tokyo for such activities had been extremely slow to arrive.  He urged Member States to meet their pledges.


The pace of return of refugees from neighbouring countries had exceeded expectation, he said.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had estimated that, in the first eight weeks of its facilitated repatriation programme, more than 300,000 refugees had returned to Afghanistan.

In the area of food assistance, he said, efforts by the World Food Programme (WFP) to meet the immediate food needs of over 6 million Afghans were increasingly jeopardized by a serious depletion of cash and commodity resources.  As had so often been seen in Afghanistan, humanitarian emergencies succeeded each other, and their damaging effects were exacerbated by destroyed infrastructure and weakened social coping mechanisms.


In the health sector, he said, a nationwide polio immunization campaign had been launched on 16 April, targeting 6 million Afghan children and mobilizing the support of 60,000 volunteers.  The campaign was being coordinated by the Ministry of Public Health, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).  By the end of 2002, those vaccination efforts were expected to succeed in stopping the transmission of polio in the country.


After so many years of war and civil war in Afghanistan, the political and humanitarian progress of the last several months was very encouraging.  However, the progress was by no means assured.  Security remained a major challenge in many parts of the country, and substantial financial assistance was still required.  He appealed to the international community to speed up the delivery of its assistance, and to broaden its scope to include unmet needs related to security.


* *** *