|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-second General Assembly
44th & 45th Meetings (AM & PM)
GENERAL ASSEMBLY CALLS FOR CONTINUED EFFORT TO ADDRESS AFGHANISTAN’S CHALLENGES;
SAYS ‘STRONG NEXUS’ BETWEEN DRUG TRADE, EXTREMISTS UNDERMINES STABILITY
Afghanistan Asks for ‘Long and Sustained Commitment’ by World Community;
Assembly Also Discusses United Nations Support for New, Restored Democracies
Deeply concerned by the “increasingly strong nexus” between Taliban-led violence in Afghanistan and criminal activity spawned by the reconstituted opium trade, the General Assembly today called on the Afghan Government and the wider international community to continue their efforts to address those remaining “serious challenges threatening the democratic process as well as social and economic reconstruction” in the war-torn country.
Wrapping up its annual debate on the situation in Afghanistan, the Assembly, acting without a vote, adopted a wide-ranging resolution, which noted, among other things, political advances and improvement in building Afghanistan’s security sector. At the same time, the world body expressed concern that increased poppy cultivation and drug trafficking, coupled with the growing connection between the drug trade and extremist groups, “had dangerous repercussions in the region and far beyond”, and were undermining stability, security and reconstruction efforts.
The resolution, introduced by Germany’s representative, strongly condemned the renewed violence throughout Afghanistan, including the rising trend of suicide attacks, in particular in the south and east, “owing to the increased violent and terrorist activity by the Taliban, Al-Qaida, other extremist groups and those involved in the narcotics trade”. It also condemned attacks against both Afghan civilians, foreign nationals and those “committed to supporting the consolidation of peace, stability and development”, in particular United Nations and diplomatic staff, national and international relief workers and security forces.
The Assembly called on the Afghan Government, with the assistance of the international community, including through the Operation Enduring Freedom coalition and the Assistance Force, in accordance with their respective designated responsibilities, to continue to address the threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan posed by the Taliban and other extremist groups, as well as by criminal violence, in particular violence involving the drug trade. It also urged the Government and local authorities to take all possible steps to ensure the safe and unhindered access of United Nations, development and humanitarian personnel to all affected populations.
Further by the text, the Assembly commended the reaffirmed commitment of the Government to rid the country of the “pernicious production and trade” in narcotics, including by decisive law enforcement measures. It also welcomed the Government’s commitment to stand firm on the disbandment of illegal armed groups and to work actively at national, provincial and local levels to advance that commitment. Expressing its concern about the ongoing recruitment and use of child soldiers by illegal armed groups, the Assembly welcomed the Afghan Government’s efforts to implement Security Council resolution 1612 (2005) on children and armed conflict, and ending the use of children contrary to international law.
Ahead of that action, Afghanistan’s representative spotlighted his Government’s struggle to overcome the legacy of three decades of conflict and the emergence of new challenges, and stressed that his country would need the “long and sustained commitment of the international community for many years to come”. Despite remarkable achievements, “we have not lost sight of the numerous challenges,” he said, citing terrorism, illicit drugs, weak State institutions, poverty and socio-economic hardships as among the top national and regional threats.
Terrorism was the main challenge, and this year there had been a rise in violent activities of the Taliban and Al-Qaida in the country and throughout the region. “Terrorists are spreading fear and intimidation inside and outside Afghanistan,” he said, adding that they relied on brutal acts aimed at “undermining the security of our people and deterring the commitment of the international community to Afghanistan”. That was why they had ratcheted up abductions, suicide bombings and the use of sophisticated explosive devices “targeting and terrorizing a wide spectrum of society; children in school, religious clerics, international aid workers, journalists and Afghan and international security forces”.
On the drug trade, the Government had stepped up efforts to rid the country of that menace. Apart from areas controlled by the Taliban, some 26,000 hectares of land had been cleared of poppy cultivation, which amounted to some 13 poppy-free provinces. With bolstered law enforcement, authorities had apprehended 85 traffickers at Kabul International Airport. Still, Afghanistan would combat the scourge at all levels, and believed it was essential to provide Afghan farmers with an alternative source of livelihoods, and in that regard, it counted on the international community’s sustained support.
He said that regional cooperation was indispensable for defeating terrorism and extremism, and that close cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan continued on a bilateral and multilateral basis to eliminate the scourge “jointly and resolutely”. Following last week’s first Jirga Commission meeting in Kabul, that body’s next meeting would be held in Pakistan early next year. Saying that collaborative relations between the two nations was of the utmost importance, he noted that Afghanistan was following the current situation in Pakistan “with concern” as normalcy and stability in that country were critical for normalcy and stability in the region.
“For us, regional cooperation is not only the most effective strategy to address the challenges of terrorism and illicit drugs, but also underdevelopment, organized crime and natural disasters,” he said, adding that such cooperation would also help to translate the wider region’s rich resources and potential into development and prosperity. Indeed, the opportunities for regional cooperation in areas such as trade, energy, transportation, water management and joint investment projects must be seized.
Pakistan’s representative said that, more than any other country, Pakistan had suffered directly from the decades of conflict in Afghanistan, which had disturbed the peace of the border region and had given rise to increased extremism and instability overall. The two countries were linked by the bonds of history and culture. Peace and stability in the region could help Afghanistan and Pakistan grow into a central hub for activities taking place between Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia. To that end, Pakistan would be hosting the Third Regional Economic Cooperation Conference early next year.
Turning to some of major outstanding challenges his Government faced in regard to Afghanistan, he noted that Pakistan currently hosted more than 2 million Afghan refugees. Effectively handling that situation would help increase overall stability in the region and the United Nations should, therefore, use all necessary resources to assist in the process. On the increase in poppy cultivation, he said the failed drug strategy was fast converting Afghanistan into a virtual drug economy. A comprehensive and balanced strategy was necessary to break the links between drug money and terrorism and criminality. He stressed, however, that any response to the challenges in Afghanistan should have strong national ownership, supported by the international community.
Security was also challenge, as at least 78 districts in Afghanistan were currently rated as “extremely risky” and large areas of the country remained ungoverned or were controlled by extremists. Instead of externalizing Afghanistan’s security problems, those “sanctuaries” should be eliminated first and foremost. Terrorist groups who were not prepared to join the reconciliation process and give up violence were at the core of the violence and conflict in the country. They should be confronted, but any military strategy should avoid causing problems for the overall population, since that would only further isolate those communities. It was important to win the hearts and minds of the ordinary Afghan citizen through good governance and improved living conditions, he added.
The Assembly began its work this morning with a discussion on the support by the United Nations system of the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies, with speakers praising the outcome of the Sixth International Conference of New or Restored Democracies which had been held in Doha, Qatar from 29 October to 1 November 2006, and had featured the participation of delegations from 145 countries, 69 Parliaments, and 140 civil society groups. Qatar’s representative introduced a draft resolution on the subject, and the Assembly decided to take action on the text at a later date
Nepal’s speaker said that his country had had to fight for democracy “time and again”, in the 1950s, the 1990s, and as recently as 2006. The Nepalese had “won democracy against the odds of a violent conflict and absolute monarchy”, and with the signing of a comprehensive peace deal in November 2006, the erstwhile rebels had joined an Interim Parliament, which upheld democratic norms and guaranteed civil liberties and fundamental freedoms.
He expressed support for United Nations efforts to assist new and restored democracies and welcomed the establishment of the Democracy Fund, which should provide additional technical assistance to countries in democratic transition. He also welcomed the outcomes and action plans of the fifth and sixth International Conferences and stressed the importance of their full implementation, adding that there was a “special stake” in consolidating new democracies and that investing in democracy was “like an investment in peace and prosperity in the world”. He called on development partners to generously support the efforts of new and restored democracies in strengthening their democratic institutions and processes.
The representative of Portugal, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the importance of United Nations support for promoting new and restored democracies was striking, and that the Organization’s work was evident in peacekeeping operations and peacebuilding activities. On promoting the right conditions for democracy to take root, he said it was “utterly indispensable” that people were given equal participation in political life and decision-making.
Regional cooperation was essential for promoting democracy and human rights, and the European Union was committed to promoting democratization through its own cooperation programmes in such areas as the rule of law, effective participation of people in the democratic process and the role of civil society. He also attached the utmost importance to international efforts to implement assistance and educational programmes for democracy. In closing, he stressed that the European Union did not seek to impose any particular model of democracy, and believed civil society had an essential role in ensuring respect for democratic principles.
In other action today, the Assembly, acting on the recommendations of its General Committee, allocated the report of the Human Rights Council to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), and the report of the Peacebuilding Commission to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).
Speaking on the third report of the General Committee on the organization of work, the adoption of the agenda and the allocation of items were the representatives of Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Switzerland, Mexico and Egypt.
Speaking on the support by the United Nations system of the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies was the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Philippines as well as the representatives of Morocco, Mongolia, Mexico, India, and Cuba, and the Observers for the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Philippines also spoke on the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan. The representative of Germany introduced the draft resolution.
Also speaking on the issue were the representatives of Portugal (on behalf of the European Union), Kyrgyzstan (on behalf of the Collective Security Treaty Organization), Tajikistan (on behalf of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization), United States, Kuwait, Japan, Iceland, New Zealand, India, Canada, Iran, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.
The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday 8 November, to elect 18 members of the Economic and Social Council.
The General Assembly met this morning to take up matters related to the maintenance of peace and security and to make a decision on the recommendation of the General Committee on the allocation of the report of the Human Rights Council (A/62/250/Add.2). It was also expected to hear the introduction of and take action on two draft resolutions, respectively on new or restored democracies and the situation in Afghanistan.
Among the Secretary-General’s reports before the Assembly was a survey of Support by the United Nations system of the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies (document A/62/296). The Secretary-General’s previous report on the subject noted that he would initiate a study on the comparative advantages, complementarity and desirable distribution of labour of various intergovernmental democracy movements, organizations and institutes, whether global or regional, and on how the Organization has worked and could further work with them in a mutually supportive way.
The main results of the study are contained in the present report, as well as the Secretary-General’s proposals on concrete recommendations to the Assembly on how to improve cooperation and coordination between the United Nations and other relevant movements and organizations concerned with the promotion of democracy. Among other highlights of the year in this area, the report notes that the Sixth International Conference of New or Restored Democracies was held in Doha from 29 October to 1 November 2006, with participants from 145 countries, 69 Parliaments, and 140 civil society organizations.
The Conference unanimously endorsed the Doha Declaration and Plan of Action and emphasized the importance of creating credible follow-up mechanisms for effectively implementing its decisions. The participants agreed on the following implementation mechanisms: (a) an Advisory Board to assist the Chairman of the Conference; (b) an annual high-level meeting of the Conference that will be convened at the same time as the General Assembly; and (c) a nucleus secretariat to assist the Chairman. In addition, the Parliamentary and the Civil Society Forums agreed to establish a Democracy Advisory Commission and an International Steering Committee, respectively.
On assistance provided by the United Nations system to new or restored democracies, the report underscores the Organization’s activities in the areas of, among others, electoral assistance, enhancing efficient public administration and the rule of law, and the promotion and protection of human rights, where, for example, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has been working with Iraqi ministries, judicial institutions and civil society to promote the establishment of a strong human rights protection system, including a national human rights commission.
Among his recommendations for the Assembly’s consideration on strengthening the United Nations efforts in democracy assistance, the Secretary-General notes that The International Conference of New or Restored Democracies and the Community of Democracies should avoid duplication in the planning and execution of their future activities. He also notes that, given that the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and the International Conference of New or Restored Democracies have a long history of working together and furthering the same goals and values, future Conference hosts could consider using the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance as a continuous resource that could be available for the movement on a long-term basis, in close cooperation with the United Nations. He further recommends that the Assembly could welcome the intention of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance to strengthen its cooperation with the United Nations.
With regard to the democracy database and website, he recommends that, given that the Government of Qatar, the Chair of the Sixth International Conference, has committed to supporting and maintaining a new democracy databank, newsletter and Conference website, but only for the duration of its chairmanship, the United Nations system, as well as the Assembly, should consider providing funds for future hosts to maintain such a databank and website on a continuous basis; and that the United Nations could also provide technical assistance in the creation of the aforementioned databank and website and provide necessary data, including the transfer of original contributions received from the Members States, the United Nations system, regional organizations and other partners for the present report.
The Assembly also had before it a related report entitled Support by the United Nations system of the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies (document A/62/302), which contained replies from Australia, Brazil, Croatia, Cyprus, Japan, Poland, Qatar and Ukraine, in accordance with General Assembly resolution A/60/253.
A draft resolution (document A/62/L.9) would have the Assembly reaffirm that democracy is a universal value based on the freely-expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives, and encourage Governments to strengthen national programmes devoted to the promotion and consolidation of democracy, including through increased bilateral, regional and international cooperation, taking into account innovative approaches and best practices.
The Assembly would also decide, with effect from its sixty-second session, to observe on 15 September of each year the International Day of Democracy, which should be brought to the attention of all people for its celebration and observance, and invite all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system, regional and intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and individuals to commemorate the International Day of Democracy in an appropriate manner that contributes to raising public awareness.
The Assembly is also set to take up the Secretary-General’s report on The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security (document A/62/345/-S/2007/555), which outlines priorities for the country as it comes under increasing strain from an ongoing insurgency, weak governance and a growing narcotics industry.
“The most urgent priority must be an effective, integrated civilian/military strategy and security plan for Afghanistan,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states in the report, adding that success in the medium term also requires the engagement of communities. Both areas require stronger leadership from the Government, better coordination of international assistance and a strong commitment from neighbouring countries, he says. Without those factors, many of the gains made since the Bonn Conference may be reversed.
The key to sustaining security gains in the long term, he states, is increasing the capability, autonomy and integrity of the Afghan National Security Forces, especially the Afghan National Police. He urges the Government to build on the outcomes of the Conference on the Rule of Law in Afghanistan, which he co-chaired with President Hamid Karzai in Rome in July, by finalizing its justice-sector strategy and addressing the “apparent impunity enjoyed by those Government officials perceived to be abusing their offices.”
The Government, he says, must be prepared to take painful decisions now to bring credibility to emerging institutions, he says. It should avoid rotating under-performing officials into new positions, especially in the provinces, and replace them instead with effective administrators who enjoy the confidence of the population, including tribal and religious leaders.
Highlighting the threat to reconstruction and development posed by the continued increase in opium production -– which reached record levels this year –- Mr. Ban calls on Afghan authorities to prioritize interdiction and to bring drug traffickers to justice. He also calls on the international community to support a truly Afghan-led plan that moves beyond eradication efforts, which had proven ineffective in isolation.
The overriding focus of donor engagement, he said, must be the finalization and funding of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. That Strategy must be seen to deliver genuine results in response to priorities defined by the communities themselves.
In regard to regional relations, he said the Government must retain the trust of its neighbours by engaging constructively in bilateral and multilateral initiatives on narcotics, migration and other regional issues. In addition, the recognition of the cross-border nature of the insurgency by President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf creates an opportunity for a joint strategy to defeat extremism and terrorism in both countries.
National reconciliation will require agreement on which insurgent leaders ought to be subject to military operations or law enforcement, and which political forces, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, were capable of contributing to a peace process. In that regard, it was vital for all Member States to implement relevant sanctions.
In the report, the Secretary-General also stressed that measures must be taken by the Government to combat arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, including full implementation of the Action Plan on Peace, Reconciliation and Justice. In regard to presidential elections, to be held in 2009, he emphasized the importance of the adoption of the electoral law by the end of 2007 and reiterated his appeal to donors for electoral support.
A relevant draft resolution (document A/62/L.7) would have the Assembly strongly condemn the upsurge of violence, including the rising trend of suicide attacks in Afghanistan, in particular in the southern and eastern parts, owing to the increased violent and terrorist activity by the Taliban, Al-Qaida, other extremist groups and those involved in the narcotics trade, which has resulted in increased casualties among civilians, Afghan security forces, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and coalition forces, as well as among the personnel of Afghan and international aid agencies and other humanitarian workers.
The Assembly would, therefore, stress the importance of the provision of sufficient security, and welcome the presence of the Assistance Force throughout Afghanistan, and call upon Member States to continue contributing personnel, equipment and other resources to the Assistance Force and to further develop the provincial reconstruction teams in close coordination with the Government of Afghanistan and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Further in this regard, the Assembly would call on the Afghan Government, with the assistance of the international community, including through the coalition and ISAF, to continue to address the threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan posed by the Taliban, Al-Qaida and other extremist groups and criminal actors. It would also urge the Government and local authorities to take all possible steps to ensure the safe and unhindered access of United Nations, development and humanitarian personnel to all affected populations.
The text would also have the Assembly stress the importance of advancing the full implementation of the programme of Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups throughout the country under Afghan ownership, while ensuring coordination and coherence with other relevant efforts, including security sector reform, community development, counter-narcotics, district-level development and Afghan-led initiatives to ensure that entities and individuals do not illegally participate in the political process, and call for adequate support in order for the Ministry of the Interior to increasingly assume its leading role in implementing the programme of Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups.
Organization of Work
CHRISTIAN WENAWESER ( Liechtenstein) said resolution 60/251 had created the Human Rights Council as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly. Last year, the General Assembly had decided to allocate the agenda item both to the plenary and to the Third Committee, with the understanding that the Third Committee would take up all recommendations of the Human Rights Council to the General Assembly. That decision had been taken in full compliance with the resolution, and there was no reason for changing that arrangement. The General Committee should have made the same recommendation this year.
He said discussions leading up to the General Committee’s recommendation to the General Assembly were not limited to allocation, and the relationship between the Council and the General Assembly. Rather, they had revolved around one part of the report -- the package on institution-building. While he believed it was conceptually wrong to mix up the issues, he understood that could be done for the sake of political expediency. His delegation would then expect that all aspects of the negotiating package would be solved together. He noted that was not the case. In making the decision on allocation, there had been no clarity about the circumstances under which the institution-building package would be adopted.
Behind the decision on the allocation of the agenda item loomed the larger question of the Human Rights Council’s political standing. He hoped the allocation issue would be taken up next year in full transparency and discussed in the manner that it deserved.
ROSEMARY BANKS ( New Zealand) said that there were principles being overlooked in allocating discussion of agenda item 65 to the Third Committee. The Human Rights Council was founded by the General Assembly only last year with cause for great hope. Due to differing opinions, last year the item was discussed in both plenary and the Third Committee. The importance of having the work proceed smoothly should not be confused with allocation of agenda items. New Zealand would have liked to discuss the agenda item first in plenary and then in the Third Committee. She expressed the hope that at the sixty-third session of the General Assembly, it would first be considered in plenary and after in the Third Committee.
PETER MAURER ( Switzerland) said there was nothing in regard to the efficiency or the practicality of the previous session of the General Assembly’s treatment of the report that justified a change in the manner in which the report was considered. The decision to send the report to the Third Committee was made through a political arrangement in which Switzerland played no part. Sending the report to the Third Committee should not set a precedent for the future and, in years to come, he expressed hope that the report would still be considered in a plenary session.
CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico) believed that discussion of human rights and the creation of the Council should be considered in the Third Committee. He also agreed on the need for transparency and proper conduct in discussions with regard to the subject.
MAGED A. ABDELAZIZ ( Egypt) said that he fully supported the proposal adopted by consensus in the General Committee. The difference in consideration of the report of the Human Rights Council between last year and this year was that last year the Council had not yet completed a full year’s work, while a full year and seven months’ work had now been completed. The treaties on compulsory disappearances and indigenous peoples had all been considered in the Third Committee, without causing difficulties. He supported the work of the Human Rights Council, noting that Egypt was a member of the Council, and also supported the view of the African Group that the item should go to the Third Committee.
The Assembly then decided to allocate the report of the Human Rights Council to the Third Committee, and the report of the Peacebuilding Commission to the Fifth Committee.
Introduction of Text and Statements on New or Restored Democracies
Updating the Assembly on the outcome of and follow-up to the Sixth International Conference on New or Restored Democracies, held in Doha from 29 October to 1 November 2006, ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar) said that the two main objectives of that meeting had been to enhance the links between democracy, peace and social progress in the global development agenda, and to initiate systematic implementation and follow-up steps to consolidate the achievements and recommendations from the previous Conference. To that end, the Sixth Conference had agreed on the Doha Declaration, which requested its Chairman to take the necessary measures over the next three years to ensure systematic implementation of the Conference’s recommendations.
As Conference Chair, Qatar had held two Advisory Board meetings in April and September 2007. Both meetings, led by the Qatari Assistant Foreign Minister for Follow-up Affairs, had had significant results within the context of consultations and cooperation. A draft programme of work had been formulated for 2007-2009, which aimed to facilitate the implementation of the Conference recommendations. Such measurable activities included, among others, preparation of a newsletter, development of a databank and the holding of a high-level meeting during the sixty-second session of the Assembly, which would be held in New York next month.
She said that the Conference had played a prominent role in the promotion of the democratization process, and that Qatar, as Chair of the Conference through 2009, pledged commitment to implementing the relevant outcomes and to enhancing international cooperation among new and restored democracies. On the relevant draft before the Assembly, she said that the text’s main objectives were to set the 15 September annual commemoration of the International Day of Democracy, and to underline close cooperation between the United Nations and Governments, as well as between parliamentarians, civil society and Governments.
JORGE DE LEMOS GODINHO ( Portugal), on behalf of the European Union, said democracy and human rights were mutually reinforcing, adding that the European Union was firmly committed to promoting democratic principles worldwide. He welcomed the Sixth International Conference on New and Restored Democracies, held in Doha from 29 October to 1 November 2006, and the historic adoption of a tripartite Joint Statement on promoting democracy, as joint actions were fundamental in that context. He highlighted the tripartite structure of the Conference, with parliamentarian and civil society forums held parallel to the Governmental country meeting.
He welcomed decisions to improve follow-up mechanisms between each Conference, and ensure systematic implementation of recommendations. In that regard, he also appreciated recognition of the need to establish an International Advisory Board. On the work programme for 2007-2009, he highlighted the decision to promote a global exchange of information by maintaining a comprehensive international databank on democracies.
The importance of United Nations support for promoting new and restored democracies was striking, he continued, and the Organization’s work was evident in peacekeeping operations and peacebuilding activities. On promoting the right conditions for democracy to take root, he said it was “utterly indispensable” that people were given equal participation in political life and decision-making. Regional cooperation was essential for promoting democracy and human rights, and the European Union was committed to promoting democratization through its own cooperation programmes in such areas as the rule of law, effective participation of people in the democratic process and the role of civil society. He also attached the utmost importance to international efforts to implement assistance and educational programmes for democracy. In closing, he stressed that the European Union did not seek to impose any particular model of democracy, and believed civil society had an essential role in ensuring respect for democratic principles.
HAMID CHABAR ( Morocco) said the text before the Assembly reaffirmed the commitment of Member States to strengthen the role the United Nations played in supporting democracies and promoting human rights. His Government’s view of democracy was based on four main pillars, namely: diversity, where the plurality of opinion and values of all people were equally respected and celebrated; peace and security, where the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States was respected and the State guaranteed security and freedom for all people; development, where Government reform ensured that increased economic success led to a better quality of life for all people; and a respect for human rights, where political, economic and social institutions reaffirmed basic human rights and allowed all people, especially women, to fulfil those rights.
He said the United Nations played a crucial role in those four areas, in particular to help mobilize and coordinate international efforts to support national initiatives. Overall, his Government aspired to build a democracy with a human face. He added that such a democracy could only be built in a world of peace, prosperity, tolerance and solidarity.
He said his Government had recently organised legislative elections that had been both transparent and credible. Those elections led to a majority Government with a strong opposition ready to play an active role in the governance of the country. That Government was based on the richness of national identity, the values of Islam and the diversity and multitude of international experiences. It would move forward with a global and multidimensional agenda based on reform, participation and proximity. Reforms would cover the fields of human rights, the status of women, and public administration, among others. He highlighted, in particular, transitional justice reforms that would help to protect and compensate victims who had suffered abuse in the past and social development reforms that would help people living in poor urban areas of the country. The success of those initiatives depended on the active participation of all citizens.
Participative democracy did not just mean voting in elections, but rather the active involvement of all citizens in reforming and improving the country, he said. To facilitate that participation, his Government was committed to governing in proximity, which would mean greater decentralization to allow regions and local communities to have greater involvement in governance. In conclusion, he said the path to democracy was strewn with constraints, but there should be no defeatism or despair on the journey. His Government believed it was possible to build a modern and democratic society through the reforms on its agenda and based on the trust of its partners through bilateral and multilateral partnerships.
ENKHTSETSEG OCHIR (Mongolia) said that the Sixth International Conference of New or Restored Democracies had been a “resounding success”, with participants from some 145 countries, 69 parliaments and 140 civil society organizations, and that it had marked a “significant step” in the global new and restored democracy process. Moreover, it could not be underestimated that it had been the first of the Conferences to take place in the Middle East. She was gratified to see that the tripartite structure of the Conference –- governments, parliaments and civil society -- first introduced in 2003 at the Fifth Conference, hosted by Mongolia, had been fully utilized and advanced at Doha.
The adoption of the first ever Joint Statement by the three components, reaffirming their common commitment to the process of further democratization and the importance of promoting democracy as a shared responsibility, had been “a truly pioneering initiative that should be sustained in the future”, she said. Stressing the importance of full implementation of the outcomes of such international conferences, she highlighted some of Mongolia’s efforts to follow-up the Fifth Conference, including the development of nationally-owned democratic governance indicators to measure democratic performance, as well as a draft national plan of action to assess Mongolia’s needs to address the challenges of democratization. She hoped that follow-up efforts would be further institutionalized with the Parliament’s decision to link Mongolia’s achievement of the Millennium Development Goals with democratic progress.
CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico) said he supported the draft resolution to support new or restored democracies. It reflected the work of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Mexico worked with that organization, The International Conference of New or Restored Democracies, and other international groups to promote democracy and encouraged those organizations to work with the United Nations. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance had a broad range of activities to promote democracies on the national and international level. As a member of the Institute, Mexico had developed its own Mexico Project to hold a series of conferences and other activities to promote democracy.
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance contributed to a base of knowledge for capacity-building, electoral processes, development of political parties and methodology for the creation of democracy based on local principles, among other activities, he said. He expressed the hope that, with Permanent Observer status at the United Nations, the Institute would increase and improve its ties with the United Nations.
T.C. GEHLOT ( India), noting that the United Nations had long supported nascent democracies and promoted transparent, accountable governance, welcomed the Organization’s growing role in facilitating international cooperation in the follow-up to the International Conferences of New or Restored Democracies.
As a regular participant at the International Conferences, India noted with satisfaction that participation had grown from 13 countries at the First Conference in Manila in 1988 to 142 countries in Doha in 2006. Democracy was a powerful ideal; however, its successful exercise required strong institutions and laws, and development of a parliamentary culture. Indeed, among elements needed were an independent judiciary; free press; professional civil and military establishments; and an independent electoral mechanism.
On India’s efforts, he said the country, as the world’s largest democracy, had shared its experience and institutional capacities with other nations. The Government had also supported United Nations efforts to build capabilities necessary for exercising democracy, and had made a $10 million contribution to the United Nations Democracy Fund. On improving cooperation between the United Nations and other organizations, he said United Nations efforts should focus on institution- and capacity-building in interested Member States. Collective efforts should be on improving States’ capacity, so that they could embrace the rule of law and democracy. The aim should be continued strengthening of democracy where it was new, and encouragement for its restoration where the transition to democracy had been derailed.
RODRIGO MALMIERCA DIAZ ( Cuba) said, in 1993 at the World Conference on Human Rights, the world had agreed that democracy was based on the freely-expressed will of the people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives. Attempts to establish a single pattern of democracy and governance at the international level, regardless of the particularities and realities of specific countries, were of concern. Those attempts pushed the concept that democracy was foremost the rule of the people, by the people and for the people, into the background. There could be no democracy without freedom, popular participation, social justice, individual and collective well-being or human solidarity. Further, there could be no sovereignty without national independence or democracy without development.
A genuine democracy, he continued, should not institutionalize the defence of the wealthiest and most privileged to the detriment of those who were most in need. In particular, he pointed to the failure of western countries to effectively aid those suffering in the third world and to ensure popular participation in their own political processes. Growing limitations were also being imposed on the exercise of fundamental civil and political rights of a large group of first world countries under the pretext of the fight against terrorism. It was impossible to prove the universal superiority of the liberal bourgeois democracy, and yet there was a determination to impose it on others.
So-called new or restored democracies were making an important difference by creating discussion on democracy, by recognizing the freedom of all countries to choose their own path to democracy, and by addressing the need for economic and social development to advance democracy. He expressed concern for the recommendation in the report regarding greater relations between the United Nations and the Community of Democracies, since his Government believed that the paradigms of selectivity, manipulation and politicization that sought to establish that group clashed with the guidelines established in the United Nations Charter.
The essence of democracy was the people’s power in political, economic, social and cultural spheres, he said. His country had a profoundly popular and participatory democracy that gave power to the people and he went on to give examples of that democracy at work. In conclusion, he said there was a need for a more democratic and tolerant world and that limitations, problems, and challenges for democracy existed in both the North and the South.
RAM BAHADUR BISTA ( Nepal) said that his delegation supported United Nations efforts to assist new and restored democracies and welcomed the establishment of the Democracy Fund, which should provide additional technical assistance to countries in democratic transition. He also welcomed the outcomes and action plans of the fifth and sixth International Conferences and stressed the importance of their full implementation, adding that there was a “special stake” in consolidating new democracies and that investing in democracy was “like an investment in peace and prosperity in the world”. He called on development partners to generously support the efforts of new and restored democracies in strengthening their democratic institutions and processes.
He said that the Nepalese people had had to fight for democracy “time and again”, in the 1950s, the 1990s, and as recently as 2006. The people of Nepal had “won democracy against the odds of a violent conflict and absolute monarchy”, and with the signing of a comprehensive peace deal in November 2006, the erstwhile rebels had joined an Interim Parliament, which upheld democratic norms and guaranteed civil liberties and fundamental freedoms.
Though the subsequent postponement of a Constituent Assembly had been a disappointment to all, the parties were currently engaged in serious dialogue, including through recent deliberations in Parliament, to resolve all political differences towards setting a date for the Assembly as soon as possible. He said that, thus far, Nepal had been able to resolve all differences and resolve conflict through peaceful dialogue. That was how the interests of traditionally marginalized groups like the Madhesis and various ethnic and indigenous peoples had been addressed. Nepal appreciated the role of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) in assisting with the peace process.
ANDA FILIP, Observer of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, stressed the necessary linkage between peace and democracy, saying the United Nations had a strong interest in pursuing and realizing the goals of democracy as a means of establishing a durable peace. In instituting peace, the United Nations also needed to look at the prevention of conflict. The Inter-Parliamentary Union would like to see more consistent efforts deployed to post-conflict institution-building.
She continued, saying democracy would be worthless if it did not lead to the betterment of the people for whom it was meant. The poor, who have pressing concerns, such as jobs, food, water and other basic needs, found it hard to get involved politically and, therefore, freedom from want should underpin efforts to enhance democracy. The international community had experienced general disillusionment with democracy, evinced by low election turnout around the world, as well as continuing disregard for governing institutions. The Inter-Parliamentary Union felt the United Nations needed to devote more efforts to analyze the situation and reverse the trend. That required more effort in building more effective public institutions –- notably those responsible for organizing elections in new democracies -- and enhancing the capacities of people to participate in the political process between elections.
Finally, she said the Inter-Parliamentary Union would continue its work with parliaments to render them more representative, transparent, accessible, accountable and effective. It would also build capacity within parliaments, promote the political participation of women, defend and promote human rights and contribute to the setting of internationally accepted standards in the field of democracy.
MASSIMO TOMMASOLI, Observer of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, welcomed the creation of the International Advisory Board and said the 2007-2009 Conference programme of work would help ensure continuity between the Conferences.
He said the Institute’s engagement with the International Conference process was twofold. First, it provided analytical contributions grounded in its democracy-building knowledge base. It also provided support to the Conference host in the follow-up process. In that context, he noted the provision of technical advice to Mongolia in the follow-up to the Ulaanbaatar Conference.
The new or restored democracies process would further enhance the Institute’s effectiveness by addressing two issues, he said, noting that the first was the need to link the Conferences to actual democracy-building efforts on the ground. In that regard, he welcomed Mongolia’s example, which set a best practice for countries interested in engaging in a self-assessment. Also, it was necessary to make better use of sharing experience, including in a South-South perspective, on the challenges of the democratic reform process. The Institute would be pleased to provide inputs, in a targeted way, of organizing future conferences.
On the United Nations role, he said democracy was strongly linked to the Organization’s main pillars of peace and security, human rights and development. In that regard, the United Nations must take the lead in regaining multilateral credibility for democracy-building assistance. It was critically important to take into account the political nature of processes addressed through United Nations mechanisms, such as the Peacebuilding Commission and United Nations Democracy Fund. Further, greater consistency was needed across the board. That would enhance the impact of the initiatives carried out in different democracy building sectors. Finally, a “coherent and non-prescriptive approach” to democracy-building was needed. That should be based on consideration of its links to the United Nations pillars. He also welcomed the creation of an International Day of Democracy.
The Assembly decided to take action on the draft at a later date.
The General Assembly then took up the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan (document A/62/345) and draft resolution A/62/L.7.
THOMAS MATUSSEK (Germany), introducing the draft resolution, said the United Nations had played the key role in coordinating efforts for institution-building and reconstruction within the framework of the Afghanistan Compact. It should continue to do so, primarily through UNAMA, which had already laid the groundwork for the integrated civil/military approach within Afghanistan. There continued to be serious challenges in Afghanistan, such as the security situation, the increase in poppy cultivation, and the lack of governance to deliver efficient services to citizens. However, there had also been significant achievements, such as the increased number of children attending school, infrastructure rebuilding, and the growth of the economy and foreign trade. Regional economic cooperation and regional political initiatives were also moving forward and he called for further support for such initiatives. He also welcomed the recent Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace Jirga held in Kabul.
The Afghanistan Compact provided the foundation for Germany’s involvement in the country, he said. His Government had recently approved the extension of its military contingent’s mandate and it continued to be among the main contributors to Afghan security and reconstruction. In 2007 it had increased its yearly commitment to more than $130 million and it had planned on a further increase to more than $160 million in 2008. Meanwhile, Afghan authorities were improving their capacity to effectively implement reconstruction projects. A major priority for Germany was the strengthening of the Afghan national security forces. There had already been significant progress achieved, but there continued to be inadequate resources, equipment, training and mentoring available to meet the security needs of the country effectively.
Germany had promoted a European Police Mission, which would reach full operational capacity in early 2008, he continued. The European Police Mission would substantially increase the number of trainers and mentors for the police in Afghan provinces and thus help build a strong and effective national police. His Government had also promoted a Group of Eight initiative to foster dialogue and cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. With regard to the political calendar, the elections in 2009 and 2010 would create both challenges and opportunities and Germany was committed to helping Afghanistan create the conditions necessary to build an effective and viable electoral system, in particular through assistance in training election officers. Reconstruction after a civil war was not a “quick fix”. It required a long-term commitment from the Afghan government and people and the international community. The United Nations would continue to coordinate international commitment on the ground and his Government would support the Organization for as long as it would take to reach the common goal of a stable, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Afghanistan.
ZAHIR TANIN (Afghanistan) said that today’s Assembly meeting to consider the body’s annual draft resolution on the situation in his country, which followed the high-level meeting in September between the Secretary-General and President Karzai, and the Security Council’s meeting last month, were clear indications of the international community’s ongoing support to ensure Afghanistan’s successful transition from war and conflict to peace and stability. Even as the Assembly met, Afghanistan was continuing to make substantial progress in several areas, including institution-building, economic growth, education, health, road building and rural development.
In the area of security, the Government had increased the size and strength of the national army and police, enabling security forces to play a more efficient role in combat operations throughout the country. The Afghan national army, which would stand at some 47,000 strong by the end of the year, was on track to meet the target strength of 72,000 by 2009. He added that additional progress had been evident in disbanding illegal armed groups throughout the country. Steady progress in the socio-economic conditions of the people also continued apace, he continued, noting that some 85 per cent of the population had access to basic health services. Afghanistan had also built 4,000 hospitals and clinics throughout the country, and had subsequently saved the lives of more than 89,000 children and reduced maternal mortality by 40,000.
He went on to say that more than 6 million students -– 36 per cent of whom were girls -- were now attending Afghan schools and universities. Further, the National Solidarity Programme, the country’s largest-ever effort to empower and develop rural areas, had brought development projects to more than 18,000 communities, touching some 13 million villagers. On other issues, he said that Afghanistan had taken important steps towards regaining its historic role as facilitator of regional economic cooperation, coming after years of economic isolation because of protracted armed conflict and foreign occupations. Among other infrastructure projects, the country’s national highway system had been completed and now stretched some 6,000 kilometres and would open up trade with its neighbours.
He stressed that the consolidation of democratic institutions had enabled more Afghan citizens to enjoy social, political and economic rights than ever before. The unprecedented number of women represented in the national assembly and the presence of numerous political parties and media outlets was clear testimony to that assessment. The Afghan Human Rights Commission continued to undertake measures to protect and promote fundamental rights for all citizens, he said, adding that among further initiatives, progress was also continuing towards implementation of the Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation and Justice.
“Despite remarkable achievements, we have not lost sight of the numerous challenges,” he said, citing terrorism, illicit drugs, weak State institutions, poverty and socio-economic hardships as among the top national and regional threats. Terrorism was the main challenge and this year there had been a rise in violent activities of the Taliban and Al-Qaida in the country and throughout the region. “Terrorists are spreading fear and intimidation inside and outside Afghanistan.”
“They rely on brutal acts […] aimed at undermining the security of our people and deterring the commitment of the international community to Afghanistan,” he said. That was why those actors had ratcheted up abductions, intimidation, suicide bombings and the use of sophisticated explosive devices, “targeting and terrorizing a wide spectrum of society; children in school, religious clerics, international aid workers, journalists and Afghan and international security forces”. At the same time, he underscored substantial progress in defeating terrorism and extremism, noting that recent military operations that had lead to the capture or elimination of high and mid-level Taliban officers had weakened that command and control structure of terrorist networks.
He stressed that substantial success in the military campaign against terrorists depended on the level of technical and logistical assistance to bolster the capacity of Afghanistan’s security institutions. “A strong and professional national army and police is a pre-condition for long-term stability and security in Afghanistan,” he said, calling for increased efforts to accelerate the training of national security forces, so that they became self-reliant and could independently address the nation’s security needs. At the same time, military means alone could not address all Afghanistan’s security problems.
“An integrated military, political and development strategy is necessary for substantial and sustainable improvement of security in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that, as a complement to military action, increased efforts for political outreach to “non-terrorist” Taliban; those who were willing to renounce violence and abide by the provisions of Afghanistan’s Constitution –- had increased. Further, implementing development and infrastructure projects in areas threatened by extremists would have a direct impact on efforts to improve security. “Therefore we believe that every effort should be made to maintain and win the support of the people,” by creating employment opportunities, and ensuring basic services countrywide.
He also said that regional cooperation was indispensable for defeating terrorism and extremism, and that close cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan continued on a bilateral and multilateral basis to eliminate the scourge “jointly and resolutely”. Following last week’s first Jirga Commission meeting in Kabul, that body’s next meeting would be held in Pakistan early next year. It was of the utmost importance that the collaborative relations between the two nations continued, he said, adding that Afghanistan was following the current situation in Pakistan “with concern” as security, normalcy and stability in that country were critical for security, normalcy and stability in the region.
“For us, regional cooperation is not only the most effective strategy to address the challenges of terrorism and illicit drugs, but also underdevelopment, organized crime and natural disasters,” he said, adding that such cooperation would also help to translate the wider region’s rich resources and potential into development and prosperity. Indeed, the opportunities for regional cooperation in areas such as trade, energy, transportation, water management and joint investment projects must be seized.
Turning to the narcotics trade, he said that, for its part, the Government had accelerated efforts to rid the country of that menace. Apart from those areas controlled by the Taliban, some 26,000 hectares of land had been cleared of poppy cultivation, which amounted to some 13 poppy-free provinces. That had been in addition to a substantial decrease in cultivation in some 12 other provinces. With enhanced law enforcement, the Government had apprehended 85 traffickers at Kabul International Airport. It had also facilitated the arrest of numerous international traffickers in foreign countries with the help of Interpol. Still, the country needed to combat the scourge on all levels, and it was essential to provide Afghan farmers with an alternative source of livelihoods, and in that regard, the Government counted on the international community’s sustained support.
Finally, he stressed that Afghanistan was also doing its part to promote good governance and the rule of law and, among other things, ensuring the return of refugees. While expressing the Government’s “earnest desire” to have all its citizens back at home, he called for sustained international assistance to create a feasible environment for their voluntary, gradual, safe and dignified return and reintegration. He said that, while Afghanistan continued to struggle with the legacy of three decades of conflict and the emergence of new challenges, it would need the “long and sustained commitment of the international community for many years to come”. Indeed the international community should acknowledge the importance of its continued commitment to peace and security in Afghanistan, the region and the world. “Neither complacency nor exaggerated optimism will help our efforts to achieve a peaceful and stable Afghanistan,” he said.
JORGE LOBO DE MESQUITA ( Portugal), on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the United Nations central role in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan. He also welcomed adoption of Security Council resolution 1776 (2007), renewing the mandate of ISAF, and resolution 1746 (2007), extending the UNAMA mandate. The European Union accounted for about 30 per cent of the $12.5 billion in grants pledged for Afghan reconstruction, and fully supported UNAMA’s role in implementing political and regional solutions to Afghanistan’s challenges. Nonetheless, his delegation was concerned at the intensifying insurgency and deterioration of security conditions over the past months, as Taliban and insurgent groups prevented full security in a growing number of areas.
Discussing European Union activities, he said the Union had launched in June a mission to Afghanistan that would enhance current police reform efforts and work towards an Afghan police force in local ownership. The mission would deploy almost 200 police officers and was to be fully operational in March. He asked the Afghan Government to engage with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as part of its combat of such activities.
On corruption, he urged continued exploration of the means to combat corruption, including through building a professional civil service and a transparent system for appointing senior officials. On justice reform, he said the European Commission had launched a justice reform programme that would include reforms to pay, grading and recruitment, and establishment of an ethics code. On poppy cultivation, he said the unprecedented increase of opium production in 2007 posed a grave threat to reconstruction and nation-building efforts. Regional initiatives should be encouraged.
Turning to human rights, he said the recent execution of 15 Afghan nationals was a “serious setback”, and the European Union had strongly urged the Government to reconsider establishing a moratorium on the death penalty. While progress had been seen in the increased number of people with access to basic health care, serious challenges remained, including further strengthening women’s participation. The European Union was greatly concerned that violence against women and children continued, and he encouraged President Karzai to present to his Cabinet the national action plan for the women of Afghanistan. On reconstruction efforts, he said the European Union’s total contributions for 2002-2006 had hit 627.5 million euros.
He congratulated the parties on the Peace Jirga that had taken place in Kabul last August, with participation of Presidents Karzai and Musharraf, and the Joint Declaration. He urged adoption of the election law by the end of 2007, owing to its importance ahead of presidential elections in 2009. In closing, he stressed the European Union’s commitment to the long-term reconstruction of the country and continued support for the Afghanistan Compact.
NURBEK JEENBAEV (Kyrgyzstan), on behalf of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), said that the consensus at the London Conference on Afghanistan demonstrated the international community’s commitment to full-scale cooperation in rebuilding post-conflict Afghanistan, which was reaffirmed at the recent high-level dialogue at the United Nations. Coordination of international efforts must remain with the Organization. It was essential to achieve the goals set out in London, but to do so the problems of security, drug trafficking, administration and human rights must be resolved. All strata of society must contribute to stabilizing Afghanistan. However, the recent increase in terrorist activity by the Taliban and Al-Qaida was disturbing.
Violence had increased over 2006 and drug trafficking gangs were growing, he said. Further degradation of the situation must be prevented. Extremists must be isolated in accordance with Security Council resolution 1267. Drug trafficking also prevented the creation of a stable Afghanistan, he said. Most of the opium crop was carried through countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The fact that most of that crop was converted into heroin on Afghan territory demonstrated that the attempt to prevent equipment for underground narcotics laboratories from crossing into Afghanistan had failed. He expressed grave concern at the continuation of those activities, noting that they financed terrorism, and posed a serious danger to the international community.
He called for practical cooperation on anti-terrorism and anti-narcotics efforts between the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and also to include Afghan and Pakistani enforcement units, for example through regular anti-narcotic operations, under the Collective Treaty Security Organization, to secure a “narcotics-free belt” around the perimeter of Afghanistan. Such operations had already had successes on the “northern route” for transporting drugs from Afghanistan to Europe. He noted that Afghanistan had participated for the first time in September of 2007 as an observer.
Further, he called for support to the Afghan military, so that it could independently provide for the country’s security and for assistance to all Afghanistan’s regional partners.
SIRODJIDIN ASLOV ( Tajikistan), speaking on behalf of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, said Afghanistan was an important partner in the region. Its status significantly affected stability and security in the region and, therefore, progress in its rehabilitation was most welcome. In particular, he noted progress in the field of statehood development, the adoption of a Constitution, the formation of the Government and judicial bodies, and the revival of the country’s armed forces and economy. Stability of Afghanistan was the key to addressing some of the most serious threats in the region, such as narcotics and the expansion of religious extremism and terrorism.
“Regrettably”, he said, “the situation in the country remains extremely tense,” due primarily to the increase in subversive activities of the Taliban movement and Al-Qaida, as well as the unresolved key socio-economic problems. Strict compliance with the Security Council sanctions regime was essential. The implementation of the national reconciliation programme should not run counter to the Security Council’s decisions and the goal of eliminating the threat of terrorism. He expressed serious concerns regarding the participation in public authority bodies of persons on the Security Council’s sanctions list. He added that it was urgent to adopt new measures to build and equip the Afghan armed forces to allow them to independently ensure the security of Afghan citizens. The victory over extremists was impossible without their participation.
The subversive activities of extremists and terrorists were fuelled primarily by financial resources coming from drug trafficking, he said. It was necessary to substantially expand anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan and the region through a complex system of anti-narcotics and financial security belts under the coordination of the United Nations. The “financial security zones” initiative suggested by the President of the Russian Federation was particularly welcome. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was well placed to implement stabilization programmes and to promote peacekeeping initiatives. Post-war rehabilitation of the country should be based on the key principles of the Bonn Compact and the Afghanistan Compact and the basic principle of friendly relations with neighbouring States. Maintaining the ethnic balance in the system of State authority bodies and Government was of great importance.
Military measures alone were insufficient for overcoming the problems of Afghanistan and the international community, under the auspices of the United Nations, should help revive the Afghan economy, he said. Regional projects were already under way and the joint efforts of the international community and the Afghan Government would contribute to a comprehensive Afghanistan revival. In conclusion, he expressed support for the draft resolution and hoped that its adoption by consensus would boost the efforts of the international community.
ZALMAY KHALILZAD ( United States) said the resolution detailed the progress of the Afghan people and international community since liberation of the country from the oppressive Taliban regime and its terrorist allies. Indeed, Afghanistan’s success was vitally important for the world. Most of the world’s security problems emanated from the broader Middle East. Extremist ideologies, militant transnational groups, deep internal tensions in key countries and intractable regional conflicts had combined to produce an unstable dynamic that projected insecurity around the world. “Reshaping the dysfunctional politics of the broader Middle East will continue to be the defining geopolitical challenge of our time,” he said.
Notwithstanding, progress had been made, he continued, highlighting the adoption of a progressive Constitution, free and fair national elections for President and Parliament and establishment of a free press, among other achievements. The country still had a long way to go in completing its transition to a prosperous democratic State and the United States remained committed to supporting that transition.
Foremost among challenges were security threats posed by the Taliban and Al-Qaida forces, he said, noting that Afghanistan’s internal situation had been undermined by the availability of external sanctuaries and support for those groups. Moreover, insufficient progress on state-building had been made, and the national police and ministries that delivered basic services required much effort. The rising production of opium poppies risked both the creation of a “narco-State” and supplanting of the legal economy by criminal elements. He urged the Government to take steps to deal with those challenges.
Yet, the international community should have great confidence in the prospects for success in its partnership with the Afghan people, he continued. The economy showed signs of improvement and police and military forces were increasingly taking responsibility for establishing security. The United States reaffirmed its commitment to its partnership with the Afghan people, and he called on the international community to continue to join that commitment, particularly through implementing the Afghanistan Compact.
MUNIR AKRAM ( Pakistan) said Pakistan, more than any other country, had suffered directly from the decades of conflict in Afghanistan. It had disturbed the peace and tranquillity of the border region and had given rise to increased extremism and instability overall. The two countries were linked by the bonds of history and culture. Peace and stability in the region could help Afghanistan and Pakistan grow into a central hub for activities taking place between Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia. To that end, Pakistan would be hosting the Third Regional Economic Cooperation Conference early next year. Currently, cooperation between the two countries covered the entire spectrum. Despite its financial constraints, Pakistan was contributing significantly and financially to the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Through the Tripartite Commission, and with his Government’s cooperation, significant success had been achieved in the joint fight against terrorism. Pakistan’s establishment of 1,000 border posts and the deployment of 100,000 troops along the border with Afghanistan would help even further.
He said one of the major outstanding challenges his Government faced in regard to Afghanistan related to Afghan refugees. Pakistan continued to host more than 2 million Afghan refugees. His Government had recently agreed, with the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and based on the Tripartite Agreement of 2007, to the repatriation of those refugees and on the expeditious closure of four refugee camps near the joint border. Effectively handling the refugee situation would help increase overall stability in the region and the United Nations should, therefore, use all necessary resources to assist in that process. He stressed, however, that any response to the challenges in Afghanistan should have strong national ownership, supported by the international community. Support for Government authority and capacity-building was necessary for success. Rehabilitation strategies should be based on a comprehensive approach, political dialogue and reconciliation.
Security was a major challenge, he said. At least 78 districts in Afghanistan were currently rated as “extremely risky” and large areas of the country remained ungoverned or were controlled by extremists. Instead of externalizing Afghanistan’s security problems, those “sanctuaries” should be eliminated first and foremost. Terrorist groups who were not prepared to join the reconciliation process and give up violence were at the core of the violence and conflict in the country. Those groups should be confronted, but any military strategy should avoid causing problems for the overall population, since that would only further isolate those communities. It was important to win the hearts and minds of the ordinary Afghan citizen through good governance and improved living conditions. Currently, the pace of economic development and reconstruction was too slow and uneven. There was a need to drastically increase the resources available to rebuild the economy and to improve local and national capacity for reconstruction projects.
Turning to the increase in poppy cultivation, he said the failed drug strategy was fast converting Afghanistan into a virtual drug economy. A comprehensive and balanced strategy was necessary to break the links between drug money and terrorism and criminality. Corruption should also be addressed, since it had a serious impact on security, economic development, peace and security. Ensuring that the armed forces were properly trained, paid and ethnically balanced would also be of benefit. In conclusion, he expressed support for the draft resolution. Though the challenges were immense, success could be achieved, as long as the international community combined its resources and coordinated its strategies in their efforts to achieve peace and stability in the country.
JASEM IBRAHIM AL NAJEM ( Kuwait) said the draft resolution concerning the situation in Afghanistan emphasized the key and impartial role of the United Nations in strengthening peace and stability in the country by leading the efforts of the international community. The transition in Afghanistan was under increasing strain due to growing insurgencies, weak governance and the narcotics economy. The Government of Afghanistan, supported by the international community, would need to demonstrate political will by taking the bold steps necessary to recapture the initiative in each of those fields and to restore confidence to the population. Without stronger leadership from the Government, greater donor coherence, and a strong commitment from neighbouring countries, many of the gains made since the Bonn Conference could be lost. His Government strongly condemned the rise in violence and suicide attacks in Afghanistan carried out by the Taliban movement, the Al-Qaida organization, and other radical groups, as well as groups active in the drug trade.
He said progress had been achieved in numerous fields, including the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers, the programme of action on mines, the development of the national army and police, and the steps taken to reform the judiciary. However, the pace of change in living conditions was still very slow and was a source of frustration for the civilian population. The increase in opium production was an increasingly grave threat, especially considering the link between the drug trade and the terrorist activities of radical groups. The Government needed to pay attention to the dangers of drugs and refer smugglers for prosecution. The international community, through support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Organized Crime, must stand behind an integrated Afghan action plan. He called on all Member States and non-governmental organizations to continue to provide assistance in cooperation with the Afghanistan Government and in harmony with national development strategies. His country had already contributed to the reconstruction and rebuilding of Afghanistan’s infrastructure, as well as having provided humanitarian assistance. Peace and stability in Afghanistan would have a positive impact on regional surroundings and would enable the country to resume its natural role within the international community.
TAKAHIRO SHINYO ( Japan) said, since the international community agreed on the Afghanistan Compact, the institutions of the Government of Afghanistan had been strengthened. However, it was necessary to acknowledge the worrisome reality of current conditions in the country and the international community must coordinate its efforts to meet those challenges. To that end, Japan would be hosting a meeting of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board in 2008. That Board was the most useful framework for coordinating and prioritizing international assistance and reconstruction programmes. The United Nations played a pivotal role in leading international efforts, in particular through UNAMA, which had expanded its presence in the provinces under difficult conditions.
The most pressing task at hand was the improvement of the security situation, he said. While the national army and the national police had been strengthened, the growing frequency of terrorist acts was a matter of great concern. The international community should continue to present a united front in the fight against terrorism to prevent Afghanistan from reverting to being a safe haven for terrorists. To that end, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force had been refuelling vessels of the maritime interdiction component of the Operation Enduring Freedom coalition, based on the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law. Refuelling efforts were terminated when that Law expired on November 2. His Government was committed to achieving the early enactment of a new law to provide a legal basis for the resumption of refuelling activities.
The disbandment of illegal armed groups was one of the keys to stabilizing the country, he added. There were improvements to be made in that area, in particular in the coordination between the disbandment, police reform, and other security-sector reform activities. A comprehensive approach was necessary to deal with other issues, such as narcotics and corruption, which were standing in the way of reconstruction. In addition to the $1.24 billion in financial assistance already implemented, his Government would explore possibilities for extending further assistance in response to the requests of the Afghan people. His country would assume the Chairmanship of the Group of Eight industrialized countries next year and looked forward to working with partners within the international community for the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan.
HJÁLMAR W. HANNESSON ( Iceland), aligning himself with Portugal’s statement on behalf of the European Union, said Iceland was a co-sponsor of the resolution. The Secretary-General’s report clearly indicated Afghanistan’s significant progress towards political, economic and social development since the fall of the Taliban. It also had underscored the need for a comprehensive approach to solving the country’s serious challenges. More must be done in the areas of institution-building, rule of law and good governance, and the United Nations was essential for coordinating global efforts in that regard.
On security, he said the situation continued to undermine reconstruction and confidence-building efforts. The work of ISAF led by NATO was crucial in that context, while strengthening the effectiveness of the Afghan national army was vital for ensuring long-term security. He welcomed the Secretary-General’s conclusions on the need for an integrated civilian/military strategy. Iceland strongly condemned attacks against civilians and international staff, and noted with great concern the overall increase in reporting of violence against women.
On opium production, he said it had reached record levels. He called for increased regional cooperation to combat the issue at all levels, and highlighted the role of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in bringing drug traffickers to justice. The Government also needed to take firm measures in tackling corruption and weak governance, which were serious obstacles to development. Iceland strongly supported UNAMA, and was firmly committed to contributing to peacebuilding efforts. In closing, he said achieving the international community’s goals in Afghanistan depended on a long-term political commitment by all stakeholders, the Government and the global community. Increased regional cooperation and strong commitment from neighbouring countries was also of utmost importance. The United Nations had a key role to play in coordinating regional efforts.
ROSEMARY BANKS ( New Zealand) said New Zealand recognized that Afghanistan faced serious ongoing challenges, requiring assistance from the international community for some time to come. Considerable effort had been directed to help with the development of the Afghanistan national army and police forces for Afghanistan to eventually provide its own security. However, Afghanistan could not rely on the military alone -– military and policing needed to be complemented by development initiatives aimed at building Afghanistan’s State institutions, as well as its economy. Further, opium production was undermining the country’s future and the international community needed to commit to the development of alternative sustainable livelihoods.
She continued, saying the United Nations, through UNAMA, had a central role to play in coordinating international assistance to Afghanistan and in assisting the reconstruction of the country’s civil institutions. Afghanistan’s neighbours also had an important part in Afghanistan’s rebuilding process, as their response would affect the pace of the country’s development. Finally, that development pace required greater acceleration. Afghan producers needed assured access to profitable markets –- internally and in neighbouring countries -– if the international community was to give Afghan people the opportunity to move from aid reliance to self-sustainability and responsibility for their own economic choices.
Since 2001, New Zealand had made a substantial commitment to securing and rebuilding Afghanistan, she said, contributing to UNAMA, ISAF and providing security in Bamyan province through its reconstruction team. Afghanistan faced difficult social, political, economic and security challenges and the extent of those challenges required sustained commitment from the international community.
SALEEM I. SHERVANI, ( India), welcomed the communiqué adopted at the high-level meeting two months ago under chairmanship of the Secretary-General and President Karzai as a symbol of States’ commitment to Afghanistan’s reconstruction. The central challenge to achieving a stable and democratic Afghanistan was the need for a security environment conducive to addressing those challenges. He called for upgrading efforts, directly and indirectly, to restoring security. Direct assistance in reconstruction also was needed.
He said the international community must consider if it had done all it could to improve coordination on the ground and determine whether targets set were achievable. There was room to fine-tune efforts in both areas, first by setting realistic benchmarks of progress. That was essential if “national ownership” of the development process was to have meaning. Second, he called for expanded coordination on the ground between the international community and Afghan interlocutors and, further, for assistance to be more closely linked to Afghan priorities. Thus, the collective goal must be to set reasonable expectations. He urged re-doubling political and economic commitments to help the country in the medium to long term.
The single key challenge to collective efforts was the threat posed by the Taliban, Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, he said. India fully supported the Afghan position that terrorism –- and the nexus between terrorism and drug trafficking –- required both a robust international political solution and stronger military response on the local level. “Terrorism cannot be fought piecemeal,” he said. A sustainable stabilization strategy must be based on short-, medium- and long-term strategies for development. He called for a multi-pronged long-term approach: investing in rebuilding the economic and social infrastructure, while also transferring skills and authority to Afghans.
For its part, India was fully committed to implementing the Afghanistan Compact. Of his Government’s total $750 million assistance programme, some $300 million had been disbursed in areas including capacity-building and infrastructure creation. Indeed, capacity-building was a priority area, and such a component had been included in all infrastructure projects India was undertaking in Afghanistan.
On regional cooperation, he said Afghanistan’s entry into the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in April would provide the region lasting benefits in free trade and shared economic activities. However, a central challenge was the need to develop measures to implement programmes created in regional processes. In that context, he called for resolving impediments that hindered expansion of commercial and economic linkages. The region also needed to consider ways of addressing cross-border terrorism. In closing, he called for a more effective partnership among States and with the Afghan Government; expanded regional cooperation; and aligning efforts between greater donor coherence and building on successes thus far.
JOHN MCNEE ( Canada) said the draft resolution and its adoption by consensus demonstrated the depth of the international community’s engagement in Afghanistan and signalled its intention to continue its support. However, the resolution would only be as effective as the collective resolve of Member States to implement it. The fortitude of the Afghan people, the tireless work of the Government of Afghanistan and the efforts of the international community had contributed to improvements in poverty levels, education levels, and in the ability for the Afghan army to defend Afghan sovereignty. For those achievements to be sustained, regional cooperation would need to be enhanced, the police force would need to be better supported, and the justice system would need to be strengthened.
Legitimate trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan was increasing, he said, and the potential for Afghanistan to generate customs revenue was great. Constructive collaboration on practical management measures and intensive efforts to ensure illegal persons or materials did not cross into Afghanistan would be necessary. Confidence- and capacity-building among regional partners would also be key and the Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace Jirga was particularly welcome.
The future of Afghanistan depended on a professional, effective and respected national police force, he said. The current draft resolution called for accelerated efforts towards that end. Canada had provided training, infrastructure, and salary support, but further progress would require more coherent action by the Afghan Government and its international partners. For the rule of law to be understood and respected, a strong and efficient justice sector was necessary. The Afghan Government should finalize the National Justice Sector Strategy and National Justice Programme with the support of international partners. In closing, he expressed his appreciation for the central and impartial role the United Nations continued to play in Afghanistan and encouraged the Organization to enhance its coordinating role by deepening and expanding its presence. He also encouraged Member States to ensure the United Nations was endowed with the capacity and space it required to do so.
MOHAMMAD KHAZAEE ( Iran) commended the United Nations for its commitment to peace and stability in Afghanistan and the Afghan people for their commitment to a stable and democratic future. He noted promising improvements in economic growth, education, health, infrastructure and rural development and offered Afghans support in rebuilding their country. However, much remained to be done, he said. Increased terrorist attacks, coupled with a pervasive drug economy and increased drug production and trafficking undermined security. As an immediate neighbour, Iran was interested in a stable, secure and prosperous Afghanistan. He said that increased insecurity and terrorism activities in Afghanistan showed that the approach of certain foreign Powers in Afghanistan was counterproductive. Full national ownership of Afghans over the security of their country should be expedited.
Afghanistan had its largest opium harvest in history, he said. The pervasive drug economy threatened the security, rehabilitation and reconstruction of Afghanistan, fed the insurgency and terrorism, and endangered the wider region. Over the last 25 years Iran had lost 4,000 law enforcement personnel fighting a war against heavily armed drug traffickers. He encouraged others to join that fight, noting that foreign forces in the country had not completed that task satisfactorily. Further, he noted that Iran provided financial assistance for road construction and electricity projects, manpower training and humanitarian services, among other projects. Iran had also endured huge costs over the last 30 years by hosting almost 3 million Afghan refugees. He hoped conditions soon would be suitable for the return of those refugees.
ALBERTO G. ROMULO, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, noting that his country had co-sponsored the draft resolution A/62/L.7, said that the insurgency presented a serious challenge to Afghanistan, but with the support of the international community it could be overcome. He then returned to the previous agenda item on new and restored democracies.
He noted that over the past 19 years, the International Conference on New or Restored Democracies had conducted six international conferences and the number of countries participating grew with each of those conferences. The outcomes also became more complex, ranging from the Manila Declaration, following the first conference in 1988, which called for a consultative mechanism for mutual cooperation in times of crisis to the 15 participants’ restored democracies, to the sixth conference in Doha, Qatar, which institutionalized the tripartite partnership of Governments, parliaments and civil society and reaffirmed the core values of democracy, while providing new perspectives for the democratization process around the world. The Doha Conference further stressed the link between democracy and development.
Migration and development were linked, he said. Citizens of new and restored democracies often worked outside their home countries benefiting both countries of origin and destination. Their potential to promote development should be recognized and their rights protected. Further, new and restored democracies were burdened by debt. He proposed “debt for equity in MDG Projects” a proposal that would enable 50 per cent of all scheduled debt payments to be converted into equities in Millennium Development Goals-related projects. Finally, lasting peace in those countries could only be achieved through respect, tolerance and understanding. He appealed to Governments, the United Nations and civil society to adhere to the spirit of interfaith dialogue and cooperation to promote peace, development and human dignity. He called for the United Nations to set up a trust fund for new and restored democracies so that the goals of Doha could be achieved.
BYRGANYM AITIMOVA ( Kazakhstan) said peace and security in the central Asian region depended on the stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan. As such, Kazakhstan was deeply interested in the restoration of peace and a strong economy in the country. The United Nations played a central role in leading international efforts towards that end. The United Nations, the Afghan Government and the international community had worked together to achieve positive progress in the political, social and economic spheres. Further progress would depend on better coordination between the international community and the Afghan Government to defeat the insurgency, promote good governance and provide tangible improvements to the lives of the Afghan people.
The unprecedented increase in opium production was a grave threat to reconstruction and nation-building, she said. United Nations anti-drug activities were of great importance and helped to build international cooperation and to develop national strategies to eliminate the demand and illegal supply of drugs. Her Government had taken steps to establish the Central Asia Regional Information and Coordination Centre to combat the illegal drug trade and would continue to work to that end. She called for further support for regional organizations that helped create collective security mechanisms and cut the channels of financing for terrorist activities and drug trafficking.
“The Government of Afghanistan must retain the trust of its neighbours by engaging constructively in bilateral and multilateral initiatives”, she said. Afghanistan should build its capacity to manage and deepen those relationships. Active participation in programmes such as the Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia, an initiative of the President of Kazakhstan, was particularly welcome. She said her Government would continue to strengthen its relations with Afghanistan through the elaboration of its plan of assistance 2007-2008 and continued assistance for various reconstruction and development projects in Afghanistan.
KAMILAN MAKSOM ( Malaysia) applauded work carried out in Afghanistan’s National Assembly, especially in the final drafting of an electoral law and law to reform the Independent Electoral Commission, as that work was crucial to further entrenching the democratic process in the country. The National Assembly had also succeeded in passing the national budget. He commended progress in improving the Government delivery system, notably in the economic development, education and health sectors. He was pleased at the increasing number of children receiving education, and improvements in health coverage.
Despite those achievements, he was concerned at the reverse of the security situation, especially with regards to the threat of insurgency and the Government’s credibility in delivering on the reform process. Given that, Malaysia was apprehensive over the reported deterioration in the security sector. Violent incidents had increased from 425 per month in 2006 to nearly 548 in 2007. On narcotics, he said the situation had far-reaching security repercussions for Afghanistan and countries beyond its borders. The narcotic trade had also exacerbated the problem of corruption in the Government and provincial machineries.
He shared the view that resolution to the situation in Afghanistan would require a concerted civilian and military approach, as military actions alone would not be sufficient. The Government delivery system also should be improved to foster confidence and Government credibility, and an inclusive national reconciliation process should be carried out to avoid marginalization of any groups. Sustained support from the global community was indispensable for Afghanistan in implementing the national development strategy, which offered a viable prospect for lasting political stability. He reiterated support for the Assistance Mission and said Malaysia was committed cooperating with both Afghanistan and other members of the international community. Moreover, it would continue to assist the country through the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme.
DO-HOON LEE ( Republic of Korea) said his country had co-sponsored the resolution. Since adoption of the Bonn Agreement in December 2001, Afghanistan had achieved important political progress, culminating in the first ever direct presidential election in 2004. However, States should not believe that work was nearing completion. As the report noted, deteriorating security and uncontrolled violence had hampered reconstruction efforts and implementation of a national development strategy. His delegation was deeply concerned at continuing instability in parts of the country, marked by recent cases of abduction and murder of civilians, including 23 citizens from his country who had been kidnapped by the Taliban. Two of them had been killed.
He agreed that re-establishing security required a multidimensional strategy that coordinated the military and police, as well as political and economic activities. The United Nations Assistance Mission and the International Security Assistance Force were among the essential elements for success of that strategy. He was concerned at the growing threat of drug trafficking to national security, social development and governance. In that context, the international community and Afghan Government should work together to address the problem. He expected Afghanistan to continue working toward full implementation of the national drug control strategy presented by the Government at the London Conference. Moreover, efforts should be made to ensure that institutions such as the Anti-Corruption Commission served their intended purposes, as corruption could be easily exploited by the Taliban and extremist groups. An integrated strategy was urgently needed.
To deal with such challenges, Afghan Government efforts must go hand in hand with unceasing assistance from the international community, he stressed, noting that his country had announced new financial assistance for Afghanistan since the London Conference. In addition to the $60 million in grant aid in the 2001-2005 period, the Republic of Korea had set aside $20 million for the subsequent three-year period for human resources development, agricultural and rural development and public administration.
BAKI ILKIN ( Turkey) said the draft resolution demonstrated the determination of the international community to assist and support the Afghan people during their difficult times. Despite positive results, there were many factors that prevented the international community from becoming too optimistic. The security situation was still precarious, different terrorist tactics were being used, poppy production was not yet on the decline, and there were still problems in governance. Those factors obliged the international community to increase efforts to assist Afghanistan in a more efficient and results-oriented way.
On a national level, he said Turkey continued to play an active role in the International Security Assistance Force and now had about 1,200 troops on the ground. However, military means alone would not resolve problems in the fields of employment, health care, access to drinking water and electricity. The projects already underway to address those problems required much more time before they would be completed, but the Afghan people needed to see tangible and rapid changes in their daily lives. In that regard, international projects should use the services of more Afghan companies and employ more Afghan personnel.
He said Afghan ownership and participation was a key principle that guided all Turkish development and reconstruction projects in the country and, as such, Turkish projects in the fields of health, education, agriculture and construction had made an immediate and visible impact on the lives of Afghan people. One of the most tangible examples of Turkey’s commitment to the stability and prosperity of the Afghan people was the Provincial Reconstruction Team, which carried out various projects from police training to literacy courses for Afghan women and girls in the Wardak Province.
Regional cooperation remained key to ensuring long-term stability in Afghanistan and beyond, he said. To that end, his Government had worked closely with regional countries, in particular Pakistan and Afghanistan, and had initiated a trilateral mechanism to build confidence and diversify areas of cooperation. The Ankara Process, launched at the Trilateral Summit in 2007, was an important means to strengthen regional cooperation. The international community should prepare itself for a long-term engagement in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was a central element in achieving global security and, as such, failure was not an option. The United Nations had a central role to play in coordinating international efforts to assist the Afghan Government to achieve lasting peace and security. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan had already achieved much and the Afghanistan Compact was a useful road map to follow. However, there was room for even greater engagement by the United Nations and the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General, when appointed, should carry the banner even further.
ALISHER VOHIDOV ( Uzbekistan) said that, as an immediate neighbour of Afghanistan with whom it had had good relations for centuries, his country had an interest in seeing a peaceful and stable Afghan State. To that end, he called for Afghanistan’s integration into the Central Asian system of political and economic relations, including the formation of a regional common market. He also noted the importance of transportation and called for the implementation of an international trans-Afghan transport corridor. He expressed his country’s readiness to cooperate with Afghanistan in such areas as geological exploration, electricity, and local and international telecommunications, among others.
With its growing geopolitical, strategic and natural resource potential, Central Asia was drawing attention from the international community, he said. It also drew attention as a region with security threats, mainly due to tensions in Afghanistan. The increased military activity of the Taliban and the growth in narcotics production and trafficking were of concern. “Security belts” should be created around the country. Afghanistan’s economic structure also had to be reformed; otherwise, narcotics linked to terrorism would be a threat to an effectively functioning Government. The arsenal of weapons amassed over decades of war was a serious problem, which should be resolved. Peace and stability in Afghanistan would not be achieved militarily, but through demilitarization, the resolution of economic problems and social support for its people.
The draft resolution on Afghanistan (document A/62/L.7) was then adopted by consensus.
* *** *For information media • not an official record