AIHRC-UNAMA Joint Verification of Political Rights
|Publisher||Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC)|
|Author||Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission; United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan|
|Publication Date||7 July 2004|
|Cite as||Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), AIHRC-UNAMA Joint Verification of Political Rights, 7 July 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47fdfad00.html [accessed 7 March 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
17 July 2004
At the request of the Government of the Islamic Transitional State of Afghanistan and with the endorsement of the Berlin Conference, UNAMA and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission are verifying the exercise of political rights throughout the country with a view to ascertaining the situation of political rights in the different provinces of the country; making appropriate recommendations to the authorities; and thus helping create an environment conducive to free and fair elections.
This first report provides the general trends derived from the verification activities from the 15 June to 7 July and maps out the types of violations that constrain the exercise of political rights in each region. It is hoped that it will serve to raise awareness of potential patterns that may emerge as election campaigning gets underway and that it draws attention to the need to take early corrective action.
During the reporting period, over 70 staff, representing the 8 UNAMA and 10 AIHRC offices from throughout the country, have actively collected information in order to assess conditions for the exercise of political rights. This was undertaken through a variety of activities, including information gathering, observing events and engaging key local actors (government authorities, political parties, elders, civil society, etc). At Headquarters level, the two institutions worked in close cooperation through the Joint Verification Unit and undertook special missions to the regions.
B. General Environment
A number of legislative measures have been adopted by the Government to improve the political environment in which elections are to take place. These measures are at various stages of implementation and a number have suffered from some setbacks and delays. A new Political Party Law has been adopted and the registration of political parties is ongoing, albeit slowly. A new Mass Media Law has been passed and constitutes a clear improvement over the 2002 Press Law. After a two month delay, the Electoral Law was adopted. The electoral authorities are now establishing the Media Monitoring Commission, which, under the new legislation, will have to begin to operate no later than 60 days before the elections. A Code of Conduct has also been approved by the electoral authorities and is open to the signature of political parties and independent candidates. The Minister of Interior has issued a comprehensive set of instructions to Governors, district administrators and chiefs of police concerning their duties during the electoral process.
Despite these positive developments, the increasingly tense security situation in which the elections are taking place is a growing concern. While the overall pattern of incidents have not dramatically changed from what it has been over the past couple of years, recent incidents indicate that extremist attacks have increased in frequency and escalated in gravity. The main targets of these attacks have been national security forces, election and government officials, and national and international NGO actors.
People continue to stress that a robust DDR operation is a prerequisite for curbing factional dominance in the electoral process and for improving conditions for free and fair elections. The delay in the election process is in some ways seen by the population as a reflection of these challenges which must be addressed with corrective measures in the coming months.
Many people continue to cite weaknesses in the electoral civic education program and warn that efforts must be enhanced in order for the population to participate meaningfully in the electoral process, particularly in parliamentary elections.
A number of presidential candidates and political parties have taken issue with the electoral law provision requiring presidential candidates to collect copies of 10,000 voter registration cards and paying a fee of 50,000 Afghanis. On the other hand, some parties have stressed that more stringent requirements should be put in place to prevent the entry of frivolous contenders.
In the last two years, there has been a burgeoning of new political parties throughout the country. However, the political verification campaign reflects uneven conditions for the exercise of political rights in the regions. Whereas conditions have been conducive for a wide variety of political activities in Kabul, the northeast and west continue to be characterized as restrictive environments where political activities are discouraged or curtailed. The space that exists for political rights is largely determined by the factional elements in power and the extent to which they tolerate political activities by other actors.
There is also a large degree of self-censorship practiced by political parties and activists themselves. The decades of conflict in which political activism was subject to reprisals by competing factions have created a culture of fear, leading many parties to operate clandestinely.
Violent activities carried out by the Taliban and anti-government forces have escalated in the eastern, central, southeast and southern region. While the attacks against registration sites, voters and election officials have not deterred the registration process in most areas, these acts are seen to discourage open political activities.
The exercise of political rights are also generally much more prevalent in urban areas than rural areas. In the majority of areas outside of the urban centers the population remains generally unaware of political parties and campaigning activities.
C. Situation of Political Rights
1. Freedom of Expression
In Kabul a degree of freedom of expression is reflected by the press, which has carried articles openly discussing the performance of key political actors. On 19th-20th May, the Ministry of Information and Culture hosted over 40 registered and non-registered parties and invited debate and discussion on the political future of the country. The event was repeatedly broadcast on radio and television and was positively received.
The political climate in the east has considerably improved and political actors and activists are openly engaging in discussion and debate. The environment has been enhanced by the establishment of the "Harmonization Committee," a forum that brings together political party leaders, government officials and key actors in the region.
In the southeast, the state-owned television and the newspaper "The Voice of Paktya" have not reported on any political issues related to the elections, with the exception of an article on the presidential candidate belonging to the Mangal tribe. However, this could be attributed to the general lack of interest in these issues within the region at this early stage of the electoral process. In Khost, the presence of a wider spectrum of public and private media outlets, the existence of a relatively developed civil society and the emergence of active political parties reflects a more open and conducive environment for political expression that other areas in the region.
The television and radio media in the North and Northeast are tightly controlled by factional authorities in power. However, in Mazar alone there are also over 50 periodical publications registered with the Information and Culture Department. These outlets cover a broad range of issues, including political perspectives. The environment in the Northeast is far less open; independent media outlets exercise a large degree of self-censorship and are particularly careful not to cover anything that would involve a high-ranking or powerful government official or commander.
The western region is perhaps seen as least accessible for political expression. There is little independent media and - as in the northeast- self-censorship is a routine practice. The state owned media gives selective coverage of electoral issues and is largely limited to promoting registration. According to political party representatives, there is little hope that the government controlled Herat television would be accessible for campaign purposes to non-state political actors. Private media is rarely seen to cover political issues and printing houses reportedly refuse to print or photocopy letters, articles or interviews released by political party leaders in Kabul.
In the southern region, while the environment is generally open for political expression in Kandahar, the security situation and the pervasive presence of anti-governmental forces in districts of Urozgan and Zabul make political activism in general very difficult. Moreover, political activists fear that their rivals might label them as "Taliban" or "Al-Qaeda" and denounce them to Coalition Forces. This concern is cited by some political parties as reason for not operating openly in the area.
2. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
In Kabul, the politically diverse environment has generally allowed for peaceful assembly. In the last two months, two different political parties held demonstrations in which participants criticized authorities openly. In addition, there have been numerous political conferences, workshops and forums in which attendance has been unrestricted. However, isolated incidents have been reported of government authorities disrupting political activities. On 18 June a meeting of party activists was disrupted by the police in District Two. Party members were harassed and warned not to register with the party. The police denied that this incident had taken place.
The northeast and east have witnessed a marked improvement in the environment, allowing for greater openness of political activities. In Nangarhar, over 16 political parties are active. Even those that have thus far been working clandestinely have started venturing out and meeting publicly. The Governor has also hosted a gathering of political actors at his office. However, some complaints have been reported. On 15 June, two party representatives reported that they were called to the District Administrator's office for questioning after convening a meeting with their constituencies in Hazarnaw, Mohmandara District. The men were released after questioning without any charge. Verification staff spoke with the party members as well the District Administrator to verify the complaint to explain the Electoral Law and Code of Conduct for Official.
In the west, party activists do not consider the environment conducive for political activities. The majority of parties continue to hold clandestine meetings and feel that conducting open political activities would be tantamount to "political suicide" because of the Governor's intolerance of political activities.
3. Freedom of Association
After a slow and difficult start, the registration of political parties has improved. To date 24 out of 60 applicants have been registered; 19 are under review; and 17 have yet to submit all their forms. One of the difficult factors in the registration process was- and continues to be- the implementation of the Political Party Law provision that bars the registration of political parties with military wings. While there is widespread consensus that this is an important principle that must be applied, the vetting process has been slow and cumbersome.
In the east, the improved environment has led to a number of political parties opening offices in Nangarhar. However, there is little political activity in Nuristan, Konar and Laghman.
In Bamyan, most political parties have reported plans to open sub-offices, despite expressing some security concerns. In Sharistan and Daikundi, systemic human rights abuses by commanders and factional rivalry have diminished confidence that there will be any political freedom in the area.
Of the six registered parties operating in the Western region, two have registered complaints with the provincial verification team against the provincial government for refusing to allow them to open offices in Herat. Moreover, none of these parties have opened a branch office in Herat, despite the fact that they have offices in other parts of the country. Most have noted that the environment in the area is neither secure nor conducive for such activity.
In the northeastern region, registered political parties have commenced activities, albeit with a degree of caution, and appear to be testing the ground for political participation. There are now at least nine such parties which have in the last few months set up operations in the region. However, their operations are discreet and they generally abstain from overt political activities.
Political activities appear to be flourishing in the North- to date there are 47 political movements active in the region. However, the overall political alignments are very much divided along the main factional camps. Parties that do not fall within these camps are tolerated to the extent that they form alliances with one of these camps and avoid challenging any of the main players.
Despite a relatively open environment for political actors in the Southeast, in Paktia there is little awareness or interest in political parties. In areas outside of Gardez and Paktika, the general public seems to be unaware of political parties and electoral activities outside of the registration process. However, six individuals, three of whom are women, have reported that they will run as independent candidates for parliamentary elections. Also, the situation in Khost and Ghazni is also generally better for political activities.
4. Freedom of Movement
In parts of the country, the security situation leaves many people fearful of traveling beyond urban areas. There have been a number of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks by anti-governmental forces against the vehicles of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) Secretariat, NGO and UN vehicles and government representatives. The incidents have been particularly prevalent in the south, but have also become more frequent in the east, southeast, center and northeast. In the south, Taliban activities have all but prevented public participation in several districts, and particularly in Zabul, Southern Ghazni, Northern Kandahar and Northern Helmand. There are clear indications that anti-government forces have made it a priority objective to prevent people from exercising their basic right to participate in the electoral process.
5. Principle of Non-Discrimination
In a number of areas in the country, particularly in the east and the south, threats against women have been made, particularly those involved in the electoral process. In Kabul, a women political activist was the target of an attack by unknown perpetrators. While the verification has not yet been completed, it is suspected that she was targeted due to her political background. In Gardez, campaign material of a female candidate have been repeatedly torn off and defaced. In the center and in the east, night letters warning women, particularly female election officials, to halt their work have been prevalent. On 25 June, a bomb went off aboard a privately hired minivan, carrying mostly female election workers. The tragic incident left three women dead, and twelve injured (11 females, one male). In the South, threats, compounded by cultural restrictions, have curtailed women's involvement in the registration process.
6. Principle of Non-Intimidation
Throughout the country, particularly in the southern provinces of the Kabul region, the east, southeast and south, night-letters warning citizens against participating in the electoral process is a general form of intimidation. The letters some hand-written, others computer-generated have been found in public buildings such as mosques and schools and some on the external walls of the homes of JEMB personnel.
In two incidents the threats were followed by grenade attacks against female staff members (see discrimination section for more cases of intimidation of women). In Saydabad district, Wardak province three voter registration sites were the targets of arson attacks. On 21 June the JEMB provincial office in Logar was attacked with rockets and shots, damaging vehicles as well as the office building, and resulting in registration activities being temporarily suspended.
In Nangarhar two members of a political party have been repeatedly threatened and warned to cease their political activities by Hezbi-Islami supporters. Following these threats, one of the member's property was the target of an arson attack.
In Herat, intimidation tactics have been employed in a number of cases to forcibly take voter registration cards. In Pashtunzarghun District of Herat province, village elders who had been accused of confiscating voter registration cards claimed that they took the cards so they would not get lost. The community rejected this explanation and suspected that they were photocopying them at the behest of commanders collecting registration cards to meet parliamentary and presidential candidate requirements.
Complaints were reported to verification staff that the Head of the Labor and Social Affairs Department in Herat had issued direct warnings to the principal and teachers of a school to the effect that if they did not vote for the persons identified by him, they would be dismissed. He also allegedly collected their registration cards. While verification staff confirmed this with the teachers, the Head of the Labor and Social Affairs Department has denied these allegations.
At the national level, concerns have been raised about the Ministry of Justice's reluctance to register the National Unity Party. The party submitted its registration forms on 24 April 2004 and has met all the conditions for party registration. The Political Party law provides that the Ministry must decide to accept or reject the consideration of an application within one month. The Ministry has failed to meet this requirement or to provide a legal basis for refusing to register the party.
Throughout the country, local authorities are seen to be interfering in the exercise of political rights due to a lack of awareness about the rights of political parties and the responsibility of the Government in protecting these rights. Government officials often appear to see it as their responsibility to curtail activities of potential actors seen to be "trouble-makers" or to be drawing support away from the Government.
The nature of the rights whose exercise is being undermined varies somewhat from region to region. Therefore recommendations may have a different geographical focus.
1. Freedom of movement, and with it freedom of participation in the electoral process, is particularly curtailed in the South, where the population of several districts has been prevented from participating in registration either because the registration teams could not travel or because the voters themselves were fearful of traveling to register. This requires a major effort in the area of security, be it by the police, the ANA or international forces. It is therefore recommended that the MoI, MoD, the coalition and NATO redouble efforts to make participation in the electoral process possible in areas most frequently under Taliban attack. Failure to provide adequate security is bound to disenfranchise de facto communities-particularly women- living in these areas and to further distance them from the ongoing political process in Afghanistan.
2. Unsurprisingly after years of war, many political organizations are wary of operating openly when their convictions are at variance with those of the factions in power at local level. This is reinforced when government officials misunderstand their role with respect to the rights of political organizations. All regions of Afghanistan suffer to some degree from this syndrome of self-censorship when it comes to freedom of expression and association. Clear instructions should be sent by the Central Government to local authorities to the effect that their duty is to protect the freedoms of expression, movement and association. This applies, in particular, to registered political parties. It is noted that recent government initiatives, including the instruction sent by the Ministry of Interior to civil servants and police officers; and the measures adopted by the Council of Ministers on 7 July are steps in the right direction and should be forcefully implemented. Local forums for political parties are also to be encouraged and supported as a means to build confidence in the public expression of political views.
3. Freedom of expression and association is particularly curtailed in Herat where even registered political parties are prevented from establishing offices and operating openly. The authorities in Herat are urged to abide, as it is their duty, by the provisions of the Constitution and the law with regard to basic political freedoms;
4. The freedom of association and expression of political parties is inseparable from their registration as political parties by the Ministry of Justice. It is recommended to the latter that it implements vigorously and impartially the Political Party Law with a view to enabling all those organizations that meet the Political Party Law to start operating legally without any undue delay;
5. There is overwhelming consensus in the country that the full exercise of political rights will only be possible once large-scale disarmament has taken place. It is recommended that the Government, in particular the Ministry of Defense, and local authorities should redouble efforts to bring about effective demobilization of existing militias well ahead of the elections.
6. In advance of the establishment of the Media Commission and issuance of the Code of Conduct for Media, all media (independent and state) are encouraged to have a balanced coverage in a fair and unbiased manner. Further, it is recommended that state media, irrespective of which local/regional power effectively controls the resources, should take immediate steps to include in its national and local programs space for candidates and political parties in order to reflect the diverse regional and national political landscape.
7. The verification campaign has shown that, outside the main population centers, information about political rights is scarce, as is available information about the electoral process itself. It is recommended that civic education and voter education activities should be very broadly expanded, with the support of civil society, government and private media, and traditional networks.
Verification efforts also indicate that the last 2 years have led to the emergence of a more robust political life in Kabul, the east and other areas. This trend towards pluralism -contrary to the view that political activities are destabilizing- has in fact provided a peaceful venue for working out political differences, thereby strengthening stability in these regions. This model should be popularized and disseminated throughout the country by civil society, provincial authorities and local actors.