With the approach of historic consultations on a key step in Afghanistan's transition to democracy, the United Nations and the country's authorities today urged all concerned to ensure an environment free of threats and intimidation.
Nationwide meetings on the new constitution begin this week, paving the way for the constitutional Loya Jirga tribal council to adopt, in October, the new fundamental law of Afghanistan.
"All participants in the process, men and women, regardless of their ethnic origin, religious belief or political affiliation, should be able to express themselves freely and openly on the major constitutional issues about which they are concerned and regarding the kind of constitution they want for Afghanistan," UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told the press in Kabul.
"Only in this way, will the new Constitution of Afghanistan indeed reflect the needs and aspirations of the Afghan people," he added in a statement which was jointly issued with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
The statement cited an increase in the number of threats, the level of intimidation, incidents of physical aggressions and arbitrary detentions carried out against citizens who have publicly expressed their political opinions or have criticized the representatives of the government, official institutions or individuals known to be affiliated with powerful political groups. In some cases, factions or armed groups have exercised pressure on individuals to support a particular political stance or agenda.
The Human Rights Commission and the UN jointly called on the Afghan Transitional Authorities, particularly law enforcement and security agencies, to refrain from unlawful interference in the consultative process and to take "all necessary measures" to guarantee the enjoyment by all Afghans of their inalienable rights to freedom of expression and association.
"The Police and other law enforcement entities should use their mandate and resources to counter any attempts aimed at disrupting the consultations and to bring those perpetrators to justice," Mr. de Almeida e Silva stressed.
Both the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) have a clear mandate to closely monitor the consultative process. The spokesman pledged that they would work closely together, denouncing and condemning any disruption of that process and recommending prosecution of anyone involved in hindering the smooth completion of the consultation.
Mr. de Almeida e Silva voiced hope that the consultative process "will offer the possibility for Afghan men and women to express themselves freely and openly, thus setting a new benchmark on Afghanistan's journey towards democracy and the rule of law."