UN rights report finds Taliban and other groups still intimidating Afghan voters

4 October 2004

The Taliban and other extremist groups continue to intimidate Afghans against voting in this weekend's historic presidential election, and many government officials, local leaders and military or police figures are partisan campaigners on behalf of candidates, a report co-authored by the United Nations mission finds.

The third report of the Joint Verification of Political Rights by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), released in that capital Kabul today, calls for re-doubled efforts to make sure that when voters go to the polls on Saturday they will not face threats or violent attacks.

But the report's authors say they are encouraged by "the absence so far of violence against candidates and the fact that the feared scenario of ethnic polarization has not materialized."

More than 10 million Afghans, including at least four million women, are registered to vote in the first open presidential election in their country's history.

The report hails the wide coverage of the candidates and the campaign issues by radio, television and the print media, and by the opening of campaign offices in so many of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.

But it notes the "ongoing violence and threat of violence" by the Taliban and other groups, especially in the southern provinces, where voter registration numbers are comparatively lower.

"There is a possibility that intimidation and further violence by extremists could make the establishment of polling sites difficult or cause registered voters to stay away from the polling stations," the report concludes.

It also raises the problem of "the continued electoral activism" of local officials, whether civilian, police or military. This activism has included acts of intimidation and coercion.

The Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, Filippo Grandi, told reporters in Kabul that "these less positive elements, perhaps inevitable after 25 years of war and which we are trying to address," are balanced by the fact that Afghan voters now have a genuine choice and by the overwhelming desire of Afghans to create their own democratically elected government.

Mr. Grandi also urged the Afghan-based media to make clear to the public that the vote is secret as "this is not something yet completely understood by the majority of Afghans."