Over the past week, there has been a great deal of public comment on the role of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in the conduct of the elections in Afghanistan.
The United Nations has taken all allegations of fraud, large and small, very seriously and has worked closely with the Electoral Complaint Commission and shall continue to do so in the crucial days ahead.
Below is an update explaining UNAMA’s role in the conduct of the elections.
• The recent elections in Afghanistan are the first in many years to be organized entirely through Afghan institutions. Consistent with the United Nations role in elections throughout the world, the United Nations played a purely supportive role. The United Nations provided technical assistance to the Afghan electoral bodies, the Independent Election Commission (http://www.iec.org.af/) and the Electoral Complaints Commission.
• The United Nations has taken its task seriously. That is why we have consistently called on the two commissions to be rigorous in their work and to strictly follow international standards.
• Clearly fraud has taken place. The Secretary-General's latest report to the Security Council (S/2009/475) states this explicitly and his special representative, Kai Eide, said so at the Council (http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2009/sc9751.doc.htm )
• Unlike previous elections, however, credible measures and mechanisms were in place to deal with fraud. These have worked and there is ongoing action to address them. An audit is currently being conducted by the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaint Commission. The process is benefiting from the advice of international experts. The Complaint Commission has the authority to invalidate votes on the basis of its investigations of the over 2,500 complaints it has received. The efforts to address fraud have the United Nations’ full support.
• The existing processes and Afghan bodies need to be given a fair chance to work - these elections are their elections. The UN must not admonish the authorities or others in a way that could be perceived as advancing the arguments of one or other of the candidates.
• In Afghanistan, there are areas that are insecure. This is a fact. Afghan authorities took this into consideration and at the end decided to open 400 polling centers less than the 6,900 originally estimated, because those were deemed to be in areas that were too insecure. This decision was taken in consultation with national and international security forces, which had the task to secure the elections.
• Of the remaining 6,500 polling centers, there were still some in areas that were less than secure. But people do live in these areas and they have a right to vote. The decision of how many polling centers to open was ultimately one for the Afghans. The United Nations’ duty is to support these elections. Ultimately our duty was to support the Afghan authorities’ decision to try to enfranchise as many voters as possible, while assisting them in putting in place rigorous fraud detection mechanisms, which worked.
• The UN is working very closely with the Electoral Complaints Commission, the body mandated to investigate fraud, giving guidance, technical assistance and support. Indeed three of the five members are internationals and have been appointed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General.
Going forward, there are four important points to bear in mind:
• First, the United Nations has been responding to the maximum of its capacities and in line with its mandate to all requests for assistance by this Commission.
• The UN staff on the ground performed admirably on election day to see with their own eyes how the process was going.
• Of course, the United Nations did not have the capacity to cover more than a small fraction of the 6,500 polling centers or 25,000 stations. The United Nations role was to support the election process. The United Nations did not have the mandate to monitor the elections. That responsibility fell to others such as the EU, OSCE, NDI, ANFREL and numerous Afghan organizations.
• There would, indeed, be a conflict of interest if the United Nations was to, on one hand, support the election process and, on the other, judge its quality, as observers are required to do.
• The cases we witnessed and evidence collected are very important, but they are anecdotal and we cannot be the judges of what happened, or of the validity of the evidence gathered.
• Second, the appropriate Afghan bodies are conducting investigations. That process should be respected and not tarnished by pronouncements on evidence and cases of alleged fraud before the relevant appropriate Afghan bodies have made a determination on this matter.
• Third, in every case where the UN received hard evidence of fraud, we referred the people bringing these complaints to the appropriate national bodies, in this case the Complaints Commission. This is the standard UN practice wherever it supports elections.
• Fourth, the right and responsibility to put forward complaints resides first and foremost with the actual electoral participants: the voters and the candidates. This has happened: there are over 2,500 cases which the Commission has received and which it is investigating, and which, if proven valid, will lead to the invalidation of votes.