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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 October, 2004, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
UN Afghan poll inquiry 'not independent'

By Andrew North
BBC correspondent in Kabul

Afghanistan's leading human rights body has criticised the United Nations for the way it has set up its investigation panel into irregularities during the recent presidential election, saying it is not independent.

Counting ballots
Counting all the ballots may take some weeks

The country's election management body asked the UN to establish the three-member panel after the crisis provoked by opposition candidates announcing a boycott of Saturday's poll.

But the UN has decided not to appoint any Afghans to the panel.

That decision raises "a number of concerns" about its independence, according to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

This issue could come to matter a great deal if there is any questioning of the panel's report by Afghans when it is made public.

After problems emerged with the indelible ink designed to prevent multiple voting, the opposition candidates demanded a suspension of the poll.


Counting of votes was delayed for several days while the investigation team began assessing complaints from candidates, and how many ballots needed to be isolated to check for possible fraud.

Multiple voting

The senior spokesman of the AIHRC, Nader Naderi, argues that many of the problems with the election are being blamed on "international staff and organisations", not on Afghans.

Craig Jenness, Canada
Staffan Darnolf, Sweden
David Mathieson, UK

Yet it is all foreign nationals who will be on the panel.

"We recommended an Afghan expert from our commission to build confidence in this process," says Mr Naderi, a position also supported by European Union officials in Kabul.

But he says this was rejected.

He points particularly to the problems with the indelible ink.

Afghans empty ballot boxes
The human rights group wanted more Afghans in the inquiry

Poor and rushed preparation by the Joint Electoral Management Body - many of whose staff are from abroad - and foreign organisations working for the body are now seen as the main reason behind the confusion that occurred.

Many poll workers - hired in some cases just days before - had received little training.

So they were unaware of the difference between the two types of marker pen they were given - one for marking voters' thumbs, the other for ballot papers.

The result was that large numbers of voters were marked with ink that easily rubbed off.

In theory, these people could vote again. There is evidence that significant numbers did so.

Afghan skills

In fact, the UN has taken a diametrically opposite position on the composition of the panel.

"We felt it was better for the transparency of the investigation to just have three international experts," UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told a news conference.

Hazrat Ali shrine, Mazar-e-Sharif
Many Afghans had hoped the polls would usher in a brighter future

He dismissed the human rights body's concerns.

"We believe in the independence, credibility, expertise and knowledge of these individuals," he told the BBC.

But Mr Naderi says they never received a "satisfactory explanation" from the UN, except to be told it needed only "international technical experts."

The third of these experts - a British election specialist David Mathieson, only arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday, five days after the formation of the panel.

The other two officials on the panel have already started work.

Mr Naderi argues that the human rights commission had Afghans with the necessary experience - having produced a series of reports on the election process in the months before polling day.

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