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Update after six weeks

Thursday, October 5, 2006 by Marianne Elliott

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I'm going on leave tomorrow – which means that I've been in Afghanistan almost six weeks. It has been a fantastic although challenging time. I'm really glad that I came into this new role in a setting that I have some idea about. The job itself, and the changes in life- and work-style that come with working for the UN have been enough of a transformation for me. I'm not sure how I would have managed if I had also been in an entirely new country. This morning our Head of Office realised that for a couple of days this month while he is on leave both of the other senior (and experienced) officers will also be on leave – so Frida gets to be Officer in Charge of the UNAMA Western Regional Office – with 50 staff! The only reason he felt I could be trusted was because I had been in Kabul for that time before I came to Herat. Ignoring for a moment the extreme differences in political and social conditions between the capital and this part of the country – it was nice to realise that on some level he is right, I arrived in Afghanistan at the end of December last year and I'm starting to get to know how things work, a little bit at least.

I guess some of you have seen my emails about my missions to Badghis and Ghor – the two remote provinces I'm covering in the Western region. Badghis came first and I thought that conditions there were bad – and then I went to Ghor. Someone told me that the name of the province means "grave" and when you see the place you are a little inclined to believe that. There are two big shot warlord/commanders in Ghor, each with their private militias and their territories – into which the Afghan National Police dare not enter. The Afghan National Army is not even present in the province at all. Several World Vision staff have been killed in these provinces recently – two in Badghis and two in Ghor. So the NGOs and international organisations are rethinking their approach to humanitarian aid in the provinces. But the need is so great – these are two of the most severely drought affected areas in Afghanistan – that no one wants to simply pull out.

I stayed with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in each province (the International Security Assistance Forces contingents responsible for stabilising each province – i.e. the Kiwis are in Bamiyan) In Badghis they were Spanish and I really only got to know the civilian component, but I enjoyed their company and they treated me extremely well. I had my period and had terrible cramps and one of the guys must have picked up what was going on because he delivered a hot water bottle and a little bottle of ginger oil to my container! They also served red wine with lunch and dinner everyday.

In Ghor the PRT is mostly Lithuanians, although with small numbers of Icelanders, Danes and Croatians. I got on extremely well with the Icelandic woman who is the development advisor to the PRT and enjoyed my night at the Thursday bar – a special once weekly event at which lots of beer is consumed (to wash down the boiled sausages) and jolly Lithuanian drinking songs are sung. It was actually a lot of fun – I even had a strange attempt at dancing salsa to polka music with the Mexican paramedic, who insisted we have a go despite the refusal of the Lithuanian DJ to put on his salsa music.

Work wise, I've been following up some cases of alleged ill-treatment in detention, a couple of cases where women have approached the authorities to take action about domestic violence, some allegations of corruption by police and a particularly serious set of allegations related to some illegal armed groups – and which are much bigger than I would ever try to deal with myself. But the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission usually does investigations into individual cases – I pass the cases that come to me over to them and only really get involved again if they think it could help.

More of my work is monitoring and reporting on the situation and – this is the part that I think I'm really going to enjoy – supporting the development of national institutions essential for the protections of human rights. These include the Commission, of course, but also the Office of the Prosecutor, the judiciary, corrections and the police. I’m quickly learning the Criminal Procedure Code and getting up to speed with the requirements for due process in criminal investigations and prosecutions. It’s intellectually challenging and I’m enjoying that.

I've also been going around lobbying NGOs, donors and international organisations to spend some money in Ghor, We just found out the US Department of State has money to train 20 criminal investigators and 10 prosecutors – they are planning to do this in Herat city but I'm going to do everything I can to convince them to do it instead in Ghor – the forgotten province. A programme like that could make a huge impact in Ghor. On the economic and social rights side of things I’ve just proposed a joint project with the UNAMA officers responsible for relief, reconstruction, institutional development and recovery – to do a provincial profile of Ghor province covering economic, cultural, social, political and legal issues. A little bit like the stocktake report we did on New Zealand for the NZAPHR – but in entirely different circumstances.

On the personal front I've just moved in with my Human Rights Unit colleague. She is a fabulously energetic and funny Italian woman, whose Indian father has passed on his good looks to her. She is disciplined about getting along to the gym at the UNHCR guesthouse at least three or four times a week and is happy to jump around in some parody of aerobics with me. She even offered to let me teach her some yoga, just so I could have some company. She is a great cook and most importantly (well, most important after the fact that she is funny and like to run on the treadmill with me) she is an experienced Human Rights Field Officer who has been doing this job in Herat for two and a half years. She may not be around for too much longer so I am trying to learn as much as I can now.

Our other two housemates are both Kenyan – one is the Transport Officer and the other is the Communications and IT Officer – so it seems likely that out house will always have access to vehicles and the internet. They both love rugby, and know more details about the All Blacks than I do, and they are good company.

Anyway – this has been a very long post because it has been six weeks. I'm planning to do shorter, snappier posts more often from now on.


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One Response to "Update after six weeks"

  1. Rachael says:

    Hi just wanted you to know someone’s reading this! Have a great leave.xRachael

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