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Special Election Observation Report: Vetting of Electoral Candidates for Ties to Illegal Armed Groups

July 29, 2010

Kabul – July, 2010

Vetting of candidates for ties to illegal armed groups (IAGs) during this year’s electoral process was carried out in an uneven and non-transparent manner that ultimately undermined its effectiveness and credibility.

As an organization committed to supporting democratization in Afghanistan, FEFA shares the well-founded concerns of wider civil society about gunmen serving in elected office, and would welcome a robust and impartial vetting process.  But there is no substitute for good vetting, and poorly-conducted vetting advances neither democratization nor the protection of human rights. FEFA is deeply concerned about the lack of transparency demonstrated by the electoral and vetting institutions and consequent opportunities for politically-biased decisions and violations of candidates’ political rights.

This special report expands on the vetting section of FEFA’s challenge period report, and includes updated information based on interviews FEFA observers conducted during the first week of July with 24 candidates disqualified from this year’s elections for links to IAGs.  FEFA cannot confirm the claims made by vetted candidates, but intends, by publishing this report, to highlight the systemic shortfall of the responsible institutions and the necessity of reforms for future elections.

The 2010 Vetting Process

According to the ECC, at least 44 individual complaints submitted to the ECC nationwide during the challenge period alleged candidates’ leadership or membership of IAGs. Of the 44 individual complaints, 42 were deemed invalid by the Vetting Commission, and 2 candidates whose names already appeared on a Vetting Commission list were disqualified from running.

Initially, 83 candidates were investigated by the Vetting Commission and listed as members of IAGs. The ECC chose to afford these candidates five days to defend their candidacies and prove their innocence to the security agencies. When every single one of them did so successfully, the Vetting Commission expressed “surprise and dissatisfaction at this total about-face.”[1] Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG) echoed that sentiment, saying in a June 23 statement, “The Vetting Committee could have done a more thorough job and at this stage we are disappointed.” [2] FEFA Chairman Nader Nadery also voiced disapproval, saying, “I am very disappointed with the lack of a proper vetting process and the fact that some well-known individuals with links to the armed groups were included this time again.”

According to the ECC’s account of the process, “The ECC insisted that the Vetting Commission perform its legal duty and decide one way or the other. The IEC then convened further meetings with the Vetting Commission and some time later produced another list, this time of 13 names.”[3]

During the afternoon of Wednesday, June 30, FEFA received phone calls from candidates who claimed they had been informed by the IEC that they were on a new list of individuals alleged to have ties to IAGs and had been given 48 hours to defend their candidacies to the security bodies.

At an emergency stakeholders meeting convened by FEFA the following day, Judge Johann Kriegler of the ECC explained that the ECC had received from the Vetting Commission a third list of candidates identified as having ties to IAGs, including 16 or 26 newly identified names that had not appeared on the previous two lists (the number 16 was used in the meeting; the ECC’s July 1 press release says 26) along with a cover letter suggesting that these candidates not be provided any opportunity to defend themselves before their removal from the candidates list.  The ECC, however, insisted that the accused candidates be allowed to assert their innocence. A deadline of 48 hours was set after the IEC stressed that was the most time that could be given without jeopardizing the electoral timetable.

After the stakeholders meeting concluded, FEFA Director Jandad Spinghar contacted IEC Chairman Fazel Ahmad Manawi by phone. Chairman Manawi said the Vetting Commission had already taken decisions on all 32 names. One candidate had been exonerated and the other 31 would be removed from the final list of candidates during the next working day.

That evening, the ECC published an explanation of its role in the vetting process.  It stated that, “The ECC unfortunately has no power to reject a list produced by the Vetting Commission, however dubious it might appear, but has refused –and still refuses – to order the removal of the name of any person who has had no chance to defend himself.” The ECC “would obviously be pleased” if the IEC agreed to give the 32 accused candidates more time to make representations, it said.

Three days later, FEFA was told, by a source close to both electoral institutions, that the 32 candidates on the third Vetting Commission list had been afforded an additional 3 days to present evidence of their innocence.

On July 7, the ECC released a statement saying that a list with 31 names had been given to the IEC with instructions to remove the named individuals from the final candidates list.

Findings of Interviews with Disqualified Candidates

During the first week of July, FEFA observers interviewed 24 of the candidates included in the third Vetting Commission list to understand how they experienced the vetting process.[4] The picture that emerged from these interviews was of a poorly coordinated process that created opportunities for subjective application of the law and political rights violations.

Candidates on the third list were not informed in an even or systematic manner of their appearance on the Vetting Commission list, and were given widely varying deadlines to present defenses to the security bodies. Some candidates on the third list were given 5 days, the same amount of time given to candidates on previous Vetting Commission lists, while others were given 48 or 72 hours. One disqualified candidate from Daikundi told FEFA he was informed of his appearance on the list just 4 hours before the deadline for his defense in Kabul. Several other candidates were not informed of any deadline, or were never contacted by the IEC at all. A disqualified candidate from Sar-e Pul only learned of his inclusion in the third list when he read about it online. The time it took for the candidates to access the security bodies also varied, but exceeded 48 hours for the majority of the candidates FEFA interviewed.

Candidates complained that when they were denied information about the allegations against them and given no clear indication of what was required to successfully defend their candidacies. Some told FEFA they were never tied to armed groups of any kind, but did not know how, practically, to prove that. Others, who had been militia members in the past, said they possessed certificates stating they had cooperated fully with the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) and Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) programs, but that the security bodies rejected those certificates.

The following remain unclear as of July 26, 2010 and require clarification by the electoral and vetting institutions:

  • The total number of lists of candidates accused of IAG ties submitted to the ECC by the Vetting Commission
  • The number of candidates on each list
  • The degree of crossover between the first and subsequent lists
  • The dates all lists were submitted to the ECC
  • The dates all accused candidates were notified by the IEC of their inclusion on Vetting Commission lists
  • The amount of time candidates on each list were given to defend their candidacies
  • The criteria used to identify individuals for the lists
  • The standard of proof applied when considering candidates’ defenses
  • The origin of the most recent list
  • Whether new Vetting Commission lists will be accepted by the ECC between now and Election Day

FEFA’s Recommendations Regarding Vetting

FEFA strongly supports transparent and objective vetting of candidates with ties to illegal armed groups, and holds that vetting is too important to be conducted in the opaque and haphazard fashion observed this election year. Therefore, FEFA makes the following recommendations to the relevant institutions:

  1. The lack of transparency which pervaded this year’s vetting process has undermined the credibility of the electoral and vetting institutions and created opportunities for biased decisions and political rights violations. FEFA encourages the electoral  and vetting institutions to:
    1. Make publicly available as soon as possible a full and accurate joint report on the 2010 electoral vetting process, including answers to the questions FEFA raised in this report.
    2. Provide all elections stakeholders and the media with accurate and timely information throughout the electoral process.
    3. Carry out wider awareness campaigns to inform the general public of how electoral processes are carried out.
  2. The Vetting Commission has undermined the credibility of the vetting process by demonstrating a lack of transparency and insufficient commitment to upholding political rights enshrined in Afghan and international law. To ensure the credibility of the vetting process and the protection of candidates’ political rights in the future, FEFA encourages the Vetting Commission to:
    1. Make public the criteria used to identify candidates with ties to illegal armed groups and the standard of proof applied when considering candidates’ defenses.
    2. Allow an independent  panel, including representatives of civil society, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, to review all cases of candidates accused of ties to illegal armed groups during the 2010 electoral vetting process after the elections for the purposes of devising lessons learned for future elections.

[1] ECC press release issued on July 1, 2010, http://www.ecc.org.af/en/images/stories/pdf/media%20release.pdf

[2] Special Representative’s comments of the electoral vetting process, June 23, 2010, http://unama.unmissions.org/Default.aspx?tabid=1762&ctl=Details&mid=1920&ItemID=9347

[3] In its July 1 press release (http://www.ecc.org.af/en/images/stories/pdf/media%20release.pdf), the ECC states that the second list contained 13 names, but its press release on June 19 (http://www.ecc.org.af/en/images/stories/pdf/media%20release%20190610.pdf) states that the second list contained only 8 names. FEFA has been unable to gain clarification on this matter.

[4] Observers attempted to interview all 32 candidates whose names appeared on the 3rd Vetting Commission list, but 8 candidates had moved or were unwilling to give interviews to FEFA obsevers.

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