Germany's Tom Koenigs will soon take up his new post as UN special envoy to Afghanistan. DW-WORLD talked to him about his expectations and Germany's future human rights policy.
Koenigs will travel to Afghanistan for the first time in February
Tom Koenigs has been the German government's commissioner for human rights policy and humanitarian aid at the foreign ministry since 2005. Previously he served as director of the UN observer mission in Guatemala and helped push forward the peace process after the civil war that lasted from 1969 to 1996. He also helped set up Kosovo's new civil administration for the United Nations. In December 2005, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed the Green party politician as the new UN special envoy for Afghanistan. Koenigs succeeds Jean Arnauld from France, who has held the position since February 2004. He will start his new job on Feb. 15, when he will travel to Afghanistan for the first time. It's still unclear whether the German government will replace him.
DW-WORLD: What do you expect from the Afghanistan conference in London at the end of January? Do you think countries that have been supporting Afghanistan so far will retract their aid?
Tom Koenigs: I don't think so, since the commitments have been quite clear. The international community's experience with short-term support in the region was such that people said that only long-term and reliable aid will bring the desired stability.
The Afghan government has to be able to rely on the international community as a long-term partner. Otherwise alliances that are formed will remain fragile.
Do you see Iraq becoming a competitor, with aid for Afghanistan being diverted to Iraq?
I don't think so. There are many poor states and the international community, especially the well-off parts, will have to get used to the fact that truly effective aid is only possible through long-term engagement -- that short-term help is a flash in the pan that's harmful rather than beneficial for some countries.
Much remains to be done in rebuilding Afghanistan
Reconstruction help in Afghanistan has been seen as long-term from the beginning. I believe that the international community will have to brace itself for a long presence -- in terms of economic, security and good governance issues. Afghanistan is a country where short-term intervention in the form of money, arms deliveries and troops has taken place in the past.
They all failed, because the necessary reliability was missing, because no attention was paid to the needs of Afghans and the way they want to govern themselves.
What are your biggest goals as special envoy? What are you planning to do?
The goals haven't changed. The most important thing is to get stability in the region through cooperation with the government. That the government decides what gets done and who is involved.
Of course, I am expecting an improvement in terms of efficiency of government institutions and modernization. Of course, economic development is hugely important in one of the world's poorest countries. Still, you can't have the same expectations that one would have with a country such as Switzerland.
Afghanistan is a country with an extremely high illiteracy rate, a very low average income and immense poverty. If it were possible to reach at least some of the millennium goals by 2015 -- the Afghan government has said it will manage by 2020 -- I would say that it's been worth the effort. And that it's worth continuing.
How do you feel about your time as the German government's commissioner for human rights policy and humanitarian aid? What are you proud of?
First off, I'm convinced that this relatively new office is an important one. It's important that there is a place where human rights policy is the focus of attention -- also within the foreign ministry. I've worked well with Germany's civil society and non-governmental organizations. It's an important liaison function. The government has to listen to these organizations.
It was also important for me to talk to people responsible for human rights in embassies about this topic as well as putting them in touch with defenders of human rights in the country or strengthening existing contacts. I think this is an ongoing obligation, to discuss human rights in German embassies and to make it clear to the countries where German diplomats are accredited that human rights are a central issue for Germany.
Human rights need to be respected even in the fight against terrorism
We've also introduced new topics this year. One is the human right to water, which will be pursued by the federal government. The other -- which is currently a hot-button issue -- is the topic of human rights in connection with the fight against terrorism. It's a continuing topic and will remain so. I hope that the public will remain focused on this. The federal government has defined this more clearly and that's something I'm happy about -- without wanting to take sole credit for it myself.
What can your successor expect? What needs to be done?
Unfortunately human rights will continue to be violated in various parts of the world. I expect my successor to listen to victims of these human rights abuses and to put the rights and claims of victims first when assessing human rights violations.
Klaudia Prevezanos interviewed Tom Koenigs (win)