Ian Martin: Too Many Challenges Ahead for Nepal

Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Nepal at a press conference at the Reporter’s Club, Kathmandu today. The following is the transcript provided by his office:

Introduction (in Nepali) by Rishi Dhamala, President of the Reporters’ Club.

Ian Martin: Thank you, Rishi. I could not understand your introduction, but you are usually over generous. And thank you for persisting in asking me to come again to the Reporters’ Club. I am sorry I wasn’t able to do so before I went to New York, but this is my first opportunity after returning from New York.

I briefed the Security Council in New York last Thursday. You will, I hope, have seen the report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council in which we described the holding and the outcome of the Constituent Assembly election. But my emphasis when I briefed the Council last week was not so much on the achievement of the Constituent Assembly election, which the Security Council warmly welcomed, but on the very considerable challenges that still lie ahead for Nepal. Of course, those challenges include the negotiations that are going on right now to try to find a basis for forming a new government. But there are much more profound challenges ahead for the newly elected Constituent Assembly when it begins meeting tomorrow.

It faces the challenge of drawing up a new Constitution. As yet there has been relatively little attention as to how a 601-member body is going to function in order to be able to achieve consensus, or at least a two-thirds majority; by what process, and at the same time to function as the legislative body for the period of two years of drafting the Constitution. And the issues that it has to address are issues which we can see from the manifestos of the political parties are still the subject of very considerable disagreement: disagreement as to how the government should be structured; whether there should be an executive presidency or prime ministerial system of government; but probably the most challenging of all, disagreement as to what form a federal state should take in the particular geographic and ethnic circumstances of Nepal, because although the commitment to a federal state may be a consensus amongst the political actors there are still very widely differing views as to how to realise that in practice.

And the new government, and the Constituent Assembly, will face the continuingly high expectations of groups that have been marginalised in the past. Of course the inclusiveness of the Constituent Assembly represents an enormous step forward in that respect, but groups that have been marginalised are looking not only to the decisions of the Constituent Assembly but to increasing their representation in all the structures of the State, State bodies, the civil service and the security forces. If those expectations are not met then there are dangers of continuing protests. It is, I think, a moment when Nepal, now that it has a democratic forum for resolving issues of political disagreement, needs to emerge from a culture of pressing demands immediately through street protests and through threats of violence, and instead to address them through the democratically elected Constituent Assembly and through peaceful pressures of civil society upon it.

But, of course, my main responsibility in addressing the Security Council was to remind them of the unfinished business of the peace process. Because it was of course the peace process that brought UNMIN with the Security Council mandate to Nepal. The Constituent Assembly election was a milestone, a major achievement, in that process, but it does not represent the completion of the process.

There are still two armies, with widely differing views amongst political parties as to how their future is to be decided. I can refer you to previous reports of the Secretary-General to the Security Council, to many previous statements of my own, emphasising the urgency of addressing the issues of the future of the combatants so that there could be a clear exit strategy from UNMIN’s role of arms monitoring, and yet as we know very little progress was made on those issues before the election and, as I said, there are significantly differing views now. The issue, too, of the transformation of the Young Communist League into a body that fully respects the legal functioning of the State and is no longer subject to criticism for engaging in its own law enforcement is, as we see, a critical one in the present negotiations and is also, in a way, unfinished business of the peace process. And there are many other peace process commitments as yet unfulfilled.

I think there are many victims’ groups that are entitled to feel that during the election their own concerns brought little attention. Compensation of victims, investigation of disappearances, the return of property, the return of internally displaced persons, and the whole broader agenda of truth and reconciliation and transitional justice, are still major issues. And there will not, I think, be the public security that the people of Nepal are entitled to demand and expect until there is an end to a continuing climate of impunity for those in different categories who to act outside the law. I heard you refer, Rishi, as it was my intention to do, to the case of Ram Hari Shrestha. And I reiterate the strongest possible condemnation of his beating to death by members of the Maoist army and our call that those responsible should be brought to justice. I refer you back to our statement in which we specifically said that those who ordered or carried out the abduction and killing should indeed be brought to justice, and the Maoists must fulfill their commitment to cooperate in the processes of justice.

There has been some misunderstanding, I think, of the role of UNMIN in relation to personnel at the cantonments– I hope not deliberate misunderstanding. Some of the media have talked of “supervision” of personnel in the cantonment and UNMIN being “responsible for managing the cantonments”. UNMIN is not responsible for managing the cantonments. UNMIN maintains 24-hour surveillance of eight weapon storage areas at seven cantonment sites and the Nepal Army weapon storage area. But that is the only respect in which UNMIN is able to maintain 24-hour surveillance. It does not in any way control or even observe access to and from the cantonments, nor can it monitor the conduct of 20,000-odd personnel at Maoist cantonment sites and 96,000-odd Nepal Army personnel (where it has the equivalent responsibility), other than by investigating violations of the arms monitoring agreement when they are reported and dealing with those through the Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee, as UNMIN is doing in this case.

But I think it is also important to say that the impunity agenda does not begin and end with the killing of Ram Hari Shrestha, outrageous as that is. Certainly we must expect the Maoists to fulfill their commitment, as I have said, to support the bringing to justice of those that are responsible for that killing. I think we might also want to see the Nepali Congress support efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the gunning down of Maoist cadres in Dang two days before the election. I think we should want to see the Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum support the bringing to justice of those responsible for the Gaur massacre. I think we should want to see the Nepal Army cooperate, as it has failed to do, in efforts to bring to justice those who tortured to death Maina Sunuwar and those responsible for torture and disappearances at Bhairabnath battalion.

I think we should want to see all political parties insist that there be justice for the unnecessary killings during the Jana Andolan, during the Madhesi Andolan, the killings by armed groups in the Terai, all the killings during the election campaign. Because this is a time for all political parties to show that they have the political will to bring to justice those responsible for violations of human rights, and not intervene as they are accustomed to do to protect their own supporters while calling for justice when their supporters are the victims. So I hope that this is a moment when, with a newly elected Constituent Assembly and the reforming of the government, there can be a new commitment to justice and law and order from all political parties. I hope that, but it is a little hard for me to expect that, because it is now more than three years since I came to Nepal and in all those three years there has not been a single case where the perpetrators of a killing in any of these categories has been brought to justice before the civilian courts.

But to return, if I may, to my conversation with the Security Council last week, naturally what the Security Council was most concerned to know was does Nepal wish for any continuing support from the United Nations to Nepal’s peace process beyond 23 July that cannot be provided through the normal activities of the United Nations Country Team, which is increasingly preparing to intensify support to Nepal’s development efforts. The Security Council emphasized, as indeed had the Secretary-General in his report, that any such continuing assistance must begin with a request from the Government of Nepal. The Council was, of course, particularly concerned to know how there could be a good transition from UNMIN’s arms monitoring responsibilities to durable solutions for the combatants. And the Council was concerned as to when Nepal might make any request, because if arms monitoring as well as UNMIN’s other activities is not to end completely on 22 July then by mid-June the United Nations needs to receive any request for continuing support. But I can assure you that interest in Nepal’s peace process, the desire of the international community to see that peace process fully successful, has only been increased by the achievement of the Constituent Assembly election, and the United Nations and the international community wishes to continue to stand by Nepal as it faces the very considerable challenges that are still ahead.

Thank you.

Questions and answers:

Ram Kumar Kamat, The Himalayan Times: You said that Nepal still has a lot of challenges ahead. Do you think that UNMIN is needed here beyond the third week of July, given the challenges?

Ian Martin: As I have said, that is a question for the Nepali political actors to ask themselves and decide. Certainly, I think there needs to be consideration, particularly, of what follows on from UNMIN’s arms monitoring role. That has been the central task apart from our electoral work which obviously has now concluded, the central task of UNMIN. And one of the subjects of negotiation now amongst the political parties is how they intend to deal with the issues described in the Comprehensive Peace Accord as integration of the Maoist combatants and democratisation of the Nepal Army, and in that context they have to decide whether there is a need for continuing a UN role.

HH Upadhayay, Kantipur TV: You said that the role of UNMIN in the cantonment sites is just to keep an eye, 24 hours, on the containers only, not to watch or supervise the combatants there. Then on what grounds do you have the right to give leave for 12 per cent, only 12 per cent of the PLA there? Are you confident that your role is limited only to that part only?

Ghanashyam Ojha, The Kathmandu Post: My question is related. Is it UNMIN’s responsibility only to [inaudible] the cantonment or how many of them to leave the cantonment? Or it may be the case that they may bring arms in a vehicle…isn’t it the responsibility of UNMIN to monitor that?

Ian Martin: Please, I urge you all to look again at the Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies, which is on the website. Firstly, the question as to UNMIN giving leave to combatants again reveals, I am afraid, a misunderstanding of our role. UNMIN was not involved in the decision as to how many people could be on leave at any one time. That was negotiated between the then Government of Nepal and the Maoists when the arms monitoring agreement was negotiated. They decided upon a 12 per cent limit for those on leave at any one time. All UNMIN was asked to do was to monitor whether that leave provision was being applied by the two respective armies. And, in fact, in the course of the election campaign, it was I who urged the armies or their political masters not to allow any leave during the election campaign. But UNMIN had no right to place any restrictions over and above that 12 per cent because that had been negotiated between the parties and was not a decision of UNMIN’s.

Now, if you look at the agreement you will see that it quite clearly places the obligation on the chain of command of the two armies to ensure that the agreement is respected. The management of the cantonments is the responsibility of Maoist army commanders. The management of Nepal Army barracks is the responsibility of the command of Nepal Army. UNMIN’s responsibility is to monitor, as best it can with limited resources, the extent to which they are fulfilling those obligations. And we do that, as everybody has known from the beginning of our role, with 186 arms monitors. If anyone wanted UNMIN to maintain continuous surveillance of the military sites in Nepal, Nepal would have had to ask for thousands of United Nations peacekeepers, not for a small monitoring body, which has, in my view, succeeded in ensuring to a great extent that the obligations of the agreement have been respected, but of course with periodic violations which we have constantly criticised and taken up through the JMCC.

Mahesh Acharya, Kantipur FM: You said that UNMIN or the UN can continue support beyond the normal activities of the world body. Can you specify in which format that UN can continue the support?

Ian Martin: No, because that has to start with what support the Nepal Government, the Nepali political actors want. If they tell the United Nations what continuing support they want, then it becomes up to the United Nations to configure, to design what kind of presence – undoubtedly very much smaller than UNMIN – might be useful in response to any such request. But it has to start with their request, their specification of any roles for which the United Nations is still required. For example, if it said that there is a need for assistance to the Constituent Assembly, that doesn’t require UNMIN. The United Nations Development Programme has already had a very active Constituent Assembly Support Unit and that kind of continuing assistance, if requested, can be provided through the United Nations agencies – in this case, through UNDP. Anything that moves into the military arms monitoring area is not a function of the normal United Nations agencies, and was felt at the beginning of this process to require a Security Council mandate.

Liam Cocharane, Radio Australia: There have been reports that tens and thousands of YCL members are coming to Kathmandu to put pressure on tomorrow’s CA meeting. Are you concerned about possible violent clashes?

Ian Martin: Well, of course, we have been in contact with various parties in order to urge that any activities tomorrow are entirely peaceful, and we have had assurances of that nature, and I hope that that will be the case.

Matt Rosenberger, AP: You talked about the culture of impunity. If that is not rectified, if that isn’t solved – I am trying to figure out how much of a danger that will be. How do you see it in the grander scheme of things? [inaudible]…how much danger do you see to the peace process?

Ian Martin: Well, public security and justice are of value in themselves. They are something that people require for their ordinary lives, whether there is a peace process or not a peace process. But I think in the context of a peace process, they do threaten the peace process, and I think we’ve seen that, if the wounds of the conflict continue to be unhealed and in some ways worsened by continuing violations by those who have been on opposite sides to the conflict. The further violence that there was in parts of the country during the election has, I think, deepened local grievances in some places. And that is all the more dangerous when there is a vacuum at the local level of political management. There has been no elected local government in Nepal since 2002, and there is an urgent need for political parties and civil societies to cooperate locally in reconciliation efforts and to help maintain public security. This is something we have been saying continuously arising out of our monitoring of the local situation. There was a commitment to establish local peace committees and there have been useful initiatives in some parts of the country but by no means universally, and I think again this country can’t go for another two years or more, before there are elections under a new constitution, for local bodies to ensure that there is some legitimate local management of local situations that will otherwise be prone to continuing political conflicts.

Manesh Shrestha, CNN: The Security Council report says that “I don’t anticipate an extension of UNMIN”. Sometime back you had said that there is no exit strategy for UNMIN without the agreement on arms and armies and you say again today that this is an issue that is still raging. So what things changed since the election and Secretary-General’s report to make you feel that UNMIN is not expected to be extended. Did someone explicitly tell you we do not need UNMIN anymore or something like that?

Ian Martin: As I have said, I still think it is clear that there is an urgent need to the answer the question as to what is the transition from arms monitoring. Now, that depends upon what decisions are made as to how the issues of integration of the Maoist army are going to be addressed by a new government, and it is when the political actors reach some agreement on that I think they need to say whether it requires a continuing United Nations role or not. But there is still a little time for that.

Ram Humagain, Gorkhapatra: Have you seen any possibility of a merger of the three UN bodies, OHCHR, UNMIN and the UN Development Programme or have you discussed about the possibility of the continuation of the UNMIN under different name or different forms, like a peace assistance commission, mission or whatever name. Have you discussed about this with the political leaders of this country?

Ian Martin: Well that is a very well-informed question because it is the kind of question that members of the Security Council ask. Let me go back a little, because when UNMIN was established there was a question then as to whether the UN presence might have fully integrated the work of OHCHR and the work of the United Nations Country Team, and those activities are integrated in a number of countries in the peacekeeping context. But because it was only expected that UNMIN would be a mission of relatively short duration, it didn’t seem to make sense to undertake the major re-organisation of UN activities that that would involve. And that’s probably still the case, because I would still expect that if there is a request for some continuing UN support that can’t be provided by the Country Team that would still be for a relatively limited period of time, whereas the United Nations agencies are, of course, here to stay.

Ram Humagain, Gorkhapatra: Have you discussed with political leaders of this country on this matter?

Ian Martin: Very little. Because I think the discussion with political leaders has to begin with what are the functions that they believe are necessary. Then it is more for the United Nations side to say, well these are the ways that the United Nations would normally organise itself to provide the kind of assistance you are requesting.

Question: Mr Martin, you just shared with us about the briefing you made at the Security Council. But also about our most powerful southern neighbour; it has time and again, through its emissaries also, had some reservations of the extension of UNMIN. What would you say about that? And also about the northern neighbour China, which is the prominent member of the Security Council and it was revealed at that time that at the onset of UNMIN it was in the mood just to grant it a six month time period at the beginning. What would you say about that, preferably the Indian role?

Ian Martin: First, both China and India were very supportive of the creation of UNMIN, the establishment of UNMIN. Indeed there was a discussion as to how long the initial mandate should be but that had much less to do with UNMIN and the circumstances of Nepal than it did to do with the general doctrine of the Security Council and their desire to ensure that they regularly review mandates and don’t necessarily extend it for a long periods of time.

Now, China is of course a member of the Security Council, and in the discussions in New York, it expressed – as it has consistently – the view that any future UN role should begin with the request from Nepal, and its willingness to be supportive of such a request. India is not a member of the Council but both the outgoing Indian Ambassador, Ambassador Mukherjee, and the new Indian Ambassador, have said that the question of any continued role is a matter for Nepal, and therefore I have assumed that both governments would indeed be swayed by what the Nepali political decision-makers decide.

Question: The Indian Sitaram Yechuri, [inaudible] categorically, in this forum also, said that UNMIN should not be continued after July 22?

Ian Martin: I am going to confine myself to what official spokespersons from the Government of India say, and say to United Nations.

Liam Cocharane, Radio Australia: I would like to return to the issue of the cantonments, as I think there are still misunderstandings regarding the role of UNMIN. Two questions: can you explain the process that UNMIN undertakes to observe the 12 per cent army personnel are on leave? Initially there were 31,000 cadres registered but later you mentioned that only 20,000 were verified and what happened to the remaining 11,000?

Ian Martin: The issue of that difference goes back a long way, because that difference occurred between the first stage of registration at the beginning of 2007 and the second stage process that was completed in December. Yes, indeed there were some 8,000 people registered at the first stage of registration who were not present by the second stage of registration.

Now, on your question of how we attempt to monitor leave and how we do that to a limited extent – it is essentially by examining the records that the commanders of particular camps and cantonments maintain. During the election, we got the agreement of the Maoist commanders that UNMIN personnel would actually be present at head counts, so that we would not just attempt to verify from records but actually our arms monitors would see in front of them the personnel concerned. But that was an exceptional operation that we carried out in the context of election because of the importance in trying to ensure that at that stage those who should be in the cantonments remained in the cantonments.

We certainly cannot be sure that those records are fully accurate, or that at certain points, the limit has not been exceeded. To do that would require us have the resources to carry out continuous head counts at the cantonments, and it would also be maintained by the Maoists side that we have an equal obligation to do that with the members of Nepal Army, because the basic principle of the arms monitoring agreement was the application of similar monitoring agreements to both armies.

Mahesh Acharya, Kantipur FM: In previous agreements there is provision for a neutral body for monitoring of arms and army management. While UNMIN is preparing to wrap up its mission, and this part of the mandate not being completed, if the parties involved here say they are going to monitor the management of arms and armies ourselves without any neutral body, would it be credible for the international community?

Ian Martin: It is not really a question of what the international community’s view would be, it is rather: would it be sufficient to maintain the necessary level of confidence in Nepal, I think. UNMIN is only here, not because the international community imposed it, but because Nepal requested it – because it was believed that a neutral third party would enhance the level of confidence in the process. That judgement again has to be made in Nepal.

HH Upadhayay, Kantipur TV: In this face-to-face press conference, would we conclude that UNMIN is here just for monitoring the arms not the armies of the Maoists. Another thing is that whether your monitors present in the cantonment site knew that there was some heinous crime going on in the cantonment site and they kept mum because they knew that their role is not to interfere or monitor them? Or were they totally unaware of that?

Ian Martin: Absolutely not. That is an outrageous suggestion that our personnel would have been aware of something and they have done nothing. Of course they were not aware. Our first knowledge came when the story was about to break in the media and immediately we had that knowledge we set about investigating it actively. There really is a misunderstanding about this word “monitoring”. I came to Nepal originally in May 2005 with a mandate to monitor human rights. That didn’t mean I had the mandate or the resources to maintain a 24-hour watch on everybody who might commit a human rights violation. “Monitoring” meant that whenever there were reports of a violation, one investigated it actively and insisted that a proper action was taken to bring those responsible to justice and to prevent further such actions. That is exactly what UNMIN has been doing in terms of monitoring the management of armed personnel by their chains of command. Don’t confuse “monitoring” with “surveillance”: 24-hour surveillance of weapons, yes; active monitoring of the management of the armies by their chains of command, but the only way in which that can realistically be done is by promptly investigating any information that points to a breach of an agreement. That is exactly what human rights monitoring does or other forms of monitoring.

Thank you.
(note: the questions in some cases are summarised)

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