Ian Martin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Nepal, addressed reporters at Reporters’ Club in Kathmandu today. Here is the Q and A, as provided by United Nations Mission in Nepal. Here is Ian’s last briefing to UNSC.
Rishi [Dhamala, the Chair of the Club], Thank you very much indeed for inviting me to come to the Reporters’ Club for one final time before I leave my present responsibilities. I want to thank you and the Reporters’ Club for the consistent interest that you have shown in the work of OHCHR and then in the work of UNMIN during my responsibilities for each of those. When I came to open the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in May 2005, defending freedom of expression, freedom of media was one of our priorities. And, as the terrible murder of Uma Singh reminds us, and many other threats to journalists, it’s still an extremely relevant agenda today, and OHCHR and many other colleagues in the United Nations will go on defending freedom of expression and freedom of media.
When people ask me if I am worried that Nepal may see a drift to some kind of authoritarianism, my answer is that the democratic spirit in Nepal is now too strongly alive for that to be a possibility even if some people wanted it. And, I have had the privilege to be in Nepal during Jana Andolan in 2006, and during the Constituent Assembly election, and I have no doubt that people of Nepal who had their say, who demanded peace and change on both those two occasions will insist that Nepal maintains a democratic country in which they have full freedom of expression.
When I reflect on the more than three and half years that I have been in Nepal, I think one has to begin by saying that Nepal’s peace process has been extraordinary and that’s certainly the way that most people around the world see it. For a completely indigenous process, a Nepali-led process, to have seen the end to a ten-year armed conflict, the election of an inclusive Constituent Assembly, peaceful transition to a republic – those are great achievements, even if at times it didn’t come as quickly as the parties originally intended. Nonetheless, it is a process that has seen dramatic changes in really a relatively short period of time. But, of course, there are big challenges still remaining – big challenges for the peace process. As I have said many times, at the end of any armed conflict the future of those who fought in the armed conflict is a crucial issue that must be successfully addressed, and that’s why we have consistently pressed for the process that the parties agreed upon, the Special Committee to supervise, integrate and, rehabilitate Maoist combatants, for that process to get underway and I am happy that at last it has got underway.
And also, of great importance are the commitments that have been made to address the needs of victims of the conflict, victims of many different kinds: the families of people who disappeared during the armed conflict, and we have yet to see effective investigations into their fate, the victims of the Maoists who were displaced from their homes in the armed conflict who yet have to return, commitments to ensure the return of displaced persons, return of property, compensation to victims and ultimately bringing about a full recognition of truth and justice for human rights violations that took place during the armed conflict, remain important. And commitments have not yet been implemented in that respect.
And then perhaps the biggest challenge of all will of course be reaching consensus on a federal constitution at a time when people have different views about what federalism should mean in Nepal. But again, I am happy that after a long period in which the CA was electing its committees and discussing its procedures, at least I am leaving at a time when the real discussion of the substance of the new Constitution is getting underway. But I don’t suppose it will be easy. And that I think makes it particularly important that in future politics in Nepal are conducted within a peaceful democratic framework. If there’s one change that I would like to see in Nepal, it is a change from a culture of disruption and threats of violence and actual violence, often made as the first resort when one group or another are pressing their demands, that needs to change to a culture where decisions are made within the legitimate constituent assembly that has now been elected – of course subject to the pressure of a lively vibrant civil society. And just as it will be hard for political consensus to be reached unless people act in that spirit of democracy, there won’t be full security in Nepal as long as a culture of impunity prevails. And having come to Nepal with a human rights responsibility, I am sorry to leave three and half years later still having seen none of the major human rights crimes, either of the armed conflict or that have been perpetrated since the end of the armed conflict, effectively prosecuted. And rhetorical commitments to end impunity need to change into a real commitment by all political parties to support the justice system in bringing people to justice even when they are members or supporters of their own political parties, rather than protecting supporters from justice.
So those are some of my parting reflections, but I have come here today mainly to be able to answer your questions and I look forward to doing that one more time.
Q: What will be the consequences to the peace process after you leave? How hopeful are you that the constitution will be made in stipulated time?
Ian: Well, it depends of course on what you mean by stipulated time. I understand that the parties have now agreed that the Special Committee should draw up a work plan to try to carry out its work in a six-month time frame. I hope that can be possible because that also corresponds to the latest extension of the mandate of UNMIN, and certainly the Security Council would like to see that task completed so that UNMIN’s arms monitoring responsibility can come to an end. I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but I think we have had too long a period of public exchanges, which have maybe exaggerated divisions among different actors, and despite my respect for the Reporters’ Club, I think it’s time for discussion on army integration to take place behind closed doors in the Special Committee rather than on your platform here.
Q: There’s some sort of allegation that you opened up a new debate over the new recruitment in the Nepal Army. What do you say?
Ian: Well, I don’t think we opened up the debate because the one short statement that I made followed the very public statement by a PLA Deputy Commander that the PLA would engage in recruitment and I needed to make clear that that would not be acceptable in terms of the peace agreements. I don’t think you can say that UNMIN internationalised something when UNMIN was asked to be the monitor of the Arms Monitoring Agreement. And it was in that context that we took a clear view, not just recently in 2009, but originally in 2007 on the question of new recruitment. But, I don’t want to fuel that controversy further today. We have made very clear the basis for our position. I think there’s now agreement amongst those concerned that this needs to be addressed by discussion amongst those concerned and I hope that a satisfactory conclusion can be reached.
Q: How do you characterise UNMIN’s role in peace process? What pressure, obstacles did you face in these years? Could your role would have been more effective?
Ian: UNMIN was essentially asked to assist in two major areas. The first was support to the electoral process, and of course that had its difficulties and challenges particularly because of the security situation when we were deploying electoral advisers in all 75 districts. But thanks to the great competency and integrity of Nepal’s own Election Commission, I don’t think that task was too difficult or too different from the role that United Nations has played in number of other post conflict elections.
The more unusual task was the task of monitoring the arms and armies, and there we took on some very difficult responsibilities. Firstly, registering those in the cantonments and weapons as quickly as possible, so that the political process could move forward. And then going through the process of verification, which was quite a difficult process, which involved us in a great deal of controversy with the Maoist army at that time. So I think carrying out the monitoring of arms and armies with a small group – 186 at the peak – of our arms monitors was a considerable challenge, and one that I believe our arms-monitoring colleagues carried out very effectively, thanks in particular to the operation of the Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee, where our chief arms monitor presided over discussions between the Nepal Army and the Maoist army. Now, beyond those specific areas of electoral support and arms monitoring, in some way people have seen UNMIN as a more general support and guarantor to the peace process. And there, I think we could have done more if we’d been asked to do more. At one time we suggested that we could be more helpful, particularly because it’s clear that the implementation of commitments was very weak. And we suggested that we could perhaps support the implementation of peace process commitments more generally. But the parties didn’t ask us to do that, and that’s fair enough, that’s their decision. But if you take an issue like return of property, for example, it’s not helpful just to ask the United Nations to condemn the Maoists for the fact that full return of property has not taken place. We could have assisted with practical experience as to what is necessary if you’re really going to bring about the return of property at the end of an armed conflict, and that’s one example where I think we could have been more helpful if we had been asked to do so.
Q: Did you feel any pressure from international community at any point?
Ian: In general, one of the positive features of my experience here is that the international community has been very united in support of Nepal’s peace process and in support of the UN role in Nepal’s peace process. That isn’t always the case. If you go and listen to the Security Council, there often is a great deal of argument amongst the member states about a particular country situation. That isn’t the case insofar as Nepal’s process is concerned. This process has had the support of all members of the Security Council, and of all of the neighbouring countries. Sometimes there have been some differences of perspective, but in general we’ve had excellent international support.
Q: when did you face the most difficult situation in course of peace process work here?
Ian: The most tragic moment we faced was when we lost ten colleagues and crew in the helicopter crash at a time when we were just getting into top gear to play our role as effectively as possible for the Constituent Assembly. So that was the most difficult moment for us as a Mission. But also in general, the period when it seemed uncertain as to whether the Constituent Assembly election was going to go forward or not, and we were deploying our staff into situations of some insecurity, particularly in the eastern and central Tarai – that was a considerable challenge. But obviously I’m glad that the process succeeded, I’m glad we were able to play the full role that we were asked to play, despite the security concerns.
Q: The deadline for drafting the Constitution is approaching and the PLA has been in the cantonment for a very long time and the peace process has been very slow, as you said. And the overall situation has become worse than before. In this situation, UNMIN is also downsizing and you are going back. How do you think the peace process will move ahead now?
Ian: Well first I didn’t say that the process had been very slow. I said that it sometime seems slow to people here because deadlines that have been set have not been met. But by international comparisons, it is a peace process that has moved forward quite quickly. But it’s true that, for example, when it was agreed that the Nepal Army would be restricted to barracks and the Maoist army would be confined to cantonments, nobody thought that that would go on for a period of two and a half years nearly now. And we have constantly urged that that should be addressed, because it doesn’t necessarily get easier as time goes on. As I say, at last the proper processes agreed in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement are operating, the Special Committee is beginning, the Constituent Assembly is getting down to substance and not just procedural questions. And so far as the UN is concerned, firstly, although I personally am leaving, UNMIN isn’t leaving. I’m handing over to an extremely capable successor, and UNMIN will go on playing the role that we’re asked to play. And remember, UNMIN is not the United Nations as a whole; the support to the Constituent Assembly process is being provided through UNDP. So I’d like to assure everybody that UN support to this peace process is very much going to continue.
Q: What are your suggestions for Nepalese people, political parties and the government when you are leaving?
Ian: Well, to elaborate a little on what I said in my opening remarks, I think the important thing is cooperation and the spirit of compromise. I think when Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon came here, he strongly urged the political parties to maintain their cooperation. I think every member of the international community has said that. And it’s encouraging that in the last few weeks, despite the divisions amongst the political parties, there’s been more dialogue, and I think an increasing commitment to try to work together towards the completion of the peace process and drafting the constitution despite political differences. I very much hope that that will continue. And I would recommend the political parties not only to maintain a regular dialogue but actually to establish an effective mechanism for the implementation of peace process commitments. We have said this many times – the JMCC is the only body that has met regularly to review the implementation of commitments and that of course is only in the military area, it’s not a political body. Many times the parties said they would establish a high level monitoring committee, high level peace commission and different titles were used, but there has never been a body that met regularly. When the Seven Party Alliance was there, it met periodically but now there isn’t an equivalent to the Seven Party Alliance. There are the coalition parties but there’s a need of course to involve the Nepali Congress as the main opposition, the Tarai Madhesh Democratic Party, and other parties that are not the part of the coalition party. So cooperation, but cooperation also needs mechanisms that ensure consistent review of commitments that are made. And then the point that I would make in parallel to that is the one that I made in my remarks about all groups recognising that there is a danger of anarchy if demands are pressed by violence, by bandhs which I have to say depend upon the threat of violence, by disrupting the rostrum in the CA, by processes that are not political debate within a democratic framework, that are disruptions and threats of disruptions. I hope that culture can change in Nepal. Otherwise I think when it comes to debating the federal provisions of the Constitution in particular, that could be very divisive.
Q: What do you think about the federalism in Nepal and what could be your suggestion to solve it in successful way?
Ian: It’s not for the UN or any international actor to make its own proposals for federalism. If the Constituent Assembly wants to consult international experts from different federal countries, they can do that. That is essentially a national debate. By all means, look at how things operate in other countries, but Nepal is going to have to make its own decisions on what it thinks is appropriate for the unique ethnic configuration, geographical configuration of this country. And the United Nations through UNDP and other international actors are simply trying to help by making sure that international experiences are available.
Q: What do you think about army integration and activities of armed Tarai group?
Ian: My answer first of all on army integration would be exactly the same. That the United Nations is never recommending what the outcome should be – we are prepared to assist by making available international experience. And so far as the operation of armed groups in the Tarai is concerned, there’s a national process of dialogue going on under the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction and I very much hope that that would be successful.
Q: I don’t think UNMIN’s relationship with Nepal’s army was as sour as it is now. When do you think is the turning point in this relationship and what contributed to this?
Ian: what was the adjective you used?
Ian: I don’t see our relations as sour, our relationship continues to be extremely cooperative in the JMCC and in the daily interaction between our arms monitors and those in Nepal Army barracks. There’s a disagreement over the interpretation of the agreement in relation to recruitment, but in general the cooperation with the both armies on the ground continues to be very good.
Q: But some of the army generals are giving interviews against UNMIN? Even in BBC?
Ian: I am not sure I have heard the interview you referred to. What was in the interview?
Q: They were talking negative about UNMIN’s role…
Ian: well, as I say, it’s easy as it is with the criticism from political parties for the media to apply a kind of magnifying glass to criticism and that exaggerates the impression, when we continue to experience an overwhelmingly practical cooperation.
Q: Have you realised that UNMIN should have been given a broader role?
Ian: You can’t say UNMIN had to be given a broader role. I have said that there are ways in which I think UMIN could have been more helpful but even there I am talking very modestly. I am not suggesting that UNMIN should have been asked to play a central role in managing the overall process, the way the UN has in some other post conflicts. I absolutely respect the fact that this is a Nepali process, that’s its strength, that it’s a nationally owned process. As I said, in some ways we could have been more helpful but it was for the national actors to decide what assistance they wanted from the UN and I certainly feel that UNMIN has been able to play an important and an effective role within the mandate it was given.
Q: How do you feel that now you are leaving without having seen through the completion of peace process?
Ian: Well, I shall continue to follow with great interest the completion of the peace process. But you mustn’t confuse an individual with an institution. The United Nations is still very much here. If everything could have been concluded within the period of time I had been here that would have been fine but as I have said, I think although the impression here is that this has been a slow process, you look at the processes the UN is assisting around the world and more has been accomplished in limited time here than in most peace processes. So I leave overwhelmingly with a sense of satisfaction not of frustration.
Q: Don’t you think that the ongoing violence in the Tarai region needs to be noted by the United Nations and there should be some sort of intervention by the UN? But then time and time again you have observed that our mandate is not to focus on that particular reason. But do you think the time has not yet ripened for that process to be looked at by the UN?
Ian: No, I think at this moment there is a very active process of negotiation going on by this present government, interacting with the armed groups in the Tarai. and, as I’ve said, I very much hope that process will be successful. Again, it’s only for the actors to say if they want any role of external assistance. And the government has made clear that it doesn’t see that as necessary, and I very much hope the government efforts will succeed.
Q: Do you think the government is actually not reasonably only focusing on army integration. Is that the case? And next question, how has the international community taken the issue of ordinances?
Ian: I think the question of ordinances and parliamentary procedures is really a matter for national political discussion, not for the United Nations. I don’t think that’s a matter for the UN. So far as integration and rehabilitation is concerned, I mean, we’ve always tried to talk in the actual language of the
peace agreement. So I talk about integration and rehabilitation, and it’s for the parties to decide, through the Special Committee, to decide to what extent former combatants will be “integrated” into what security forces and to what extent they’ll be rehabilitated. That’s what the parties agreed, not only in the original peace agreement, the arms monitoring agreement but also what they reiterated in the seven-party agreement on the 25th of June this year.
Q: Has UNMIN or the UN system in general been approached by any of the Tarai-based armies independently?
Ian: Not recently. There was one well-known case back in the past, but no.
Q: Nepal Army has published the result of recruitment…(unintelligible)
Ian: As I said earlier, I think final discussions need to take place between the government and the army and I don’t want to express any further view. Thank you very much indeed. Thank you. Thank you all.