– by NepalForeignAffairs.com team
Ian Martin was the head of Amnesty International before serving as UN special envoy to East Timor and Nepal. He acted as the inaugural head of UN Mission In Nepal (UNMIN) from 2006 to 2009. UNMIN was established to assist Nepal’s peace process following the peace agreement between Nepal government and Maoist rebels in 2006. Martin is a Cambridge educated Briton, whose controversial role in Nepal led the Nepal government to reduce UNMIN’s mandate, before finally ending the mission in 2011, on a rather bitter note.
Martin has been heavily criticized by Israel for a report prepared by his team in 2009. He led a UN committee of four to investigate incidents during the Gaza War. Israel was joined by the US in calling the report as biased. Israel’s criticism stated, “in both spirit and language, the report is tendentious, patently biased, and ignores the facts presented to the committee.”
For the first time after the time of UNMIN, some of their activities and unreported incidents have been brought to light in a book by a former senior UN bureaucrat. Kul Chandra Gautam, who served as Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, has been involved with Nepali civil society and in the peace process. His book, “Lost in Transition: Rebuilding Nepal from the Maoist mayhem and mega earthquake” is out tomorrow. It has already created a lot of ripples in Nepal, including very approving reviews for its counter-narrative to the dominant view in Nepal that eulogizes violence and undemocratic means to grab power by destabilizing the state.
What follows is an exclusive excerpt from the book, detailing some role of UNMIN and its high officials in Nepal that very few people other than Gautam have been privy to.
… People began to see that UNMIN was unable to restrain the massive pre-election threats and violence by the Maoists against candidates of other political parties. Following the elections, and the installation of the Maoist-led government, people saw many illegal and criminal activities taking place in Maoist cantonments or by Maoist combatants outside the cantonments. UNMIN’s seeming inability to control or even monitor such activities began to erode the public’s faith in UNMIN.
A video-taped speech by Maoist Chairman Prachanda at a party training event in the Shaktikhor cantonment just prior to the 2008 CA election revealed how the Maoists had hoodwinked the UN into accepting much larger number of combatants than was actually the case, and how the party intended to use its cadres, including its ex-combatants, to influence the election. UNMIN’s credibility nosedived, when instead of protesting the Maoists’ cynical remarks disparaging it, UNMIN sought to defend itself and the Maoists by saying that Prachanda’s remarks “needed to be understood in a certain context”.
Some dramatic cases of criminal activities in the Maoist cantonments; the free access and use of the cantonments by Maoist leaders for political training and indoctrination; and the seeming inability of UNMIN to do anything about such actions, led to serious disappointment with its performance, especially given the Nepali public’s very high expectation of UNMIN. Increasingly a growing number of leaders of the non-Maoist political parties, civil society and the media became critical of UNMIN’s performance, many attributing a certain pro-Maoist bias on the part of UNMIN.
Worried about their poor judgment, in early 2010, I wrote a long memo entitled “Quo Vadis UNMIN?” and shared it with Karin Landgren, Ian Martin and Tamrat Samuel. I cautioned them about giving undue benefit of doubt to the Maoists and unfair criticism and pressure on NC/UML to be more flexible and compromising. I have retained copies of my long private exchanges with them – mostly by emails – in my files.
In essence, the UNMIN leadership listened to my views politely, but generally chose to ignore them.
UNMIN became so influenced by the circle of self-proclaimed “progressives” that it ignored and dismissed the views and advice of many Nepalis who had a much deeper understanding of and respect for the United Nations, including those who had served in senior positions in the UN system …
In September 2010, UNMIN had prepared a report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2010/453) on the status of Nepal’s peace process recommending further extension of UNMIN’s mandate. This report was so unbalanced and objectionable that four former Foreign Ministers of Nepal coming from different political parties – KP Sharma Oli, Chakra Bastola, Ram Sharan Mahat and Prakash Chandra Lohani – wrote a joint letter of protest to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
As former foreign ministers, and strong supporters of the United Nations, they registered their objection to the tone and content of the whole report and pointed out several specific paragraphs which were against the letter and spirit of Nepal’s Comprehensive Peace Accord and related agreements. They objected to the report’s treatment of Nepal’s national army on par with the former rebel force, whose members were in temporary cantonments awaiting integration and rehabilitation. They also objected to the report essentially treating the Government of Nepal on par with the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).
Indeed, neither the UN nor most Western diplomats insisted with the Maoists that if they wanted their cooperation, they had to unequivocally renounce violence, accept political pluralism (not just “multiparty competition”), and abandon their declared objective of “state capture” through either ballots or bullets.
Martin’s implied assertion that Nepalis … could not think for themselves, reminded me of the former Singapore Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani’s book entitled “Can Asians Think?” Yes, I argued, Nepalis can think for themselves.