Nepal: Press statement by Ian Martin, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General

I can at last confirm that the second stage of registration and verification of Maoist army personnel will begin this week at the main cantonment site in Ilam, in the east of Nepal. This is a crucial stage of the implementation of the Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies, in particular as regards the commitment to discharge those aged under 18 on 25 May 2006, and to ensure that all who remain in cantonments were recruited to the Maoist army before that date. The verification and registration will be carried out by teams led by UNMIN arms monitors, which include UNDP registration personnel and UNICEF child protection officers. The general nature of the questioning has been agreed in the Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee (JMCC), that is to say with both Maoist army and Nepal Army representatives.

While the process is being carried out at the first main cantonment site, logistical preparations will be made at the second site for the team to proceed there. As soon as the findings of the verification at the first site are complete, they will be discussed with Maoist representatives so that the orderly discharge and reintegration of those who are to leave the cantonments can be carried out as soon as possible. UNICEF and its partners will be making arrangements for the reintegration of those found to be minors.

There are several related matters for which I must make clear UNMIN is not responsible. The arrangements for payments of allowances are a matter outside UNMIN's purview and UNMIN has no responsibility for their implementation. UNMIN and UN agencies have encouraged and offered to assist in urgent pre-monsoon efforts to improve conditions at the cantonments, but they remain a government responsibility: I am pleased to say that we are seeing some significant improvements, including the construction of new forms of shelter, but much more remains to be done. I would also like to make clear that the verification process is intended to establish only age and date of recruitment, and not to assess suitability for integration into state security forces: this is a matter to be considered by the special committee to be established in accordance with Article 146 of the Interim Constitution, to supervise, integrate and rehabilitate the combatants of the Maoist army.

This is the first press briefing I am holding since the eight parties agreed that the Constituent Assembly election should be held by the end of the month of Mangsir. UNMIN's presence in Nepal and all aspects of its work are for the purpose of assisting in creating a free and fair atmosphere for this election. We are strongly committed to the achievement of this objective. The challenges involved in creating satisfactory conditions for a late November election are very considerable. They require not just the fixing of a date, but a realistic plan and timetable to which all parties commit themselves, and which ensure rapid progress on simultaneous fronts. Adherence to a clear and achievable plan, encompassing not only the technical and logistical preparations but also political and security issues, is of paramount importance.

The first task is that of final decision-making on the electoral system. This includes the passage of the Constituent Assembly Election Bill defining that system and final decisions regarding constituencies. These require not only agreement among political parties. Historically marginalized groups - Madhesis, Janajatis, Dalits, women and others - require a reasonable degree of assurance that their legitimate demands for representation are being met by the electoral system. This assurance, I suggest, requires a process of dialogue about the electoral system. Time is diminishing, but to ensure a successful election there is no substitute for a process which commands broad confidence.

The second task is that of assuring public security. This requires not just a plan for security at the time of the election itself, but the creation of conditions in all districts and villages which allow all parties to conduct their activities from now on without facing intimidation and violence. I had hoped that the formation of the Interim Government would lead to much-needed discussions and cooperation between the Home Ministry, the police, the Maoists and others as to how such public security is to be achieved, including in places to which police have only recently returned: I urge such discussions as a matter of priority. I have discussed the role and activities of the Young Communist League (YCL) with Chairman Prachanda on a number of occasions, and have urged that he make public the instructions under which the YCL operates, making clear that these are fully in accordance with the law and with human rights standards - in particular, that they must not use violence of any kind and must assist law enforcement only by acting as citizens cooperating with the police within the law.

I have spoken many times about the important role that an independent national monitoring body could play in supporting peace implementation. A key element of the request of the Government of Nepal and the Maoists to the UN was to assist in monitoring the ceasefire arrangements. The intention of the parties was that the UN should assist and complement national monitoring arrangements, but since the National Monitoring Committee on Code of Conduct for Ceasefire (NMCC) ceased to exist at the end of November 2006, there has been no national body with a comprehensive mandate that UNMIN can assist. I understand that the Interim Government may now be about to consider the establishment of a national monitoring body, and I have written to the Prime Minister to say that the United Nations would warmly welcome this, and would look forward to providing its assistance, as requested in the August 2006 letters, if such a body is established on a genuinely independent basis.

At the same time I have urged the appointment of members of the National Human Rights Commission, and have noted that local peace committees could potentially play an important role in helping to create the climate for a free and fair election, and for that reason need to be functioning in all districts as soon as adequate conditions exist. I have also pointed out that the establishment of new bodies at the national and local level affords an opportunity for the commitment to at least 33 per cent representation of women in public bodies to be reflected in practice.

UNMIN's own contribution to monitoring aspects of peace implementation has now been enhanced by the deployment of Joint Monitoring Teams (JMTs). As envisaged in the Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies, each of these JMTs consists of one UNMIN arms monitor, one Nepal Army monitor and one Maoist army monitor. Their training, completed last week, displayed an excellent spirit of cooperation among all three components, and they are now available in all regions for joint investigations of possible violations of the Agreement.

Within the framework of a realistic plan and timetable for the election by mid-December, UNMIN stands ready to activate plans agreed with the Election Commission to deploy United Nations Volunteers (UNVs) as district electoral advisers. The first stage of this deployment will involve the deployment of 48 international and 19 national UNVs to 28 district headquarters, from where they will cover another 31 districts.

This week sees the first visit of the United Nations Electoral Expert Monitoring Team, on which you have a separate press statement. I want to stress that in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1740, the team is fully independent of UNMIN and reports not to me but to the Secretary-General. This is in order to avoid any conflict of interest with UNMIN's role in providing technical assistance to the Election Commission. The team will make a series of visits during the electoral process, and the Secretary-General will make its findings available to the Government and the Election Commission.

I also want to refer to the role that UNMIN is playing to help make Nepal safe from landmines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other explosive remnants of war, of which we are reminded by all-too-frequent reports of deaths and injuries in the community. Both the Maoist army and the Nepal Army have moved toward fulfilling their commitments in relation to dealing with IEDs and the explosive remnants of the conflict. The UNMIN mine action unit, together with technical experts contracted by the UN, is undertaking a stocktaking of all IEDs contained within the designated storage areas outside each of the seven divisional cantonment sites. When this has been reported to the JMCC, the UN will coordinate the destruction of IEDs at these sites. In addition, we are supporting UNICEF's appeal for people to report on any remaining IEDs in the community, to enable them to be safely collected and destroyed with the advice and support of the UN. UNMIN experts also advise the Nepal Army in relation to the clearance of minefields and other sites affected by explosives. And I am very pleased to say that the Interim Government has taken the decision to establish a national authority that can deal with the threat of the explosive remnants of war. UNMIN is working with UNICEF to assist the Government to establish this authority.

Finally, I do not usually comment publicly on matters which used to be my responsibility when I was Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and for which my successor has continued to be responsible. But there have been repeated commitments to investigate disappearances throughout the peace process, and yet no serious investigation has been established. The Supreme Court has now ordered the Government to establish a high-level commission of inquiry on disappearances in compliance with international criteria, to require investigations and prosecutions of persons responsible for disappearances, and to provide for adequate compensation and relief to the victims and their families. I trust that such action will now be taken as a matter of urgency, and will indeed be in compliance with international criteria, on which OHCHR remains ready to advise.

Thank you.