Nepal: Transcript of SRSG's press conference, 16 Oct 2008

Ian Martin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Nepal

Press Conference at the Reporter's Club, Kathmandu, 16 October 2008

I am pleased to be at the Reporters' Club again. I don't need to tell you how persistent your President is, and I promised him that I would come here again after my return from New York, where I was able to listen to the Prime Minister address the United Nations General Assembly and to participate in his meeting with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. So I am here essentially to make myself available for your questions, even if I have no real news for you, and will make only a short opening statement.

I should begin by drawing your attention to a statement by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday in New York, confirming that the Secretary-General, is later this month, is making a four nation Asia trip for official visits to Philippines, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. And therefore, we are able now formally to confirm that the Secretary-General will be visiting Nepal, will be meeting with the President, Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, members of the Constituent Assembly and will also visit Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha.

UNMIN is now a much smaller mission, but the United Nations as a whole is as committed as ever to support the completion and consolidation of Nepal's peace process, now with an increasing emphasis on support from UN agencies to the development which is essential to lasting peace.

The main reason why the political parties asked - by consensus - for UNMIN to remain for a further six months, to January 2009, was of course related to the management of arms and armies. Next week one half of that six months will have passed. Of course we all know the reasons why formation of the new Government has taken time, and now it is the holiday season: I hope that this year Nepalis have celebrated Dashain with a growing assurance of lasting peace, and that next week you will have Deepawali. But from the perspective of UNMIN, and the Member States which fund UNMIN, it is most urgent that the special committee responsible for the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants should be established and begin its work as soon as possible, in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, with Article 146 of the Interim Constitution, and with the 25 June agreement among the then Seven-Party Alliance.

UNMIN and the UN agencies have also resumed discussions now with a new Minister of Peace and Reconstruction and with the Maoist army about the overdue discharge of those still in the cantonments who were found by UNMIN's verification to have been minors in May 2006, or recruited after that date. We expect rapid progress in making responsible arrangements for their discharge and reintegration.

There are many other commitments of the peace agreements that have yet to be implemented or fully implemented The Minister of Peace and Reconstruction made a statement of the Government's commitment to implement many of them in his address on the International Day of Peace, and there is financial provision for many of them in the Government's proposed budget. The United Nations - and I want to stress that here I am talking not so much about UNMIN as UNDP and other UN agencies - has expressed its willingness to support the Peace Ministry in whatever ways it may request in this implementation of peace process commitments.

I myself have always emphasized in particular the need to have regard to the victims of the conflict - to fulfill commitments to clarify the fate of those who disappeared, to compensate victims, to enable displaced persons to return to their homes, to undertake an honest and inevitably painful acknowledgement of the truth of past human rights violations, and to end impunity. And these of course continue to be pressed, in particular for the United Nations, by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal.

These are responsibilities of government - of the previous government, and now of a new government - not of UNMIN, which has never been asked to monitor or assist all aspects of the peace process. But the United Nations as a whole remains ready to assist when it is requested to do so, while respecting the fact that this has always been and remains a Nepali-owned process.

I look forward to your questions.

(note: the questions in some cases are summarised)

Ram Kumar Kamat, The Himalayan Times: I read in today's newspaper that Girija Prasad Koirala asked you that if Maoist army is integrated into Nepal Army, it will tarnish its image internationally. Apparently you agreed to this when he asked you. Do you want to say anything on that?

Ian Martin: First, let me say that neither I nor UNMIN have ever been an advocate for or against integration. We have never taken a position on this issue. We have always made clear that like other aspects of the peace process, this is for Nepalis to decide and the political actors reached agreements as to the process by which they would decide it. And that's the special committee that I have referred to and that's the place where the discussion about integration and re-integration has to take place. And if the United Nations is asked to make international experience available to the special committee then we will be happy to do so, but not with any United Nations proposal or any United Nations model to offer from elsewhere.

Of course as long as the PLA remains an army outside the State, and not a State Army, it cannot be considered by the United Nations for peace keeping. It is national armies, of course, that participate in United Nations peacekeeping. But, there are national armies participating in United Nations peacekeeping that include former insurgents who have become part of a fully professional State army. But I am not advocating anything, I am simply saying that these are issues on which the United Nations can make international experience available to the special committee if the government and the committee and the political parties desire.

Manesh Shrestha, CNN: Do you think it is practically possible, given the situation we are in and the progress that has been made so far considering experiences in other places, that the Maoist army be integrated even if, let's say, there is an agreement overnight?

Ian Martin: Well, I think that's really a question to put to the political actors and they are expressing different views as to what time period they think is necessary.

Manesh Shrestha, CNN: I am saying provided that there is an agreement overnight even within the three months time, from the UN's perspective.

Ian Martin: It depends on whether you are talking only about reaching the key decisions on who is to be integrated or rehabilitated, in what way, or if you are talking about the full implementation. Certainly, full implementation in most peace processes has taken a significantly longer time than three months. But, you are a veteran, as others here are, of discussions that have suggested that UNMIN wants to prolong its stay in Nepal. The situation is the opposite. That's why, for a very long time, we have been urging the parties to move as quickly as possible on setting up the special committee, on the discussions about integration and rehabilitation. UNMIN, and certainly the members of the Security Council, want UNMIN to complete its mandate as soon as it is practically possible, but that depends upon the parties.

Manesh Shrestha, CNN: That was not my question. My question was, even when verification was done, it took a rather longer time than generally expected. The UN has its own standards. Even with the integration, when you are going to oversee integration, do you think it is practically possible? I am not talking about a political decision.

Ian Martin: Again, there is no one set of experience from around the world. Integration has taken different periods of time in different countries where it's been agreed, as has reintegration outside state security forces. It would, of course, be extraordinarily fast for everything to be completed within a period of three months, but again, it's also up to the government, up to the parties, to decide what kind of international role they feel is necessary and for how long.

Sudeshna Sarkar, Indo-Asian News Service: NC and MJF are now saying that because the PLA has political indoctrination, it should not be integrated in the national army and also we have another report in which the Foreign Minister says that when the Prime Minister went abroad, he said that the PLA would not be merged with the Nepal Army. What is the UN's reaction to these different statements coming from major political parties?

Ian Martin: I am not going to be drawn into public discussion with the political parties about the different views that they hold. The fact is that they have agreed upon a process to take that discussion forward through a special committee, composed now not only of governing parties but also of parties outside government. I think that's the place where that discussion needs to take place. The UN won't be advocating anything when that special committee is formed. We will be offering international experience if asked to do so.

Sudeshna Sarkar, Indo-Asian News Service: Are you concerned that there are conflicting statements?

Ian Martin: It's clear that there are widely differing views. That has been true for a long time.

Sudeshna Sarkar, Indo-Asian News Service: What is your reaction?

Ian Martin: Of course, the special committee is not going to have an easy task, finding a way forward with the sufficient degree of consensus. But the only way, as in other aspects of the peace process, is to begin that dialogue. And maybe a dialogue at the political level can be assisted, as the 25th of June agreement envisages, by some discussions at the technical level and by a look at the experience of other countries as well.

Manesh Shrestha, CNN: Do you think whatever has been labelled against you about your not being impartial is a fair assessment, in your opinion?

Ian Martin: I have been here quite a long time now and during that time there have been criticisms from different parts of the political spectrum, left and right, towards the way we have played our role. I can assure everyone that we have done our best to play it impartially and objectively and without favouring any political party or side to the peace process.

Akhilesh Upadhyay, The Kathmandu Post: Just a follow-up on that. With the Nepali Congress, especially, coming out pretty vocally raising reservations about UNMIN's role, do you see a historical legacy of UNMIN is kind of squandered?

Ian Martin: I don't see in the views that Nepalis throughout the country express to us about the role that UNMIN has played through the peace process, any major criticism. What is usually expressed to me is a strong desire that the United Nations should continue support to a process that has come a long way and which most Nepalis think has been assisted by the presence of UNMIN and the United Nations as a whole.

Akhilesh Upadhyay, The Kathmandu Post: Do you think these are just expressions they have always been saying privately and that they are hardening their position now?

Ian Martin: I can't answer that question - that's for you or others to ask people with different views. But I can assure you that I have had many pleasant and positive conversations when I attended the Nepali Congress tea reception the day before yesterday, as I did yesterday at the UML reception.

Question: A senior leader of Nepali Congress Sushil Koirala has said UNMIN has been supporting the Maoists blindly. What do you say?

Ian Martin: I can assure you we don't blindly support anything. As I've said, we seek to play our role as objectively as possible. And I've stressed again in my opening statement the consistent concern that we have had for victims of the conflict, and that's a concern that I think got somewhat lost during the election campaign. Peace process commitments towards victims have not been fulfilled; they should be fulfilled, and they should be fulfilled irrespective of whether we're talking about those who are victims of the Maoists or those who are Maoists and were victims of others, or whether they are people of no political affiliation at all who were caught up in the conflict. The responsibility of the state towards victims is one that the state should apply impartially to victims of all kinds.

Ram Kumar Kamat, The Himalayan Times: [inaudible] Maoist are saying they will take into account both national and international experience in terms of integration. What have been the international experiences? I know you won't comment on the integration but can you talk about the international experience that can guide the process in Nepal?

Ian Martin: That's a huge question. There are books written on the different experiences in different countries, it's impossible to sum it up because contexts are very different. I think that Nepalis are right to say that they are never going to look for one foreign model; they're always going to look for a Nepali solution to a particular situation in this country, but take into account what could be learned from elsewhere. Now, the moment I name one other experience, someone might think that I was advocating that as a model. I don't think Nepal should be looking just at any one experience; it should be looking at what has happened in a number of post-conflict situations, where there is always a question of what is to be the future of the former combatants, and then drawing from that what Nepalis decide will work best in Nepali circumstances.

Question: There have been complaints from various quarters that UNMIN did not play an effective role to make both the warring parties abide by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and accusations that UNMIN is conspicuously silent about Maoist victims. What do you have to say?

Ian Martin: Well, firstly let me go back to the point that I have made many times that UNMIN was never asked to come here with any enforcement authority. UNMIN has been a body with a monitoring responsibility, particularly in relation to the arms and armies; but not with a monitoring responsibility in relation to all aspects of the peace process. And yes, as long as we were heading towards a Constituent Assembly election it was indeed our responsibility to do everything we could to help the conditions of that election to be as good as possible, but never exclusively an UNMIN responsibility. We were originally asked to assist whatever national monitoring bodies would be established, and unfortunately I think not enough was done to ensure effective national monitoring of the implementation of the peace process. Now, I'm at the Reporters' Club, but I'm not here to offer constant public comment on all aspects of the peace process. UNMIN has a very specific mandate; OHCHR has a very specific mandate. We have been very clear, particularly in the run up to the election, in our concern about abuses of different kinds, but very specifically, abuses by the Young Communist League. OHCHR continues to have a local presence that will monitor and speak out about that as necessary. I don't believe that we have been silent about anything that is within our responsibility, within our mandate.

Prithvi Shrestha, People's Review: Some armed groups in the Terai are seeking the UN's role or UN mediation. Does UNMIN want to play a role to mediate the peace process with those groups in the coming days?

Ian Martin: This, too, is a question that has come up at earlier stages, so let me again make it very clear that UNMIN has never sought political contacts or had political contacts with any of the armed Terai groups, despite misunderstandings that sometimes continue to get repeated in the media. Yes, the Terai groups have sometimes asked for United Nations involvement, but United Nations good offices, obviously, can only apply if that is a request of the government and all parties to a situation of conflict. Let me say, I certainly welcome the fact that the government is, as they are committed to do, making fresh efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution to the situation in the Terai, but UNMIN is not seeking any involvement in that.

Sudeshna Sarkar, Indo-Asian News Service: What is the objective of the Secretary-General's visit?

Ian Martin: Well, this is an invitation which was actually originally extended by the previous government. Some of you may remember when Mrs. Sahana Pradhan was Foreign Minister she met the Secretary-General in Geneva and hoped that he would visit Nepal. That invitation was reiterated by the Prime Minister in New York. It's been something the Secretary-General was hoping to do when it could be done in the context of a visit to the region, and obviously it's a symbol of the Secretary-General's, and the United Nations', interest in this peace process; the desire to see it be fully successful, as well as to maintain United Nations support for development in future in Nepal. As you know, previous Secretary-Generals U Thant, Kurt Waldheim, Javier Perez de Cuellar, Kofi Annan, have all visited Nepal, and I think it's excellent that a very significant Member State is going to have a visit from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Sudeshna Sarkar, Indo-Asian News Service: Why is he going to India?

Ian Martin: Well, it's not for me to comment on the purpose of his visit to India, but the Secretary- General tries to visit as many Member States as he can when he has suitable opportunities to do so, and as I've indicated, this is a four-country visit that begins with participation in an international conference in the Philippines and that has afforded an opportunity to visit three countries in South Asia that he's wanted to visit.

Ujjwal Pradhananga, Kantipur Television: The Secretary-General is coming to Nepal. Does that have anything to do with the extension of UNMIN's time period?

Ian Martin: No, as I say, this is a longstanding invitation and a longstanding desire on the part of the Secretary-General. Of course when the Secretary-General and the Prime Minister met in New York, they began to discuss how the United Nations could continue to support peace and development in Nepal. But again, when I say United Nations I don't just mean UNMIN or primarily UNMIN. The United Nations system was in Nepal long before the peace process, long before UNMIN, and the long-term UN agencies will continue to assist development in Nepal, hopefully now in a climate of increasingly secure peace.

Manesh Shrestha, CNN: This is a personal question. How does it make you feel, personally, when a body that you head is accused of being partial towards one group rather than taking a neutral position?

Ian Martin: I've been in Nepal for more than three and a half years now and the roles I've played have not been without controversies of very different kinds at different stages. But I believe that the role not only of UNMIN but of OHCHR as well, when I was responsible for that, has been very broadly appreciated in my experience, and that's really the way I shall continue to look at it.

Ram Kumar Kamat, The Himalayan Times: Nepali Congress is accusing you of not playing a role to support the truth. Do you have anything to say on that? Is Nepali Congress biased against UNMIN?

Ian Martin: I'm not going to make any allegations of bias. You should ask other people about what they say publicly. I'm here to speak for the United Nations, and the United Nations obviously has no wish to be in a public political controversy with any group across the political spectrum. I'm not suggesting that the United Nations is perfect - of course we're not. But I think Nepalis should judge the record as a whole of what UNMIN and the United Nations has done through this peace process, and my commitment will be as long as I'm here to continue to play that role fairly and impartially towards all parts of the political spectrum.

Question: It's not just Nepali Congress; you were criticized by other parties before.

Ian Martin: I said earlier that there are times when we were very much criticized by the Maoists. I think I've said as much as I need to on this issue.

Prerana Marasini, The Hindu: In which area do you think the former Maoist military can be mobilised? People are saying they can be used for border security and other security sectors.

Ian Martin: I'm afraid I'm not going to add to what I've said about the fact that this is something that should be looked at in the special committee. Some of the kind of experiences that you've referred to have occurred in other countries, and that can be looked at by the special committee. But the Nepali political actors have to try to move towards consensus on this in that special committee, and it's not for the United Nations to make any particular proposals.

Prerana Masini, The Hindu: Will it be possible to integrate them in other sectors also?

Ian Martin: That's happened elsewhere, but again that's for national decision-makers.

Sudeshna Sarkar, Indo-Asian News Service: (inaudible)

Ian Martin: I'm not sure I understand the question.

Prithvi Shrestha, People's Review: What do you feel personally for being a big figure in this peace process when the United Nations lauded the Nepali peace process in the General Assembly?

Ian Martin: I share with, I hope, all members of UNMIN a sense of considerable satisfaction at the way in which the peace process has moved forward and the contribution that I believe that UNMIN has made to that, that indeed was recognised in some ways internationally. At the same time, I've always stressed and I've done it again today that this has been a Nepali process, and the main credit rests with those Nepalis who have taken the process forward. And I don't just mean in politics, but I mean in civil society, in the media and elsewhere. But again, it is certainly the case that when one looks at Nepal from an international perspective outside Nepal, it is a record of very considerable success in moving from a 10-year armed conflict to constitution-making now by an elected Constituent Assembly. But again, as I've stressed, that doesn't mean that the peace process is yet completed, and we've been talking today about some of the work that is still left to do.

Thank you all.