One year on : What role should UNMIN play?

It was reported in the press recently that PM GP Koirala was unhappy with some of the activities of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) such as its listening to the grievances of the marginalised ethnic communities and their demands for empowerment. In his view, these issues were to be tackled by the government exclusively, irrespective of the fact that hardly anything substantial has been done to address the demands of the ethnic groups in the past. Even at this epoch-making juncture when a Constituent Assembly election is around the corner, he has adamantly refused to adopt the regional list under Proportional Representation system, which would have paved the way for state restructuring by giving the people a genuine opportunity to elect their own representatives along their lingual, ethnic and cultural lines.

To many, the PM’s response was inept and unwarranted. Satirically, some thank the good sense of the PM, which prevented him from not declaring Ian Martin, the head of UNMIN, a persona non grata as was done to Prof. Jan Pronk when he was working as the head of United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) sometime back. Pronk had met rebel commanders in Oct. 2006 and convinced them not to target government officials. Before he could get this message conveyed to the government, armed forces bombed the area where he had met the rebels. He objected it openly as a betrayal and indifference to the peace process. He was declared a persona non grata by the government and was expelled from Sudan in Jan. 2007.

The UNMIN was established after the Nepali government and the Maoist leader Prachanda requested the United Nations on Aug. 9, 2006 to assist in creating a free and fair atmosphere for election to a constituent assembly and the entire peace process. They had also requested the UN to continue its human rights monitoring through the OHCHR, Nepal, assist the monitoring of the Code of Conduct during the Ceasefire, manage arms and armed personnel of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army as well as of the Nepal Army, and provide election observers for CA polls.

UNMIN is completing its one-year term at year’s end and it cannot keep functioning until its mandate is extended. The government has to request the UN for the same. It is obligatory on the country’s part to request the UN as we are in the midst of a historic journey to hold election and ensure lasting peace in the country. But it will also be desirable on our part to introspect about what we had planned to achieve through its presence in Nepal or how it has functioned or if we have allowed it to discharge its role properly in the peace process.

The management of Maoist combatants in cantonments and Nepal Army in barracks was a significant task carried out by UNMIN in order to take the peace process forward. The verification of the combatants is still going on. It may take another couple of months to complete the process. There has been poor management of the cantonments and the maintenance of the combatants has been equally dismal. The commitments in the ceasefire agreement and in the Comprehensive Peace Accord to establish sustainable peace have not been kept.

Significantly, the National Monitoring Committee for Ceasefire Code of Conduct (NMCC) had submitted three reports to the negotiating teams regarding the failure of both the government and the Maoists in implementing the commitments made in the ceasefire agreement. The two sides did not even form a joint committee to look into the recommendations of the NMCC. Surprisingly, there is no mention of any independent body to monitor the implementation of the commitments in the Comprehensive Peace Accord. (Of course, monitoring of the human rights violations is assigned to OHCHR and NHRC.)

The stark reality is that the peace process has been pushed to the back burner. It appears that the seven party alliance does not attach any importance to the fulfilment of the commitments all the while manoeuvring for their participation in the parliament and the government. Of course, the Maoists left the government on Sept. 18 but the resignations of their government representatives are yet to be accepted.

Ironically, the date of CA election has been postponed indefinitely over the twin issues of immediate declaration of republic and CA polls under completely Proportional Representation system. The special session of the interim parliament convened on Nov. 4 passed two motions asking the government to carry out the procedures to declare the country a republic and conduct CA polls under full proportional system. The interim constitution is to be amended for the same purpose.

It is hence advisable that the job of UNMIN be confined to monitoring the peace process, the most important task unattended so far, and the observation of polls be looked after by Nepalis themselves.

Prof Mishra is ex-coordinator of the dissolved NMCC