April 2008 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 March 2008
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ASIA

Nepal

Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to consider the report on the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) in April. (The report is likely to focus on the results of the constituent assembly elections scheduled for 10 April and to discuss the activities of UNMIN following the elections.) A Council statement following the elections in April is possible, but decisions on the future of UNMIN seem likely to be postponed until the government in Kathmandu has had an opportunity to take a consensual decision.

On 23 January, the Council extended UNMIN’s mandate for six months until 23 July at the request of Nepal’s government.

Key Recent Developments
At press time, the Secretariat was scheduled to brief the Council on 27 March on developments leading up to the April elections.

On 22 March, UNMIN together with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal released the first of a series of election reports warning that continuing violence in the Terai region and clashes between party supporters could undermine the polls. Among the recommendations are that armed groups seek political accommodation through dialogue and parties abide strictly by the election code of conduct and stop intimidating voters. The report also said that the Communist Party of Nepal must stop preventing parties from campaigning in areas where it is strong.

On 12 March, Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nepal, said at a press briefing in Kathmandu that the constituent assembly elections were on track and UNMIN was helping to ensure that all parties could campaign freely.

The security situation remains fragile. In January, student activists staged a two-day protest against a rise in fuel prices, which led the Nepal Oil Corporation to withdraw the increase. In February, a 16-day strike called by Madhesi groups in the Terai region demanding more rights led to a blockade of Kathmandu and the stoppage of oil deliveries. The strike ended on 28 February after the government signed an accord giving greater representation to minorities in state and local authorities. It also agreed to autonomous regions for the Madhesi under a future federal democratic structure. UNMIN expressed deep concern over the killing of a candidate from the Terai region for the constituent assembly elections. It said that violence and threats against candidates were a “serious obstacle to the creation of a free and fair elections atmosphere for the election.”

In mid-March, tensions in Tibet spread to Nepal as Tibetan exiles demonstrated in front of the UN offices and the Chinese embassy in Nepal. There have been reports of arbitrary arrests and use of force against the demonstrators.

On 17 March, armed groups from Nepal’s Terai region demanded greater autonomy and threatened to disrupt the April elections. They called for a general strike from 28-30 March and then again from 7 April to the day of the election, 10 April.

The UN Electoral Expert Monitoring Team (EEMT) made its fourth visit to Nepal from 3-17 March. The EEMT was established on 23 January 2007 under resolution 1740, which also established UNMIN. The EEMT is responsible for monitoring the constituent assembly electoral process to ensure a result that accurately reflects the will of the Nepalese people. At the end of its two-week visit in March, the EEMT said that while there were improvements in security, scheduling and inclusiveness, there was a risk that resurgent violence could undermine a free and fair poll.

Key Issues
A key issue is the prospect of disruption and violence before, during and after the elections and whether there is anything the Council can do that could help achieve an optimistic outcome.

A connected issue is whether the government can effectively address the concerns of traditionally marginalised groups ahead of the elections and whether key players will cooperate so that free and fair constituent elections take place.

Also of concern is the fragility of the seven-party alliance. Unity of this alliance is essential for stability following the elections.

Now that the UN verification of arms and armed personnel is complete, there is a question over former combatants who were disqualified from the benefits of the programme either because they did not present themselves during the second phase of verification or were under 18 years and recruited after the ceasefire. There is no plan for how to deal with them now that they are discharged. Related to this are issues concerning the merging of the Nepal Army and the People’s Liberation Army.

Of direct concern to the Council is the issue of UNMIN’s role after the elections and whether it will be able to fulfil its mandate by July or whether a longer presence will be needed. In this regard, the views of the Nepal government will be critical, and experience in other situations suggests that in the immediate post-election period governments take some time to reach conclusions on such matters.

Options
The Council has the following options:

  • discuss the outcome of the elections and UNMIN observations but take no action;
  • adopt a Council statement on the elections;
  • begin discussions about a possible new mandate for UNMIN (this is likely if there is a prompt request from Kathmandu that UNMIN should stay beyond the elections); and
  • request the Secretary-General to provide a drawdown timetable for UNMIN ahead of the 23 July end of mandate (this is only likely if it seems that UNMIN’s mandate will end in July).

Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members are united in wanting to see free and fair elections for the constituent assembly in April. However, there are more divergent views on whether and what role UNMIN should play following the elections.

China has been cautious about any signs of UNMIN moving beyond its original mandate. It has been constant in its position that any extension of or changes to UNMIN’s mandate must be in line with what Nepal’s government wishes.

Some other members, like the UK, feel that there will be a need for UNMIN to stay on in some format but want to be sure that any new mandate will allow it to achieve its objectives.

India has continued to be actively engaged. However, relations between UNMIN and India were somewhat strained in recent months. A comment by the then-UN Development Fund resident representative in early February that India could help check the Terai groups led to an official complaint to the UN from the Indian government. India has also been concerned that some statements by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nepal could be perceived as exceeding UNMIN’s mandate.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolution

  • S/RES/1796 (23 January 2008) extended UNMIN until 23 July 2008.
  • S/RES/1740 (23 January 2007) established UNMIN for 12 months.

Secretary General’s Reports

  • S/2008/5 (3 January 2008) was the last report of the Secretary-General on the request of Nepal for UN assistance in support of its peace process.

Presidential Statements

  • S/PRST/2006/49 (1 December 2006) expressed support for the Secretary-General’s intention to send a technical assessment team to Nepal and noted that the Council would await formal proposals.

Latest Press Statement

  • SC/9288 (27 March 2008) welcomed progress towards constituent assembly elections in Nepal.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission

Ian Martin (UK)

Size and Composition

871 staff (208 international staff, 126 UN volunteers, 387 national staff, 144 arms monitors and six police advisers as of end of January 2008)

Duration

23 January 2007 to 23 July 2008

Cost

$88.8 million

Useful Additional Source

UNMIN Election Report, No. 1, 22 March 2008

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