January 2009 Monthly Forecast

Posted 24 December 2008
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ASIA

Nepal

Expected Council Action
In January the Council is expected to consider the future of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN). Its mandate expires on 23 January. UNMIN was set up in January 2007, initially for one year. It has had two six-month extensions at the request of the Nepalese government.

The Council’s discussion is likely to focus on Nepal’s 12 December request for a further six-month extension. Agreement on progressive downsizing seems likely.

Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nepal, is expected to brief the Council on 16 January on the Secretary-General’s report, which is likely to contain recommendations for the mission. 

Recent Key Developments
Nepal’s interim constitution provides for the formation of a special committee to supervise, integrate and rehabilitate the national and former rebel armies. The formation of the special committee took some time because political parties objected to a member of the CPN-Maoists heading the committee as combatants of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army would be part of the integration process. The special committee was finally established on 28 October. However, at the time of writing, the committee had not held its first meeting. One of the problems is that the Nepali Congress, the main opposition party, has refused to name a representative. It objects to the composition and terms of reference set by the government and feels that it was not adequately consulted.

The Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, visited Nepal from 2 to 4 December 2008. During the visit he said China would expedite the construction of a delayed road project linking Nepal with Tibet and pledged $14.8 million in aid. The Chinese foreign minister invited Nepal’s prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (also known as Prachanda), to visit Beijing early in 2009. Two Chinese military delegations also visited Nepal between late October and early November.

Under Secretary-General, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, visited Nepal from 1 to 6 December. Her visit focused on the release and reintegration of former child soldiers as well as the current use of children by armed groups such as the Young Communist League and some Terai groups like the Madhesi Mukti Tigers. During her visit, the prime minister agreed to begin discharging former child soldiers from the cantonments in consultation with the UN Country Team.

The Secretary-General visited Nepal on 31 October and 1 November 2008. He met the prime minister and other top officials including President Ram Baran Yadav, Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav and former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. During his visit he urged the government to move ahead with integrating and rehabilitating Maoist combatants and discussed the future of UNMIN.

Martin briefed the Council on 7 November. The Secretary-General was also expected to brief the Council on his recent visit to Nepal, but he had to travel due to the DRC crisis. Following the briefing, the president of the Council told the press that the Council had reaffirmed its support for the peace process and welcomed the progress made so far. Council members also urged the government and other political parties to “work together in a spirit of compromise” to expedite the peace process and make the decisions needed for UNMIN to complete its work.

The UN condemned an attack on 21 December on staff at the Himal Media publishing house in Kathmandu as an assault on freedom of expression. Witnesses and journalists were beaten and the office ransacked. The attackers described themselves as supporters of the CPN-Maoists and as angry at critical coverage. On 21 December, 300 journalists and human rights activists protested against the attacks. Police injured six people when they used batons to break up the protests. Prachanda, who said he will order an investigation into the incident, has said that the attack was done by “immoral agents” who had infiltrated the Maoists.

In December, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report documenting 170 cases of disappearances during the ten-year civil war in Nepal. One hundred and fifty-six of the disappearances came after arrests by the former government’s security forces. The CPN-Maoists have acknowledged killing 12 of the 14 victims cited in the report. 

Options
Possible options include:

  • deciding not to renew UNMIN (which is possible but most unlikely);
  • approving a short rollover for UNMIN while the Secretary-General seeks more details on the time frame for the integration of the national and former rebel armies;
  • extending UNMIN’s current mandate for six months as requested by Nepal;
  • approving renewal but including language signaling to the Nepalese parties that UNMIN cannot continue indefinitely; and
  • adjusting UNMIN’s mandate to include not only the suggestions from Kathmandu but also the elevation of UN involvement in security sector reform in liaison with the Nepalese special committee.

Other options include:

  • requesting the Secretary-General to provide details for a follow-on political mission to eventually replace UNMIN;
  • requesting the Secretary-General to report in three months, focusing on an exit strategy for UNMIN;
  • conveying to the Nepalese government the need to meet clear benchmarks in the next six months so that UNMIN can fulfill its mandate and close down; and
  • requesting Council experts to begin developing alternatives for the arms monitoring role after UNMIN leaves.

Key Issues
An immediate issue is how long UNMIN should remain in existence. Resolution 1825 of 23 July 2008 said that the current monitoring arrangements should not be necessary for a substantial period and indicated that the mission should be concluded within “the period of this mandate” (i.e. by 23 January 2009). However, it now seems that lack of progress means that UNMIN will be needed for another six months.

A related issue is determining adequate progress with the task of arms monitoring. Some see the point at which the special committee is fully functioning as the key threshold. Others say it will be completed only when decisions are made about the future of combatants and implementation is underway.

How quickly the special committee will be able to cooperate and find consensus across widely differing party lines in order to make essential decisions about army integration is therefore a vital underlying issue. Progress is likely to be hampered by diverse views on the extent to which Maoist army combatants should be integrated into the national army.

A continuing issue is the type of role the UN should play in Nepal in the future. Questions include whether UNMIN should be replaced by a special political mission or whether the remaining tasks could be carried out by other UN bodies already in Nepal.

A continuing issue is the discharge of the 2,975 soldiers who were under age 18 at the time of their recruitment. During Coomaraswamy’s visit in early December, Prachanda agreed to release these soldiers by March 2009. However, some observers are skeptical that this timetable will be kept.

An issue of increasing concern is the return of property confiscated by the Maoists during the ten-year conflict. Prachanda was unable to make good on his promise made in parliament in October to return property to the owners by mid-December. Regular protests took place in Kathmandu over this issue in early December. In late December Prachanda proposed forming a parliamentary committee composed of representatives of the major political parties to come up with a report on seized property.

Related are other peace process commitments that have not been implemented: compensation for victims of the conflict; investigations into the fate of those disappeared; return of displaced persons, property seized during the conflict; and the slow establishment of commissions, including a peace and reconciliation commission.

Among the continuing issues are how to keep political parties’ youth groups of within the law and possible repercussions if senior army officers are given impunity for human rights and humanitarian law violations. 

Council and Wider Dynamics
Most Council members appear open to the six-month extension with many cognisant of the dangers of withdrawing UNMIN too quickly. However, some members would have preferred that the letter from the Nepalese government include more details on UNMIN’s remaining tasks as well as a clearer timetable for when the Nepalese government hopes to meet key benchmarks in the political process.

There also appears to be agreement that the mission should be no larger than is strictly necessary for the remaining tasks. The fact that UNMIN has downsized from 800 to 300 since July 2008, following the successful holding of Constituent Assembly elections earlier in the year, has been met with approval from most Council members.

There is a growing concern among some members that UNMIN’s monitoring mandate might morph into a long-term task. Members like France and the UK are toying with various alternatives including a three-month review clause in the next mandate in order to convey the Council’s seriousness about wanting UNMIN to conclude this aspect of its mandate in the next six months.

There are differences over whether UNMIN’s mandate should be eventually adjusted. Some members like the UK are open to a political mission in the future, but China is cautious. The Nepalese government has not included any new functions for UNMIN in their latest request.

China maintains its position of respecting the Nepalese government’s wishes and appears comfortable with its request for UNMIN to be extended for another six months so that the mission can continue with its monitoring function.

It appears unlikely that any of the new Council members will take radically different positions from the majority on UNMIN’s extension. Japan, as the new Asian country coming onto the Council, is the most likely to have an active interest in the issue. At the last open debate in July, held before UNMIN’s mandate was renewed, Japan voiced support for a six-month extension following the government’s request. But Japan also cautioned that the UN could not continue to monitor arms and soldiers indefinitely and urged the parties to agree on the future status of the army as soon as possible. Nonetheless, Japan is not insisting on a timeline on UNMIN’s withdrawal as it is also aware of the dangers of early withdrawal.

India, a non-Council member with strong ties to Nepal, has indicated that while it supports Nepal’s current request, it is not comfortable with an outcome that results in a long-term role for UNMIN. It is wary of having the international community involved in Nepalese domestic politics. One concern it has is that linking the withdrawal of the mission with the special committee is likely to prolong UNMIN’s presence as there are many issues to be worked out before the special committee is fully functioning. 

Underlying Problems
A simmering problem is the severe food insecurity in rural communities in western and southern Nepal. Floods destroyed crops and food stocks in August. This, combined with the difficulty of getting adequate food during the years of civil war, have resulted in acute malnutrition among poor, landless and marginalised sectors of the population. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated funds to ensure that 1.5 million people can continue to receive aid from the UN World Food Programme and partners.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1825 (23 July 2008) extended UNMIN until 23 January 2009.
  • S/RES/1796 (23 January 2008) extended UNMIN until 23 July 2008.
  • S/RES/1740 (23 January 2007) established UNMIN for 12 months.

Selected Secretary General’s Reports

  • S/2008/670 (24 October 2008) was the latest report of the Secretary-General on the request of Nepal for UN assistance in support of its peace process.
  • S/2008/259 (18 April 2008) was a report on children and armed conflict in Nepal.

Selected Meeting Records

  • S/PV.6013 (7 November 2008) was the meeting record of the Secretary-General’s October report.
  • S/PV.5941 (23 July 2008) was the meeting record to discuss UNMIN’s renewal.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission

Ian Martin (UK)

Size and Composition

About 300 including about sixty arms monitors

Duration

23 January 2007 to 23 January 2009

Cost

$55 million

Full forecast