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Nepal: No Peace till we tackle ’impunity’ and ’accountability’

by Kanak Mani Dixit, 13 November 2008

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Nepali Times, 07 - 13 November 2008

The United Nations now
- The interests of the UN and Nepalis coincide in making the peace process a success

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Nepal was so short it is hard to remember when he came and when he left.

When he flew down to Bhairawa en route to Lumbini on his Bombardier jet, he was retracing the footsteps of Dag Hammarskj?ld, the second UN Secretary-General and the first to visit Nepal. On his outbound trip in March 1959, he made detour on King Mahendra’s DC-3 to take pictures of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri.

You could term this Nepal’s first ’mountain flight’, and Hammarskj?ld’s photographs and article were printed in the January 1961 issue of the National Geographic. In September 1961 Hammarskj?ld died in an air crash while on a peace mission to Congo- a country that is still ravaged by civil war.

Our own Rishikesh Shaha, a man of letters and a permanent representative to the UN, was asked to chair the crash investigation. Shaha had himself faced near-death when he was stabbed in Manhattan’s Central Park. The rumour mill in Kathmandu has it that Shaha was within striking distance of serving as Hammarskj?ld’s successor, but King Mahendra scuttled it.

It was Burma’s U-Thant who succeeded Hammarskj?ld, and he visited Nepal in April 1967. His famous tears at the sight of dilapidated Lumbini helped launch international interest in the site of the Sakyamuni’s nativity. The UN commissioned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange to develop the site as a spiritual centre dedicated to world peace. Tange was the designer of the Hiroshima memorial, but 50 years later, his Lumbini masterplan gathers dust while various sects compete in ostentatiousness.

There is a United Nations Committee on Lumbini, made up of Buddhistic nations and led by Nepal. Sadly, the committee has been allowed to lapse, primarily because those who ran the Kathmandu government through autocracy and democracy did not understand the value of this committee in maintaining the spiritual and meditative nature of Lumbini as well as in fund-raising.

The United Nations, of course, has been in Nepal right after the end of the Rana era. Toni Hagen, the Swiss geologist who was already here in 1949, evolved as a UN development expert. Various UN agencies have been active in Nepal since, and it is fair to say that the overwhelming peace focus of the Ban Ki-moon visit did not give enough importance to Nepal’s development arena in which the UN has been a central player.

It was during Kofi Annan’s tenure that the UN saw the departure from development work to conflict resolution. UNMIN was established by the Security Council in January 2007, responding to a request by the Nepal government after New Delhi was convinced this was the only way to get the Maoists to abandon their ’people’s war’. The verification process and election support have been completed by UNMIN, and its extended term is about to expire on 23 January. It is not likely that the ’integration’ and ’rehabilitation’ of Maoist combatants will be completed by then.

After their success in the April elections there is an attempt in some Maoist quarters to shift the goalposts when it comes to the incomplete peace process. The wholesale entry of politically trained cadre of one party into the national army would lead to crisis.

Simply put, the acceptable formula would be the free-choice entry of individual combatants into the NA based on accepted standards. In one stroke this would allow the Maoists to mollify their cadre, and address the practical necessity of partial integration, while ensuring genuine rehabilitation of the rest.

Nepali political actors will decide the nature of integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants, of course, but it would be good if the UN was on the same page. Today, the interests of United Nations and the citizens of Nepal coincide in making the peace process in Nepal a lasting success, where Nepalis can return to being a society where political violence is rejected absolutely.

Here, it was distressing that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was not heard to utter the words ’impunity’ and ’accountability’ during his Kathmandu stopover. There can be no lasting peace, nor democracy, without them.

A denoument which is respectful of the people’s desire to live without violence and in pluralism, and which responds to humanitarian needs of individual Maoist combatants, will leave Nepal at peace and the United Nations Secretary-General with the satisfaction of a job well done.