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Wrong visit at the wrong time

Monday, March 12th, 2012
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The questionable wisdom of Ban Ki-moon’s proposed visit to Lumbini

GUEST COLUMN
Kul Chandra Gautam

nited Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon with then prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal in Katmandu, during his visit to Nepal in 2008

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon with then prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal in Katmandu, during his visit to Nepal in 2008

The proposed visit by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Lumbini in April 2012 should have signified a welcome new commitment for the development of the birthplace of Lord Gautam Buddha which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

However, it would be untimely and inauspicious for the Secretary-General to visit Lumbini under present circumstances. Nepal is at a critical juncture, struggling to overcome the legacy a decade-long civil war that killed 15,000. Genuine peace has not yet dawned, the drafting of the new constitution has been delayed by two years, and there is rampant lawlessness and impunity.

The war saw horrendous human rights violations, some amounting to crimes against humanity, but not a single individual has been prosecuted. Many known perpetrators occupy high positions in government. Instead of
establishing a credible Truth and Reconciliation Commission consistent with international norms, the ruling Maoists are negotiating the terms of a blanket general amnesty with other major political parties.

The United Nations’ Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) was asked to leave the country unceremoniously before completion of the peace process. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is being thrown out of the country before the core issues of transitional justice and accountability are satisfactorily completed. And now, Ban Ki-moon is being lured to co-chair an international conference on Lumbini with Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

Dahal was recently appointed to chair a national committee for the development of Lumbini by the Maoist-led government. This is a man who led a violent armed insurgency resulting in the death and disappearance of tens of thousands, and displacement of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Although Dahal’s party signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006, contested elections, became the largest political party and formed a government under its leadership twice, it has not formally renounced violence. It continues to be the party’s official policy to “capture state power” by any means, either through ballots or bullets, backed up by a “people’s revolt” from the streets.

The main rationale for the UN’s involvement in Lumbini is to spread the culture of peace, not to condone the glorification of violence. It would be most ironic for the Secretary-General of the UN to co-chair a meeting with an unrepentant leader with blood in his hands at the holy birthplace of the Buddha.

If Ban Ki-moon is to co-chair a high profile meeting with Dahal, he must first insist that Dahal’s party officially renounce the use of violence in politics in the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations. The Secretary-General co-chairing such a conference at a holy site would be a sacrilege insulting not just peace-loving Nepalis but millions of Buddhists around the world.

Ban Ki-moon must not ignore recent attempts by a rather mysterious Hong Kong-based private foundation called the Asia-Pacific Cooperation and Exchange Foundation (APECF), of which Dahal is Co-chairman, to sneakily involve the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) rather than UNESCO for the development of Lumbini. When this highly unusual deal involving the Beijing office of UNIDO was exposed last year, UNIDO headquarters in Vienna embarrassingly disowned its country office’s decision and reprimanded its Country Director.

It would be most unwise for Ban Ki-moon to lend his name and the prestige of the United Nations to whitewash the image of a political leader who continues to believe that political power flows out of the barrel of a gun. The Secretary-General could help expedite Nepal’s peace process and regain the tarnished image of the UN in Nepal by insisting on three preconditions for his planned visit:

  • that Dahal and his party abjure the politics of violence
  • announce that the UN will not cooperate with the proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission if it does not fully comply with the norms enshrined in relevant UN Conventions to which Nepal is a State Party, and reject attempts to grant blanket general amnesty for heinous criminal acts, war crimes and crimes against humanity
  • insist that the long-delayed integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants is completed in the next few weeks to close all remaining cantonments prior to the April visit

Ban Ki-moon must convey such message clearly and forthrightly, not in the ambiguous diplomatic language calling for “flexibility and compromise by all parties”. If these pre-conditions are not fully met, he should either cancel his visit or come prepared to deliver such a message bluntly and boldly.

Part of the reason for Ban Ki-moon’s strong interest in the development of Lumbini has to do with his devout Buddhist mother’s wishes. We Nepalis deeply respect her wishes, and Mr Ban is welcome to visit Lumbini any time for a pilgrimage, but without hobnobbing with Maoist leaders who refuse to fully abide by the Buddha’s teachings of peace and non-violence.

Kul Chandra Gautam is a former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations.

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