Nepali Times


The signing by Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey and the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, Louise Arbour, of an MoU on Monday has been hailed as a step towards peace by most activists, the international community, the government and even the Maoists.

The very fact that such a diverse group at last agrees on something is seen by many as a step forward.

But it wasn\'t smooth sailing. In a weekend of hectic negotiations, there were veiled threats, intercontinental lobbying, hard bargains and stonewalling. But in the end, the compromise provided a face-saving way for everyone to declare victory.

The government was happy it had avoided the ignominy of being put in the same category as Burma and North Korea. The Swiss and their 'like-minded Europeans' hinted they had hoped for this outcome all along. International human rights organisations like Amnesty, ICJ and Human Rights Watch called it a 'step forward'. Even the Maoists in a statement responded positively to the MoU and said monitors were welcome to their areas.

The Europeans who had been lobbying to table a much stricter Agenda Item 9 resolution said they were satisfied with the MoU. "Better this than a grandstanding condemnation which would put Nepal at par with Burma and not really make any difference," said one Geneva-based activist.

Although the government put on a brave face, saying it was happy not to be in the same league as other human rights pariahs it did concede a lot. Early last week, the government sent a letter to Arbour, reiterating commitments and saying it was willing to consider a monitoring mission. This clearly didn't go far enough and that message was delivered to Shital Nibas. With the clock ticking towards the Monday deadline, Pandey finally agreed to sign the MoU and fax it. But the Swiss wanted an original signed hardcopy handed to its aid mission in Kathmandu.

The Nepali delegation in Geneva lobbied strongly among Asian, African and other delegations to get the Agenda 9 resolution scuttled. Officials said the Swiss backed down because they knew they didn\'t have the numbers.

Some activists say there are still some loopholes that the state could use to dillydally on provisions for surprise visits of prisons and military bases without prior consent or information. They say the MoU could be an attempt by the king to legitimise his 1 February move, and add it won\'t make a difference as long as the emergencyis still in place.

But a continuous monitoring process will provide relief to Nepali civilians caught in the crossfire of conflict for the past nine years. The 50-member mission is mandated not just to monitor human rights through a field office and sub-offices but also to investigate and verify violations. And if major atrocities are uncovered, war crimes trials are not ruled out.

The only people unhappy with the signing of the MoU seem to be groups like the New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights, which blamed the "the ambivalent attitude" of India, America and Britain for the failure of the Agenda 9 resolution.

The Swiss will table a softer consensus resolution backing monitoring next week. A high-level technical mission is already in Kathmandu to prepare for the arrival of the monitoring group by early next month.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)