Nepali Times
"A lot is happening that people don’t see"

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission arrived here three months ago. In this interview with Nepali Times, head of the mission, Ian Martin, rejects criticism that it has been slow to get off the mark.

Nepali Times: Activists here are saying your mission is not moving fast enough
Ian Martin:
A lot has been happening that people don't see. We have received complaints (from victims). We have been taking up a lot of issues directly with the state authorities and the Maoists regarding abduction and other issues. We are actively investigating many things now. Certainly we are not very present in the field yet. That won't happen unfortunately until we get more staff and are able to open our offices out of Kathmandu. We are already making a number of field visits and have planned more and will begin visits to many places of detentions. All this may not be very visible but that certainly is a lot of human rights work.

The ICRC has suspended visits to detainees inside army camps, has this affected your visits too?
We've had no disagreements so far with the RNA about the MOU. We have regular communication on a number of issues. We have a very clear agreement giving us the right of access unannounced to any places of detention, right to speak in private to any detainee. We'll only know when we test that whether we are satisfied and I expect that it (agreement) will be respected.

You've had several meetings at the NHRC. Are you satisfied about its independence given the criticism here about the selection criteria of its new members?
We've had routine meetings on their request. They wanted to inform me about their recent visits and activities. We don't want to replace activities by Nepali organisations whether NGOs or NHRC. The more they are able to do effectively, the better. But we have our own independent mandate to investigate and report.

Will you be looking into the disappearances cases as well?
In fact we are already actively doing so. We are trying to make sure that we coordinate our own work with that of others who report disappearances both to the UN working group and direct to the RNA. The RNA at the moment have teams out in the regions, one of whose aims is try to clarify outstanding cases of disappearances. We are now for the first time receiving lists of detainees in the army barracks.

Do you expect anything from the contacts with the Maoists?
We have a clear mandate to engage with non-state actors. That's purely for the purpose of promoting observance of international humanitarian law and making clear that Maoists are accountable for the violations of international humanitarian law. So we are putting to them cases of concerns that are reported to us. Again it is early days to see how serious and effective the response would be.

How about vigilante groups?
This is definitely a case where we need to get some first hand information as to what is happening on the ground and it is certainly amongst our priorities. We will be making visits to areas where alleged vigilantes are operating and to look at what the relationship is between them and security forces.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)