How to stay on trackOli govt could have asked UN DPA for a drawdown, but with greater finesse
The Nepal government has asked the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (UN DPA) to close down its Nepal office within the next three months. With DPA’s closure, there will no longer be a presence of any UN body that came to Nepal to support the peace process.
To provide some background: the first UN body to play a direct role in the peace process was that of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in 2005. OHCHR’s Nepal office played a major role in highlighting severe human rights violations committed during the conflict and generated international pressure against the Nepal Army (NA). There is evidence to demonstrate that human rights violations decreased due to OHCHR’s presence and human rights issues became an integral part of mainstream political discourse.
Once the conflict came to an end in 2006, the parties to the conflict—later, the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists—requested the UN to establish a political mission in Nepal. As a result, UNMIN was established in early 2007. Although some political leaders have been critical of UNMIN on various occasions over recent years, there is no question that it played a very important role in the peace process. The UN political mission generated international attention to Nepal’s peace process and became the focal point for all international support. It played a key role in helping the Maoists and the government negotiate an arms monitoring agreement. By monitoring the combatants and Nepal Army personnel, it helped establish a sense of security among the population. After UNMIN’s departure in 2011, it left behind a small number of personnel to observe and provide support on the outstanding issues of the peace process, most crucially the agreement on the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants.
The government’s decision to ask for DPA’s closure comes at a time when all tasks of the peace process, except for transitional justice, have been completed. A new constitution has been drafted and elections have been held under it to three tiers of government; a federal democratic republic setup has been put in place. It is now time for the DPA office to shut shop. In fact, UN officials have themselves in recent months been deliberating a timeline to close the DPA Nepal office.
Still, the government’s recent approach towards the UN needs a closer scrutiny. Even before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially approached the UN for a drawdown plan, some government officials appeared to have leaked information to sections of the media and not all the information that got out was accurate. Though it would be a stretch to insist that this underhand approach by some officials is in fact the government’s overall policy towards the UN, the government could have, and still can, set the record straight with a clearly-worded statement on the closure of the UN DPA.
Some of the news reports, citing unnamed officials, have only created confusion among both the Nepali public and the international community, not least the United Nations, about the government position. For, some of the statements by unnamed government officials have been downright malicious and do not appear to be based on fact. This may have been an attempt to pander to a section of the public that is currently hostile towards international involvement in Nepal. As for the UNDPA, it will do well to offer a clear roadmap for its drawdown and that earlier the better. The Nepali public believes that the peace process is largely done with and it’s time for international involvement on the peace process to come to a close.
In many ways, the call for DPA’s drawdown is pretty much a reflection of a fast evolving larger narrative that takes a dim view of the international community in Nepal. Increasingly, Nepalis are questioning the ‘donor community’; increasingly, they are demanding a larger local participation in resource allocation and handling jobs that Nepalis are capable of. That said, it is important to guard against sweeping generalizations and insular worldview.
In case of DPA, a wiser approach perhaps would have been to talk to the UN directly and with discretion, and ask for a drawdown, as MoFA officials seem to have done on Tuesday morning. A damage-control measure is perhaps in order. And such a step is necessary not just to maintain our strong ties with the United Nations but to tell the world that Nepal’s new government, backed by a two-thirds parliamentary majority at home, can also carry itself with a fair bit of maturity in the international arena. That our longstanding partners and allies need not fear us.