ICTJ Forum Series on Truth Commissions and Peace Mediation: Ian Martin



In this episode of the ICTJ Forum, Ian Martin speaks with us about the relationship between truth-seeking and peace negotiations in the context of Nepal and countries in Middle East and North Africa.

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Ian Martin has headed United Nations missions in several countries, most recently as Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Libya and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

In this interview with ICTJ’s Hannah Dunphy, Ian Martin reflects on his experiences in Nepal, where transitional justice provisions did find their way into the peace agreement, many of which are now under consideration by the new government of Nepal. To date, truth and accountability for crimes committed during Nepal’s 1996-2006 war has been overwhelmingly absent.

“The Maoists indeed committed serious violations themselves during their insurgency, but by far the larger number of cases of disappearances and extrajudicial executions were at the hands of the army,” says Martin. “The army has remained the most powerful and unreformed institution in Nepal, which has really inhibited the political actors from any real commitment to accountability.”

Martin also discusses the ongoing transitions in the Middle East and North Africa. He points out that, post-revolution, many countries of the Arab Spring are dealing with sharp political polarization.

“I don’t think the MENA region lends itself to generalization,” says Martin. “But one generalization which I’m afraid is true is that these are at the moment very deeply divided societies […] and that I think makes it very difficult to reach agreement on how to go forward.”

When asked to reflect upon lessons-learned from his work in transitioning contexts around the world, Martin explains why negotiations over what transitional justice efforts are needed for a society may not best be decided upon during negotiations for peace.

“Sometimes it may actually be better not to try to settle transitional justice issues institutionally in a peace process, but to leave it open for a further period of discussion,” says Martin. “And that can then have the advantage of bringing victims and civil society into the discussion, because they’re not usually here at the table. They certainly weren’t at the table in the course of the Nepal peace process: it was only the two sides that had fought the armed conflict and their top leaderships that did the negotiating.”

“I’m inclining more towards thinking that societies need to take that time to really reflect on what is appropriate to their situation rather than have particular institutional models written in the time of a first negotiation."

Ian Martin's previous senior UN appointments include Head of the Headquarters Board of Inquiry into certain incidents in the Gaza Strip; Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Nepal; Special Envoy for Timor-Leste; Representative in Nepal of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea; Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the East Timor Popular Consultation; Chief of the UN Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda; and Director for Human Rights of the International Civilian Mission in Haiti.

He also served in the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina as Deputy High Representative for Human Rights. He was Secretary-General of Amnesty International (1986-92) and Vice President of the International Center for Transitional Justice (2002-05).

PHOTO: Ian Martin, pictured at the High-Level Symposium "Challenging the Conventional: Can truth Commission Effectively Strengthen Peace Processes?" held in New York, November 2013. (ICTJ)