Norwegian Envoy to Nepal Kjell Tormod Pettersen with The Oslo Times
The Norwegian Ambassador to Nepal Kjell Tormod Pettersen and Elin Gjedrem, First Secretary (Political Affairs) , in a short rendezvous with The Oslo Times International News Network’s Chief International Correspondent Prabalta Rijal Spoke about the democratic process in Nepal and efforts made by the Embassy of Norway in Nepal in facilitating the peace process.
Nepal is in its transitional phase we have about nine day before the constitution is being announced, what are the steps do you feel Nepal should take if the political parties do not come to an agreement and fail to promulgate the constitution in the next nine days?
Ambassador Pettersen: I think there is a fifty-fifty chance that the constitution will be announced by the 22nd of January 2015, and the voice that we have had is that they should promulgate the constitution by the 22nd as they had promised to the people. If there is an extension, they should at least communicate it with the people and if they ask for an extension they should explain why they are extending the period.
How has the Norwegian Embassy been involved in Nepal’s democratic process?
First Secretary Gjedrem: The way I see it, we have been involved in the process in two ways, where one followed the other. It all started with the peace process, where Norway was involved with support through the United Nations, local and international NGO’s. It was very much a Nepal led process, and we just delivered what the political parties and civil societies said was necessary during that phase. The peace process has been fairly successful there hasn’t been violence ever since the peace accord was signed. From the peace process the constitutional process started, they just had an interim constitution and they wanted a real constitution. We have been involved in this process as well because a lot of people feel that this will conclude the peace and transitional justice process in Nepal.
Ambassador Pettersen: So we have also done the same in the constitutional process— we have listened to the UN, civil society here when they said this is what we think the need is and when they said I think this is the project that will facilitate dialogue or will create room for dialogue. We have been involved in this as well through our development assistance and through our political network. We have had meetings with the political leaders, discussed issues at hand and tried to find ways to support them in the best possible ways.
But, having said all that, we would like to emphasize that this is a Nepali process and if they need assistance, we are willing to help them, with technical expertise.
There were scandalous reports regarding the Norwegian Embassy in Nepal’s involvement in donating large sums of money to the Himal South Asia, to be used against the UCPN-Maoist, can you clarify what this was about?
Ambassador Pettersen: The fact is this was kind of a bias report. There was no truth it and the project has been clearly mentioned in our website and there were no secrets about it. I visited Prachanda and showed it to him. He understood it and after that he said. There is no secrecy about the project and you can also go check it out on our website, I think it’s still there.
Despite this, why then did it do so many rounds in the Nepali media?
First Secretary Gjedrem: It’s interesting that you mention the Nepali media, because this country is a country of rumors, and I think a lot of the people don’t trust what people read in the papers necessarily. And there is some kind of linkage between the media and it seems like they don’t trust everything they read. Yeah, its interesting.
Mr. Ambassador you stated that Norway wants to support the democratic process. What kind of support are you providing to this democratic process?
First Secretary Gjedrem: We have a project through IFAS and that is also through a Norwegian expert on election law called Colum. He has been very active in Nepal, working on their election model giving advise on different election models around the world, the pros and cons of using them. Through International Idea, in Stockholm we also support Nepali democratic process on facilitating and creating rooms for dialogue.
Ambassador Pettersen: We have also encouraged them to draft the new constitution according to the principles adhered by international conventions. The other issue we have been assisting Nepal with is the citizenship rights. Citizenship issues have been a hot potato in Nepal and it looks like its now going in the right direction. They have made a new law that allows Nepalese to have citizen through father or mother. Earlier, it was only issued through father, but there are Nepalese that don’t have a father for various reasons and thus are without citizenship. This is something we have been working very actively on.
So that’s the principal. We have also made it clear that we shall not impose anything and this has to be a Nepali process, they have to reach a consensus and we do not have any kind of right to say whether this is right or wrong. We don’t have a view on this or that, whether it should be a federal state or not. We have discussions; we facilitate the process and help them. But we are not here to impose anything.
The national Human Rights Society has also done a lot of work. They have organized rallies, they have created pressure, gone to politicians, they have written in the newspapers. You know they have used all the arenas they can to create the base for discussion.
How do you see media freedom in Nepal, since after the first constituent assembly elections?
First Secretary Gjedrem: I was going to say the same to you, since you are a journalist you can educate us more. Like it used to be in Norway as well, newspapers are linked to political parties without it being written anywhere. It’s just something you hear that this paper is linked to this party. I heard rumors that freedom of press of some journalists was being limited last year. I discussed this issue with several journalists and asked them if felt that they cant write whatever they want. Most of them were not scared from giving their opinions and claimed that they can write pretty much what they want. Comparing the present press freedom scenario with that of the period during which the king was in power, they claimed that it was more difficult to write in the past during the monarchy but now things are improving.
Ambassador Pettersen : We meet journalists regularly. We invite them here for discussions on current affairs, and their opinion on the implications of the situation. Quite often we get a very different view than that expressed by politicians. That is a part of the picture you have to have if you work as an embassy, you should have a very open minded approach. For an assessment of the situation you should have all kinds of information. I am under the impression that people here are free to say or write about what they want to.
Coming to the Human Rights issue in Nepal, there are lots of issues about women’s rights. What are your views on Human Rights in Nepal?
Ambassador Pettersen : Undoubtedly there is a lot to be done in all the rights agendas. There is huge gap between what is written and what is being practiced, when it comes to ensuring human rights, women’s rights, and children’s rights. I don’t know the details. But these issues have to be written down in the constitution and there has to be an adherence to the implementation of human rights agreements that Nepal has signed and agreed to.
We have been supporting programs, through NGO’s and the UN and the situation here has improved from what it was ten – twelve years back and as soon as democracy takes count this will be a developing agenda.
Coming back to child rights, Human Rights Watch last year put Nepal among the worst country for a child to grow up in. You said that you are supporting various human rights efforts in Nepal. What kind of efforts has the Embassy here made in supporting education in Nepal?
First Secretary Gjedrem : We have been involved for many years in the education sector we have been involved with the government to create access free education for all children in Nepal. This is also the goal of the government. We have a sectorial program with the Nepali government along with multilateral donor agencies like the ADB, World Bank and the UNICEF, among others. It is a very good program that has been able to provision for good and secure quality schools that every child can attend. Now this is a priority for the Norwegian government as well, our foreign minister has said that education especially for girls has to be a priority.
Ambassador Pettersen : This is one of our three main focuses, education for all, especially when it comes to education for girls and children from the marginalized groups.
So how do you support the schools in Nepal?
First Secretary Gjedrem: Well, we don’t support schools directly. Our assistance goes through programs. But we do go on field trips. In the sector program, I think, they go at least twice a year and they go to all kinds of districts and they go to all kinds of schools, of course there is a big variety in quality. Also what we need to take into consideration is that accountability is a challenge.
A question that we ask to all our dignitaries, what does Human Rights mean to you?
Ambassador Pettersen : Human Rights means freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the fact that everyone is equal and everyone is treated equally and that is the basic law.
First Secretary Gjedrem: It is a set of rules that tries to mitigate inequality and everyone should have the same opportunities. If human rights were ensured in all countries than, I think, there would be less inequality across the world.
What are your views on the recent attack on Charlie Hebdo in France?
It was a very tragic incident, which unfortunately did happen. On the other hand the unity of the people who are rallying in Paris shows that those extremists will not succeed in attacking our values.They may get an impact and attention but they will not succeed in the long run. You have to be tolerant and show tolerance to other people that’s also part of human rights.
First Secretary Gjedrem: I also condemn it, I was horrified, and in this age when you get the images on the screen and you see people being shot, its very disturbing. I agree with the ambassador that it is very important to show strength against such practices and say that you will not succeed and you will not scare us.
Do you have a special message regarding peace, democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and extremism for our readers?
Ambassador Pettersen : Stay true to the cause and do not compromise on your values.
All Rights Reserved with The Oslo Times