Introduction by Ram Manikkalingam

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the inaugural meeting of the International Verification Commission. On behalf of my fellow commissioners, I would like to thank you for attending this meeting today. We have here a cross section of Basque Society – including political parties, trade unions, the church and the business association. We have before us a challenging task – to verify the ceasefire. Nevertheless, I am confident that we can address this together.

The purpose of this meeting is for you to get to know us, and us you. In this meeting I will address three questions: Who are we? Why are we here? And what will we do?

Who are we?

We are the International Verification Commission for the Ceasefire in Basque Country. On my extreme right is Mr. Chris Maccabe. Mr. Maccabe was involved with the negotiations of the Good Friday Agreement as Political Director of the Northern Ireland Office of the United Kingdom Government. He was also Joint Secretary of the Anglo-Irish Conference that lead to the drafting of the agreement. He has served as Head of Prison Regimes in Northern Ireland. And he has experience dealing with other peace processes as well.

Next to me, on my right, is Lt. General Satish Nambiar. He was the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Indian Army. He also served as the first Force Commander for the United Nations in the former Yugoslavia. He was recently on the High Level Panel on Global Security and Threats of the United Nations Secretary General.

On my left is Mr. Ronnie Kasrils. He was Deputy Defence Minister immediately after the transition to Democracy in South Africa. He has also served as Minister of Intelligence, and Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry. He was actively involved as a leader in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. He is a member of the African National Congress.

Next to him is Mr. Ray Kendall. Mr Kendall was most recently Secretary General of Interpol. He has served as Deputy Assistant Commissioner in Scotland Yard and has seen many years service in the Special Branch of the United Kingdom Police. As many of you know, Mr. Kendall served on the International Contact Group dealing with issues in Basque Country. We felt that given his law enforcement experience he could be useful to the work of the commission. He has left the International Contact Group and will now serve as a member of the International Verification Commission.

On my extreme left is Ms. Fleur Ravensbergen. She is the Head of Programmes at the Dialogue Advisory Group. She has experience working in situations of conflict in Northern Ireland and Iraq, among other places. This includes facilitating the decommissioning of weapons and assessing the implementation of the agreement between dissident Republican prisoners and prison authorities in Northern Ireland. She will serve as the Coordinator of the Commission.

Finally, let me introduce myself. I am Ram Manikkalingam. I am a professor at the University of Amsterdam and the Director of the Dialogue Advisory Group. I have been involved in facilitation efforts in different parts of the world. And have was previously Senior Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka. I also headed the programme of the Rockefeller Foundation on International Peace and Security.

Why are we here?

There is an opportunity to definitively end the violence in Basque Country. Basque Society wants it. Spanish Society wants it. The Basque Government wants it. And the Spanish Government wants it.

ETA declared a permanent, general and verifiable ceasefire on 10 January 2011. When ETA declared this ceasefire, there was much scepticism. We shared this scepticism. Now, nine months since the declaration, there is less scepticism and more hope. But we are not yet at the point where violence has definitively ended.

ETA’s declaration that the ceasefire was verifiable led to a demand for verification from elements of Basque society, who wanted to hold ETA to its commitment. They expressed this demand to different international interlocutors, including the International Contact Group. The International Contact Group felt that they had neither the competence nor the desire to verify the ceasefire.

They did not have the competence because their members are experts in human rights and related political issues, not military and security issues. They do not have the desire, because they felt some people perceived them to be partial to one side. I personally do not think they are partial. But in dealing with the situation in Basque country they focused on one side in order to get that side to change. This has led to a perception of partiality. For these reasons they asked members of the commission to look into the possibility of verifying the ceasefire.

We came to Bilbao and met with a range of interlocutors – the Church, the business association, the Partido Nacionalista Vasca, the Partido Socialista de Euskadi and the Izquierda Abertzale. Everybody we met agreed on one main point – the ceasefire must continue.

But they differed in their views about how the ceasefire came about. Some attribute the ceasefire to the successful efforts of the law enforcement agencies – police and intelligence – and effective international cooperation. Others attribute the ceasefire to a change of heart amongst those who share the political perspectives (but not the methods) of ETA. Still others attribute the ceasefire to a combination of both factors, This is a debate that people here will continue to have. We, as a commission, are less concerned with precisely how the ceasefire came about, and more concerned with how to sustain it in the future.

So before we could begin our task and enter into verifying the ceasefire we needed to know that ETA accepted our interpretation of the ceasefire. We felt that the terms “permanent” in the ceasefire was insufficient, because there have been previous so-called permanent ceasefires. We also felt that the term “verifiable” was insufficient, because if we were to verify a ceasefire, it had to be one that had the correct characteristics worthy of being verified. And finally we wanted to ensure that the highest standards of compliance would be met.

It was vital for us that ETA agree with our interpretation that the ceasefire is unilateral and without conditions. Unilateral, in that it is a commitment made solely by ETA irrespective of what the government in Madrid or the government in Bilbao does. And it is without conditions, in that ETA cannot say that someone else or some entity has not done this or that as a reason for violating the ceasefire.

As soon as we received these assurances that ETA agrees with our interpretation of the ceasefire, we put together the commission and arrived in Bilbao.

How will we work?

We depend on you – as key elements of Basque Society – to verify the ceasefire. There are several reasons for this. First you know – better than anyone else – what is going on in Basque Society. Is the ceasefire being fully respected? Is the situation improving or is it getting worse? What are the specific problems people face? And you are in a much better position to know what is going on than we are.

Second – we are a small international group with many other commitments. We cannot be based permanently here. So we have to work with people like you to verify the ceasefire effectively. Without you we simply cannot do this task. We will rely on you to talk to your members and ascertain from them their views and ideas about the ceasefire. How it is working and how it can be improved.

We will then meet with you every few weeks to receive your reports individually and collectively. We will treat these reports with the utmost confidentiality. Once we receive these reports, we will cross check them with other reports we receive. We will then discuss them within the commission and finally make a determination. Once such a determination has been made, we will convey our conclusions to the relevant actors who need to take steps.

We also plan overtime, to develop links to the authorities in Basque Country and in the national government in Madrid to receive their views about the implementation of the ceasefire. There is obviously some information that only government authorities will know. We are just beginning our work. And it is a sensitive time in Spain because of the elections. So we realise that this will take some time to do.

What we will not do?

It is also important that you as our key partners, and Basque society, in general, do not have expectations that we as a small group of outsiders simply cannot fulfill. So we need to be very clear about what we will not do.

We are not a body dealing with political issues, but a technical body dealing with ceasefire related issues. While commissioners may have their own personal views about Spanish politics and Basque politics, this is not our concern as a commission. We cannot and will not address questions like, should some organisation be legalised, or what should happen to prisoners? These are obviously important questions, but it is not for us to engage with them. Our remit is more narrow and limited to ETA’s adherence or not to the ceasefire that they, themselves, have declared.

Neither are we a body dealing with all issues related to ETA or its members as an organisation. We do not have the resources, the time or the capacity to deal with all of ETA’s activities, legal or otherwise. The Spanish and Basque Authorities are in a better position to do so. Again, our task is limited to ETA’s adherence to the ceasefire and whether or not it is fulfilling this commitment.

Finally let me emphasize that we are new to the Basque context. We are learning about the complexity of the issue. And we will make mistakes as we learn. As such, forgive us if, at ­times, we would appear ignorant. With your help and advice we will learn about the specificities of the situation and be able to do our work as well as possible.

We are here in our individual capacities and not as representatives of our respective governments. We will draw on our collective experience in peace processes, law enforcement and military or intelligence s­ervices to do this job. We are at the start of a new process, but we are committed to the task and are here for the long run. Seeing all of you here today and knowing that even those who are not here support us, gives us confidence that Basque Countr­y is moving towards the definitive end of violence.

Thank you.