A critical phase in consolidating peace in Nepal involves the drafting of a Constitution that tackles the underlying issues of the armed conflict which erupted in the mid-nineties, while addressing the aspirations of the popular movement that resulted in the 2006 political upheaval.
The signing of a locally-initiated, comprehensive peace agreement in 2006 marked a defining moment in Nepal’s history. Drafting a new constitution would be a decisive turning point in the country’s path to peace. If and when a constitution is produced, the Nepali people can truly become the co-authors of the basic charter of the land and the architects of their own destiny.
From the perspective of a Filipino peace practitioner who served as a member of the Constitutional Commission which helped draft the 1987 Philippines Constitution, there are a number of pertinent lessons to be drawn from the Philippines experience of constitution-making – lessons that are readily relevant to crafting a Nepali Constitution that builds sustainable peace.
International Alert’s August 2008 mission to Nepal sought to share these experiences, and to learn from the reflections of a diverse range of actors in Nepal. This included debate and reflections from Constitutional Assembly members, constitutional experts, political party and government representatives, international organisations and diverse range of civil society thinkers and activists.
No two conflict contexts are alike, but certain similarities between Nepal and the Philippines stand out that enable learning and sharing to take place, thereby advancing reflective practice. Three interrelated themes salient to the current challenge of Constitution-making in Nepal stand out in particular: peace, process and people.
Consolidating peace, first of all, involves designing a charter that addresses the aspirations of the people – both the country’s majority, as well as its minorities. To do so, it must respect the triple bedrock of human rights, social justice and people’s participation. Governance, justice and the rule of law, and restructuring the security sector, are important elements to consider in this process.
Secondly, if consolidating peace is to be meaningful, then it must be owned by the people, who should occupy a place at the heart of the constitution-making process. Political leaders and Constituent Assembly members are critical actors, but citizens and civil society organisations are equally important stakeholders, and need to be consulted regularly and in a timely fashion. This process requires the formation of viable institutions and mechanisms to resolve people’s differences, sustaining vigilance and ensuring oversight capacity. These are vital even after drafting the charter, so as to ensure its effective implementation.
Putting people before parties, partisanship and regionalism requires both vision and commitment – a task of immense importance in Nepal. A constitution should thus: empower regions, but strengthen national unity; contextualise federalism and the role it plays in addressing different concerns; and forge a consensus on the people’s priority concerns.
Finally, this modest report identifies a number of key lessons to be learned from the Nepali experience that may contribute to advancing the pursuit of peace in the Philippines and elsewhere. These include the following: strengthening the belief that building peace is possible, step by determined step; believing that a reliable process requires forging relationships, where trust is earned patiently over time; building incremental agreements, while undertaking a marathon journey; generating options from seeming stalemates; and respecting outcomes and results from contentious contexts, while developing a capacity for compromise, which may be necessary to transform situations.