The failure of Nepal's nascent peace process to address the diverse peace needs of marginalized and excluded communities at the grassroots level threatens to undermine possibilities for long-term sustainable peace in the country. Nepalese society has long been characterized by multiple forms of exclusion, divided along fault lines of, inter alia, ethnicity, caste, gender and economic status. Exclusion, in its multifarious forms, is widely recognized to be a major contributing factor to the past decade of conflict in Nepal. The April 2006 Jana Andolan (People's Movement) and subsequent signing of a Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) between the CPN (M) and the Government of Nepal in November later that year, have provided the space within which long-standing grievances contributing to conflict may be addressed and significant steps towards development and long-term peace may be taken.
However, the Nepali peace process remains an exclusive affair with major decisions being taken behind closed doors and with little consultation. Government policy regarding minority rights and issues pertaining to marginalized groups remains insufficient. An example of the impacts of such a policy can be seen in the escalation of tensions within the Madhesi community in the Terai region in recent months, culminating in outbreaks of violence and unrest which the government has thus far been unable to address.
The inclusion of community and civil society voices in national level peace agendas is vital. People's participation in conflict transformation process generates public pressure for policy makers to listen to, and incorporate, their agendas for peace. In this way, the needs and aspirations of the poor and marginalized find their way onto the national agenda, and are more likely to be addressed through policies which have these needs at the forefront. However, many are dubious at the ability of NGOs and other civil society organizations (CSOs) to relay local peace agendas to the policy making level. People's agendas for peace differ greatly throughout Nepal. However, many people at the local level have a strong awareness of the contributing causes of conflict and, correspondingly, the action needed to resolve conflict and consolidate peace. Unless the peace agendas of Nepal's diverse rural population (incidentally those most affected by conflict) are acknowledged and incorporated into national peace agendas, peace is unlikely to be sustainable.
The government-proposed Peace Committees have the potential to be an important step in addressing the needs of communities in the post-settlement context. As a preventative measure, inclusive and locally-owned forums for dialogue will be able to address small, local conflicts before they escalate into wider conflict. As a curative mechanism, the government envisages Peace Committees at the local level to address the need for justice and reconciliation. However, for any locallevel mechanism for dialogue to be successful, policy makers must first acknowledge, understand and build upon existing indigenous dispute-resolution and governance mechanisms, as well as be responsive to diverse local needs, rather than imposing a top-down one-size-fits-all approach.
Building sustainable peace in Nepal requires, first and foremost, that attitudes in Kathmandu are changed to recognize the value and importance of substantive information based upon the needs and experiences of local communities in Nepal. Only then will any government or international-led attempt at community-level peacebuilding be successful.
In view of the findings of the research, following recommendations have been made to different stakeholders involved in conflict transformation and peacebuilding in Nepal at the national as well as the local level.
To the Government of Nepal:
- Acknowledge and incorporate the diversity of people's agendas for peace in rural communities into the national peace agenda through:
- the engagement of civil society in dialogue at both national and local levels
- creating and strengthening forums for vertical dialogue between local and national levels (Peace Committees can play an essential role in this regard)
Regarding Peace Committees
Potentially an important means for addressing local peace agendas are the proposed Peace Committees. In order to be successful these must be inclusive and take into account the diversity of needs and experiences existing at the local level. This report therefore puts forward the following recommendations for Peace Committees:
- Peace Committees need to recognize and learn from past and existing mechanisms for local governance. This includes indigenous mechanisms, the mechanisms and systems of the Maoist ‘People’s Government’, and existing state security provisions. In order for this to be done successfully, further research is needed into the successes and shortcomings of these mechanisms, in particular indigenous processes and their peacebuilding potential, around which little comprehensive research exists.
- Peace Committees need to be locally owned and inclusive if they are to be sustainable. They must take into account the diversity of local peace agendas, including the particular and diverse needs of vulnerable and marginalized groups. These groups must be included in such a mechanism in proportional numbers – only then can there be a real understanding of the needs of local people and effective means for addressing these needs. This would mean that Peace Committees would differ slightly in structure and approach from place to place, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all methodology imposed by policymakers in Kathmandu.
To Nepali Civil Society
- Strengthen ability to deliver local voices to national policy makers by strengthening levels of cooperation between different sectors of civil society.
- Continue to pressure policy-makers by highlighting the problems of exclusion and advocating for a locally-owned and inclusive peace process.
To the Development Community
- Understand and take into account local conflict dynamics and agendas for peace in development programming by undertaking in-depth impact assessments in locations of engagement.
- Adopt conflict-sensitive inclusion policies, i.e. policies which aim to include those belonging to marginalized and vulnerable groups (in recognition of the multiple and diverse forms of marginalization) but also take into account local sensitivities in this regard and do not include one group at the exclusion (real or perceived) of another. This requires careful attention to helping to create an enabling environment through which the needs of marginalized groups/classes can be understood and addressed in the entire community.
- Recognize the diverse experiences, needs and values existing within Nepali society, and within particular groups, in particular the existence of elites within marginalized groups, so that development programmes may address the truly marginalized and the diversity of needs at the local level.
To the Political Parties
- Cooperate and present a united front in advocating for the inclusion of the peace agendas of the constituents they represent into the national peace process through working with civil society to raise local issues at the national level.