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Where does Nepal stand 17 years after a landmark peace deal?

Where does Nepal stand 17 years after a landmark peace deal?

Seventeen years ago today, the Nepal government and the then Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA), declaring an end to the decade-long armed conflict. 

It was the dawn of a new political chapter for Nepal. The CPA led to the epochal political changes, such as abolition of centuries-old monarchy in 2008 and promulgation of new federal republican constitution in 2015. 

Under the new constitution, Nepal has already held two periodic elections of three-tier governments—federal, provincial and local governments. The Maoist party has embraced parliamentary democracy and the management of Maoist combatants, one of the vital tasks of the peace process, has been completed. 

Among other notable progress are greater representation of ethnic communities and women in state mechanisms and devolution of powers to the local level with decentralization of services. In fact, Nepal today is regarded as one of the most open, democratic, and inclusive societies in South Asia.

But it has not been all positives. 

The issue of transitional justice still remains pending and thousands of conflict victims are still awaiting justice; the social-economic transformation envisaged by the CPA still eludes the country; and the major parties’ failure to deliver, mainly on service delivery and economic fronts, has caused frustrations among people.

Put simply, Nepal continues to grapple with the age-old problems caused by poor political leadership. The country’s economy is in shambles, corruption is entrenched, and job opportunities are hard to come by. Successive governments, all led by the three big parties—Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, and CPN (Maoist Center)—at one time or another, have failed to address these issues. 

This failure has eroded people’s faith in the system, and some traditional rightist forces are trying to exploit this crisis of trust to undo the progress made so far. Talks about restoration of monarchy, dismantling federalism and reverting to a Hindu nation are gaining traction. 

Of late, there have been systematic efforts to sabotage the 2015 constitution, one of the major achievements of CPA. Already, there are indications of fraying social harmony and religious tolerance, something unprecedented in Nepal’s recent political history. 

“It is imperative that all political parties that champion democracy and republicanism  collectively stand up against regressive elements,” says CPN-UML leader Deepak Prakash Bhatta. 

He warns if the transitional period that began with signing of CPA prolongs, all the political gains for which the people and political parties fought for could be at risk.   Suman Adhikari, a conflict-victim, says leaders of major political parties used the peace process as a ladder to reach to power and abandoned the agenda of conflict-victims. 

“We are fed up with hollow promises and rhetorics. There has been little progress when it comes to providing justice to us.”  Adhikari adds: “The issue of weapon management was a threat to the politicians, so they resolved it immediately. But when it comes to us powerless victims, they are happy to stay quiet.”  The two transitional justice bodies formed to investigate and settle the conflict-era crimes are without any office-bearers for a long time, while the laws governing the transitional justice process also need amendments.  

But even after the amendments to the laws and formation of a fully functioning all-acceptable transitional justice commissions, it could take years to investigate all war-era cases.  Although Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is seeking the support of political parties as well as the international community to conclude the peace process, it is easier said than done. 

Dahal wants to conclude the peace process under his leadership because he and other senior leaders from his party are the ones facing cases of war crimes and human rights violations. The Maoist prime minister wants to ensure safe landing for himself and his party leaders who could technically be arrested anywhere under the universal jurisdiction of human rights. 

While addressing the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) earlier this year, Dahal sought the support of the international community to conclude the peace process. He repeated this during his Beijing trip after meeting with communist party leaders as well. Amid pressure not to opt for blanket amnesty when it comes to cases of serious crimes and human rights violation, the prime minister has been assuring the international community that the transitional justice process will be in line with the international practice. 

“We are now closer to logically concluding our unique, nationally owned, and home-grown peace process. Completing the remaining tasks of transitional justice is on my top political agenda,” Dahal told the UNGA. “As prime minister and a co-signatory of the Comprehensive Peace Accord, I have been making serious efforts to bridge the gap and gaps and build consensus among key stakeholders.”

But not everyone is convinced, certainly not the conflict victims.  

“We are the major stakeholder in the transitional justice process, and yet they are the ones whose concerns and voices are being neglected by the government and major political parties,” says Adhikari. The Dahal-led government has presented an amendment bill related to transitional justice in Parliament which has again drawn criticisms from the international community for its shortcomings. 

The prime minister has defended the bill stating that it evolved through a wider consultative process, while taking a victim-centric approach and recognizing reparation as victims’ right.

In his address to the UNGA, Prime Minister Dahal said: “There will be no blanket amnesty for serious violations of human rights. The ultimate objective is to establish an enduring peace in the country and foster harmony in society through peace, justice and reconciliation.”  He also appealed to the international community for their goodwill and support to the conclusion of the final leg of the peace process and to duly recognize this rare example of successful conflict transformation.

But forging a consensus on the transitional justice process is still an uphill task for the Dahal government. He has yet to bring other political parties, including the main opposition, CPN-UML, into confidence on the contents of the law. Dahal worked very hard to endorse the transitional justice bill from the winter session of Parliament but he failed to do so.

Observers say Prime Minister Dahal may not have his moment of glory by concluding the peace process so long as the other two main political parties—Nepali Congress and CPN-UML—continue to use the issue of transitional justice as a political bargaining chip.    All political parties must take the onus to deliver justice to the conflict victims, but this has not been the case so far. 

Political analyst Chandra Dev Bhatta says the CPA only managed direct confrontation between the state and non-state actors, while giving birth to a society-centric conflict.  “Nepali politics and parties failed to embrace the spirit of the peace accord. As a result, there are still problems in society. Some of the residues of conflict are yet to be addressed which is a prerequisite to achieve a durable peace in society.”  Nepal needs a wider political consensus to conclude its long-drawn-out peace process and to eventually embrace the path of growth and prosperity, which has not happened in the past 17 years.