By Sourina Bej*
A decade has passed since the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) ending the civil war in Nepal was signed on November 21, 2006 by Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, on behalf of the Maoists, and Prime Minister G.P. Koirala laying the ground for a democratic republic.
Ten years later, the Himalayan country is yet to implement the CPA, pass constitutional amendment, broker peace with the marginalised communities (Madhesi, Janjati, Tharus and Dalits), hold provincial elections, address the question of women’s citizenship and rehabilitate child soldiers.
In ten years, Nepal has seen three constitutions, two political interregnums and a protracted ethnic conundrum between the peoples of the Hill and Terai (the southern plains). The promised devolution of power stands unfulfilled. Except in the 2008 and 2013 elections, the civil society has been largely excluded from political overhauling and the constitution remains the root cause of constant ethnic tensions.
Reconstruction of democracy has gained overall recognition, but it is complicated by the remnants of feudal paternalism with the political elite. This ‘exclusive parliamentary’ politics has fuelled the Madhesi conflict, and ever since the new Constitution was promulgated on September 20, 2015, the conflict has caught the separatist rhetoric.
The Madhesis and Tharus, who together comprise 70 per cent of the Terai population, were sidelined when the seven provinces were carved in the new constitution. Of the 22 districts in the Terai, only eight command constitutional autonomy. The remaining fourteen districts are now a minority (in spite of a large Terai demography) after integration with the Hill provinces.
Protests against the new constitution culminated in an economic blockade starting November 25, 2015. The government, with the support of the Hill people, blamed the tension as a provocation by India, thus, covering up an administrative botch up. The India-Nepal border blockade choked an already limping economy of food, medicine, oil, and trade.
The Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum (Democratic) was initially involved in the constitution-drafting process, but had split when its demand for a single autonomous Madhes Pradesh was rejected. The current government under Prachanda has the mammoth task of not only granting constitutional autonomy to Madhes, but also evolving parliamentary consensus over the same.
It is unlikely that after previous PM K.P. Sharma Oli’s volte-face over Madhesi demands, the ruling alliance (Nepali Congress, CPM-Maoist Centre) and the main opposition Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxists Leninists (CPN-UML) will cooperate. A deep mistrust against the Terai within the ruling Bahun-Chhetri elite will deter sharing of power. In addition, Prachanda lacks a two-thirds majority in Parliament, required to amend the constitution.
An early agreement has been attempted between Madhesi and Prachanda to amend the constitution. But the Oli-led opposition and the Madhesis have rejected the cabinet proposals.
If the constitution isolates the Terai, the three-phase elections (local, provincial and federal) in January 2018 will be impossible. This makes the already contentious constitution questionable.
The only effort on the part of the Nepal government to implement transitional justice mechanism has been the establishment of two commissions — a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a Commission on the Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) in 2015.
Establishing a truthful historical narrative for the country is vital to not only make the government accountable, but instill public confidence in the democratic measures at the grass root level. However, limiting the justice delivery, the commissions have inadequate time and resources to accomplish their respective tasks. A two-year mandate has been given to reconcile more than a lakh of plaints. Fourteen months after their establishment and 10 years after the signing of the CPA, the commissions began ‘inviting complaints’ on April 14 (CIEDP) and April 17 (TRC) of 2015, leaving barely ten months to submit their recommendations.
The conflict-era’s human rights violations like enforced disappearances, torture, extra-judicial killings and sexual violence are unaccounted for, and amnesty to Maoist rebels has led to a trust deficit. People view the Supreme Court as an extension of partisan interest. Most victims hesitate to file complaints with either commission, as they doubt fair judicial relief for victims and protection from threat of physical violence. No detailed information or facts to identify the perpetrators have been filed.
Erstwhile Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli signed an agreement in May 2016, agreeing to withdraw all wartime cases pending in courts and provide amnesty to alleged perpetrators. Currently, with the Maoist-led coalition in power, any form of justice will invite political interference. Moreover, the question of rehabilitation of child soldiers who fought in the Maoist army remains unaddressed.
A contentious issue is that of citizenship for Nepali women married to foreign men and the position of single women. With the new constitution, Nepal joins 27 countries that restrict a woman’s right to pass on citizenship to her child independent of the father’s nationality. Article 11.7 of the constitution states that the child of a Nepali woman married to a foreigner can only avail citizenship by naturalisation. Secondly, under Article 11.5 of the constitution, a person born to a Nepali citizen mother, whose father is not traced, shall be conferred Nepali citizenship by descent. Both the processes of acquiring citizenship require the state’s consent.
Adding to this, women are considered second-class citizens. Victims of sexual violence suffer the most. First, bearing the social stigma, and second, they lack the medical and legal amenity in support of their testimony. Most survivors continue to feel a deep sense of injustice at being left out of reparation and reconciliation mechanisms.
Nepal is ranked 78th on the Global Peace Index 2015. But the peace process has failed to assuage civic frustration and distrust towards the political institution. The former rebel groups (which aided the Maoists in overthrowing the monarchy) led by Netra Bikram Chanda are threatening to take up arms again.
The relevance of the Comprehensive Peace Accord ended when the first Constituent Assembly dissolved. Playing along the ethnic and casteist line with a term-limited pacifist policy by the ruling elite will thus upset an enduring constitutional inclusion.
*Sourina Bej is a post graduate student of International Studies at Stella Maris College, Chennai. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org