Wednesday, November 29, 2006

NEPAL: PEACE, EQUALITY AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Date: Wednesday 29 November 2006
Subj: Nepal: Peace, equality and religious liberty.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


On 1 February 2005 Nepal's King Gyanendra, backed by the Nepalese Army, dismissed the Prime Minister and his government, seized absolute power in a bloodless coup and declared a state of emergency. He claimed the move was necessary to combat the Maoist insurgency. Civil rights were suspended, the press was muzzled and opposition leaders were imprisoned.

But King Gyanendra did not anticipate the consequences of his royal coup. Not only did it send anti-monarchy sentiment soaring but the royal coup brought Nepal's warring parties together, united and re-focused by their opposition to direct, totalitarian royal rule.

In November 2005 the Maoists met with the seven major opposition political parties in New Dehli, India. With India as mediator they reached an agreement to work together to end the king's rule.

In April 2006, after 19 days of continuous, massive public demonstrations that crippled Kathmandu, King Gyanendra stepped down and handed power to the Seven Party Alliance (SPA). The Maoists declared a ceasefire, the SPA agreed to drop the terrorist label from the Maoists, include them in a future government and release their cadres from prison. The Maoists agreed to end their guerrilla war and eventually lay down their arms.

On 18 May Nepal's new parliament publicly declared that Nepal would no longer be a Hindu Kingdom but would now be a secular state.

On Tuesday 21 November the Maoists and the SPA signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, bringing to an end the decade-long conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives, caused immense suffering, and compounded poverty and hardship nationwide. (Link 1)

Most importantly, the peace agreement reiterates the commitment to uphold civil rights, human rights, equality and religious liberty as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In Article 3.5 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement both parties agree to "End the existing centralised and unitary state system and restructure it into an inclusive, democratic progressive system to address various problems including that of women, Dalits, indigenous community, Madhesis, oppressed, ignored and minority communities, backward regions by ending prevailing class, ethnic, linguistic, gender, cultural, religious and regional discrimination."

Article 7.1.1 reads: "Both parties reaffirm their commitment to respect and protect human rights and international humanitarian law and accept that no individual shall be discriminated on the basis of caste, gender, language, religion, age, ethnic groups, national or social origin, property, disability, birth or any other status, thoughts or conscience." (Link 2)

The Guardian reports: "An interim government is due to be formed on December 1, with rebels getting get 73 of the chamber's 330 seats. The Nepali Congress will remain the biggest party, with 85 seats, and the Maoists will share second place with the Communist party of Nepal. The rest will be held by smaller parties." (Link 3)

The election of the Constituent Assembly is slated for June 2007, after which a new Constitution will be drafted.

New challenges will doubtless present themselves, such as the emergence of religious (Hindu nationalists) political parties and separatism. Jaykrishna Goit's Terai Jantantrik Liberation Front is fanning separatism in the southern lowlands, the Terai (Nepal's "breadbasket") which is populated overwhelmingly by Madhesis. Madhesis form up to 50 percent of the population of Nepal and 95 percent of all Madhesis live in the Terai. The Madhesis are Nepalese of Indian origin and have for decades suffered crippling discrimination, including from the Maoists. Madhesis' grievances and marginalisation will have to be addressed if a new conflict is to be prevented.


Links

1) Comprehensive Peace Accord signed, Armed Insurgency declared officially
over http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/2006/nov/nov21/news12.php

2) Full text of Comprehensive Peace Agreement (21 Nov 2006)
http://www.gorkhapatra.org.np/content.php?nid=6736
or http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/main.htm

Full text of the decisions of the SPA-Maoist summit meeting (8 Nov 2006)
http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/2006/nov/nov08/Full_text_summit_meeting.php

3) Nepal rejoices as peace deal ends civil war
Randeep Ramesh, south Asia correspondent
Thursday 23 November 2006
http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1954695,00.html