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A new constitution brings challenges and opportunities for Nepal

21 September 2015

Nepal’s draft constitution was put into effect on 20 September 2015 – eight years after the end of conflict and the day before International Peace Day. Saferworld’s Nepal programme reflects on the major socio-political changes the country is experiencing as a result, and the opportunities and challenges facing the state in implementing the constitution and achieving long-term peace.

Nepal has just undergone the biggest socio-political change since the end of conflict in 2006, with the promulgation of its new constitution. This sets out the new structure of the state, creating seven federal provinces, among other key provisions. Promulgation on 20 September 2015 heralded Nepal’s first federal republic state. While the Government of Nepal is paving the way forward to re-shape Nepal’s political, legislative, public administration, and security landscape, there are also a number of key structural challenges that need to be addressed.

Despite the achievements of the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement in ending the armed conflict in Nepal, the state continues to face difficulties fostering peace and development. Along the southern plains, the Terai, and some hill districts there are rapidly changing socio-political dynamics. The geographic demarcation of the proposed federal structure, discontentment with the proposed draft constitution, religious and ethnic polarisation – as well as increasing fissures in communal harmony between those in hill districts and those from the Madhesh (southern plains) – have all started to lead to direct violence. These outbreaks of conflict, built on longstanding grievances that have not been addressed under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, have resulted in the death of more than 30 civilians and nine security personnel between August and September 2015.

For the past two years Saferworld has been working with community groups, including youth, to foster mutual understanding and cooperation among potentially conflicting groups within Nepal. Through our Community Initiatives for Common Understanding (CICU) project these community members have been collaborating with local government authorities to raise awareness about existing and potential conflicts, and recommending local measures to address the root causes. With the backdrop of the Terai unrest, the project has helped promote social harmony and conflict mitigation efforts through a series of dialogues, meetings, cultural activities, and radio programmes. These activities are bringing together protesting groups, civil society members, and local authorities to facilitate dialogue and underscore the importance of respectful co-existence. Recent activities have brought together more than 1,000 community members, despite the general strike ongoing for nearly a month in their home districts.

The current tensions around Nepal’s constitution promulgation process also highlight the need for strong local capacities to prevent and respond to tensions and violent conflicts. In response we have been working to build the capacity of local civil society organisations on community-based early warning early response (EWER) systems in Nepal. Our partners represent five development regions of Nepal and are demonstrating increased capacity to engage in regional- and district-level conflict and actor analysis. As a result of continued engagement and interaction through a series of workshops and meetings, these local organisations are now able to identify potential tensions and emerging conflict risks that may later escalate into violence [1].

Nepalis have eagerly worked towards the promulgation of a constitution over the last eight years. In light of this achievement and Nepal’s ever-evolving context, International Peace Day (21 September) is a day for communal reflection and acknowledgement. We should all reflect on the steps taken and ardent efforts made to further enhance Nepal’s governance systems; and acknowledge the outstanding grievances and tensions that still exist within Nepal’s social and political fabric – as well as the difficult questions yet to be deconstructed and addressed in a way that is holistic, collaborative, equal, and socially inclusive.

Constructive efforts from every level of society, from the Constituent Assembly down to community members in the remotest villages, are essential for the numerous dialogues yet to come, and to ensure a peaceful promulgation of Nepal’s new constitution, its local ownership, and peaceful implementation. The path will not be easy but using the conflict mitigation and management measures that are available will help iron out any rough patches along the way.

[1] Saferworld’s Capacities for Peace quarterly early warning early response report, synthesising said discussions and analysis, can be found on our partner Nepal Monitor’s website: https://www.nepalmonitor.org/blog/.

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Constructive efforts from every level of society, from the Constituent Assembly down to community members in the remotest villages, are essential for the numerous dialogues yet to come, and to ensure a peaceful promulgation of Nepal’s new constitution, its local ownership, and peaceful implementation.

Saferworld Nepal programme