Thursday, May 2, 2013

Striving for sustainable peace

Seven years after the historic peace agreement, Nepal still struggles to restore peace

Tulasa Pariyar, 23, joined the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army (PLA) when she was still in Grade VI at a local school in the remote district of Rolpa. Not only did she drop her studies but also put everything, including her family and personal life, at risk for the party she joined.

The armed conflict formally came to an end in 2006 with the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the CPN (Maoist) signing the historic Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA). But this has failed to bring any respite in her personal life. Instead, she’s now passing through a battle of a different form – a struggle to live a decent life in society.
“We had a dream to win the whole world when we joined the Maoists. But the reality now is totally different,” says Pariyar.

Maoist combatants performing during a function organized to formally bring them under Special Committee on January 22, 2011 in Shaktikhor, Chitwan.

After signing of the CPA, Pariyar, like her comrades, began living in the cantonment where she fell in love with and subsequently married a boy from the Chhetri community with the Party’s consent. But as the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) ‘disqualified’ her later during the verification process, only then Pariyar realized that her life was actually battered.

Worse still, this mother of a two-year old son was also not accepted as daughter-in-law in her new family as she is from a Dalit community.

“All I’ve known is how to use guns. I feel my life is ruined,” adds frustrated Pariyar who has a strong feeling of rebellion against her own party and the government.

Tulasa is a typical case in a point. As the integration process of the Maoist army- a key component of the Peace Process – draws close to its end, frustrations and disenchantment of the people who were either directly part of the conflict or were subjected to sufferings, tortures and loss of family members at the hand of the rebels or the state are reaching their tipping point.

UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal (L) and then Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal exchanging an agreement at a function held in Shaktikhor, Chitwan to bring former Maoist combatants under Special Committee on January 22, 2011.

“There’s a wrong notion that the Peace Process is just about the management of former Maoist combatants. But it in a real sense is addressing various social problems that were created in the course of the conflict,” says former Minister for Peace Rakam Chemjong who is now Vice Chairman of the newly formed Federal Socialist Party.

The government formed a separate Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction (MoPR) in April, 2007 in the aftermath of the signing of the CPA to support the technical aspects of the Peace Process, including the implementation of the provisions of the CPA both at political and post-war reconstruction works at development level.

“The Ministry is doing all it’s mandated to do. Besides post-conflict reconstruction and other peace-building initiatives, we’re also working to addressing the concerns of conflict victims to ensure sustainable peace in the country,” says newly appointed Peace Secretary Dharanidhar Khatiwada who holds expertise in conflict management. The process will further be expedited once the proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) takes shape and starts its actual works.

But as political parties stand oddly over a provision of granting general amnesty even to those involved in serious cases of human rights violations during the conflict in the proposed ordinance on the TRC, there are apprehensions as to whether the TRC would provide justice to victims concerned in a real sense and contribute to establishing a lasting peace in the country.

While some 17,831 people were killed, some 1,517 were disappeared, and 8,191 were rendered physically handicapped. Likewise, the number of orphaned children has stood at 522; they are provided Rs 5,000 each as monthly allowance, according to the MoPR.

Kiran Pun
Tulasa Pariyar with her son

Return of the unjustly seized properties
Return of the unjustly seized properties during the conflict to their rightful owners and helping the displaced people in the conflict go back home was one of the important agreement clauses reached at in the 12-point understanding, the CPA and subsequent agreements among political parties. Victims, however, complain that little has been done so far in this regard from the government as well the former rebel party.

Though UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal himself reached Bardiya at the end of 2011 to kick-start the process, a strong resistance from the Mohan Baidya-led faction had left the plan aborted.

“Let alone the properties of ordinary public, my own property is yet to be returned despite repeated assurances from local administration and top leadership of the Maoist Party,” rues NC Central Working Committee (CWC) member K B Gurung whose properties were unjustly seized by the Maoists during the conflict. All land belonging to Gurung’s family in Danabari VDC is unjustly seized by Maoist cadres since 2002.

Former Peace Minister Chemjong said though the government provided some relief to displaced conflict victims, it’s yet to provide them with reparation and compensation. What’s worse is there’s no exact data in the first place as to how many people were actually displaced during the conflict. While one report suggested that there were 72,000 displaced persons, another report prepared by a task force showed the number to be 102,000.

Post-conflict reconstruction of destroyed infrastructures

However, there have been remarkable achievements at the front of reconstructing physical infrastructures, including government buildings destroyed during the conflict.

“We’ve already handed over 2,896 buildings after their reconstruction. Many others are currently under construction,” said Deputy Spokesperson at the MoPR Prem Prasad Sanjel.

Though government data shows that only 5,560 buildings were destroyed during the conflict, unofficial data put the number to over 7,000. Officials said the MoPR completed construction 99 destroyed police buildings through partner ministries and another 171 destroyed police outposts in different parts of the country are currently in construction phase. The Peace Trust Fund, a joint government-donor initiative, has already invested Rs 14.47 billion for 55 various such projects in four major thematic areas so far.

Sanjel said preliminary estimation put the loss of physical properties incurred during the conflict at Rs two billion. “But the estimation appears to have been so while taking into account the value of the properties at the given time. The amount of loss, if we take account at the current value, will reach far higher,” he added.

Management of ‘disqualified,’ ‘voluntary retired’ combatants
From the time the former Maoist combatants began living in seven main cantonments and 21 satellite cantonments across the country, the MoPR had taken the responsibility to oversee the management of the former combatants as part of the CPA. While 19,602 were verified by the UNMIN, 4,008 other combatants living in the cantonments were released later

by the UNMIN saying they were ‘disqualified.’ The management of the former combatants is now over with 1,444 of those verified combatants choosing to go for integration with Nepal Army, 13,822 others for voluntary retirement with cash package, and the remaining six combatants opting for rehabilitation.

According to expenditure details submitted by the MoPR to the Special Committee, altogether Rs 15.02 billion was spent for the management of former Maoist combatants who started living in various cantonments after the CPA. While Rs 9.61 billion was spent from state coffers, the remaining Rs 5.41 billion was covered by the Peace Fund consisting of amounts donated by various donor countries.

But as the disqualified combatants started staging protests, the Ministry took a decision to also provide cash incentives to them. “We are currently providing identity cards to those disqualified by the UNMIN,” said officials at MoPR. Though there was an agreement to provide Rs 200,000 each of the disqualified combatants, the process has been stopped by a verdict from the Supreme Court.

Bolstering peace through negotiation with disgruntled groups
Emergence of armed groups after the end of violent armed conflicts is considered a natural phenomenon. Taking advantage of fragile law and order situation after a political transition in the country, dozens of armed groups created havoc in various parts of the country, mainly in the southern plain areas.

“The Ministry held negotiations with 54 armed groups that have already come to mainstream peaceful politics after renouncing violence. Altogether, 151 various kinds of weapons were received from those groups,” Deputy Spokesperson Sanjel further said. “This has helped improve law and order situation in the country and made all places in the country equally livable in view of security situation.”

Peace and reconciliation at local level
With the objective of promoting reconciliation and peace at the local level, the MoPR initiated formation of peace committees comprising members of all major political parties at the VDC and the district levels.

“We’ve already formed such peace committees in 2,162 of the total 3,914 VDCs and 29 of the total 58 municipalities and district level peace committees in all 75 districts,” said Joint Secretary at MoPR, Laxmi Kumari Basnet who heads the Peace Mechanism Coordination Division. These committees have also helped fill the vacuum that exists in the absence of elected representatives in local bodies.

Way ahead
As there are concerns raised from opposition parties that the cash incentives were provided only to the leaders and cadres associated with then rebel party, former minister Chemjong said there must be impartiality in all the works of the MoPR, including while providing compensation and reparation to conflict victims.

“And since the Peace Ministry is formed exclusively to assist the Peace Process, the Ministry should be further strengthened as restoring sustainable peace still has a long way to go in the country,” he further said.

Though the issues of reparation and compensation to conflict victims and reconstruction of demolished infrastructure and income generating skills and opportunities for former combatants and conflict victims are important elements of the Peace Process, experts argue that sustainable peace in the country will also depend largely on whether political parties show real commitment to address serious cases of human rights violations during the conflict.

“The society could relapse to another form of conflict if the cases of serious human rights violations aren’t addressed properly,” says Bishnu Sapkota who has been working for conflict transformation and peace process in Nepal. This depends on the commitment and willpower of the political leadership.

Peace process does not end with integration:
Dharanidhar Khatiwada, Secretary, MoPR

Many people tend to question the relevance of MoPR, arguing that the Peace Process is already completed with the integration of former Maoist combatants in the Nepal Army. Any comment on this?

This is absolutely a wrong notion. The Peace Process doesn’t come to an end with just the integration of former combatants. To put in other words, peace building is more than just a post-conflict reconstruction. It emerges through a complex phenomenon involving a full array of processes, approaches and stages and signifies a range of activities and structures before, during and after formal peace agreement between signatory parties.

What plans has the MoPR implemented for relief and rehabilitation of conflict victims?
We’ve launched a relief and rehabilitation project to provide people directly or indirectly affected by the conflict. These include widows, families of the deceased, displaced persons, martyrs’ families and financial support to the conflict victims. A total of 152,445 people have been identified for claims under these heads. Of them, 80,277 have already received  Rs 48.91 million. Likewise, a separate US$50 million worth of Emerging Peace Support Project is being implemented by the MoPR under International Development Association (IDA) with an objective to provide interim cash transfers and services to eligible conflict-affected groups.

Are there any works being done to manage conflict situation in the country?
We have a separate division working for this at the Ministry. This has actively taken part in the various negotiations and talks not only in the resolution of the conflict but also to promote the overall Peace Process. Its major project of Mine Action initiated by the Peace Fund Secretariat has reached completion. Also, it held talks with various disgruntled groups, including armed groups operating in various parts of the country.

What do you think needs to be done to make the Peace Ministry effective in its works?
The MoPR has a very broad and challenging mandate involving technical and development tasks as well as peace policymaking mandates. Particularly the latter ones, including mainstreaming of peace-related policies into other ministries, form a substantial challenge. In the given environment of the ongoing Peace Process and the setup of government institutions, the MoPR has limited convening power and at the same time needs to rely on other ministries to implement its programs. This has resulted in a gap between the mandate and actual functions and activities.

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