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Kamala Sarup: Civil Society And Peace

Civil Society And Peace

By Kamala Sarup

We cannot forget how civil society actors have played crucial roles in cases where violent conflicts have been averted or resolved. This has been demonstrated by the more successful (but less publicized) cases of Sierra Leone's transition from military to democratic rule and the ongoing conflict between Tuareg insurgents and the government in Mali.

Nepal also has to remember how South Africa is repeatedly noted as an example of political power-sharing during a critical period of transition. Elsewhere in the world, Cambodia has recently undertaken a venture in power-sharing that has not only allowed a transition from war to peace, but has sidelined the genocidal Khmer Rouge. India has managed to hold its extremely diverse society together through a democratic system that, despite its flaws, provides a forum for addressing minority grievances.

Malaysia has devised a unique system for sharing political and economic power among divergent ethnic groups that has contained the fissiparous tendencies that dogged the country following its independence. There is thus a wide range of models from which the leaders of Nepal and civil society can draw in devising effective structures for power-sharing.

We must now understand that violence has caused an enormous loss to the nation. The government decision to compensate the Maoist victims is a most welcome move because no Nepali would ever benefit from violence and conflict.

The Nepalese now know that how socio-economic disparities and injustices are persistent features of most conflict-prone and war-torn societies. How have violent conflicts prevented economic and social development in Nepal? How are the major political parties concerned with getting a share of the power pie for themselves rather than working to translate the people's desire into permanent peace?

Whoever be the user of arms, it is always harmful to the smooth functioning of the society and the nation. Whenever a bitter infighting like the one in Nepal is brought to an end, it naturally gives a tremendous boost to peace and a genuine hope for happy, free and secure life begins to grow.

So, civil society has important and effective roles to play in conflict resolution. The government's efforts alone are not sufficient in dealing with the multiple causes of conflict in Nepal because it often is the party to a conflict. A lasting peace plan should begin by addressing the immediate needs of the average Nepalese people— their access to water, education, health, agriculture and so on. There is, equally, a crisis of the economy and of development at large.

This concept of a lasting peace is based on the belief that we can build a better Nepal through discourse, mutually beneficial interaction and the determination of common values. Regional, gender and cultural balance should be maintained and fundamental human security which should be respected and protected in the peace process. We all Nepalese are committed to peace, which provides security to the people and peace for generations.

Therefore, the role of civil society at the peace talks is crucial and they will remain an important part of the process. But the civil society is institutionally very weak in Nepal with the coalition and networking among civil society is virtually lacking.

Once violence is allowed to become a means of addressing such internal political problems, the ability to resolve the conflict is greatly complicated. But civil society and governments can play complementary roles. Civil society must demonstrate a strong commitment to moving beyond analysis and deeper understanding to actually undertaking concrete actions in their respective sectors.

Finally, civil society actors and institutions must be committed to supporting each other's efforts through a sharing of experiences, knowledge and information. The opinion of civil society must be considered in the decision-making process leading to the waging of armed conflict

During on-going violent conflict the roles of civil society actors are more circumscribed, but may include: providing necessary channels for dialogue in crisis situations; facilitating and mediating in conflict situations; mobilizing and uniting communities in support of peace; and providing essential social services and humanitarian support.

Effective conflict prevention, therefore, requires the design of institutions and strategies that address the sources of conflict both before it initially erupts and once violence has been quelled.

Given the failure of the existing development paradigms in Nepal, there is an urgent need for Nepali civil society to formulate and promote alternative development strategies that are friendly toward both entrepreneurs and the environment, and are rooted in Nepali realities and traditions.

Even an important challenge facing Nepali civil society involves the building of a democratic culture both in government and in civil society and toward building political systems that promote respect for basic human rights and give citizens a voice in determining who governs them.

At the same time, there is an important role for civil society and the Nepali community more broadly. The civil society also play an important role in facilitating the "truth and reconciliation" type of tribunal by systematically exploring and sharing lessons from other countries' experiences.

Finally, confidence-building requires a focus on process. It is helpful to conceive of confidence-building less as "measures" and more as the institutionalization of a permanent dialogue between parties.

With the help of civil society, government's should aim to strengthen the national self-confidence and social fabric of traumatized peoples, to encourage and help them to overcome enormous human security challenges. This challenge involves three critical components, the development of power-sharing mechanisms, the economic disparities. Civil society can thus be seen as an important part of the natural immune system of the body politic, which should be mobilized to prevent conflict and to help resolve the factors which give rise to conflicts.


(Kamala Sarup is editor of )

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