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Nepali Ambassador in USA Speech On Nepal

The Asia Society Program in New York on 4 May 2005

Kedar Bhakta Shrestha (His Excellency Nepali Ambassador in USA)

Nepal flashes in the global news once in a while. We are glad that it flashes more often in the hearts and minds of our friends and well-wishers around the world as a land of the majestic Himalayas including Mt. Everest, the holy birth place of Lord Buddha, and most important of all, a friendly people.

We value the support we receive from our international friends, and we seek their proper understanding towards our national needs and aspirations.

Our relations with the United States of America are deep and strong. I am delighted to note that our relations at the popular level are also evolving satisfactorily in recent years.

For reasons of time and assuming that most of you are already aware of Nepal's recent history and political developments, I would like to directly address some of the curiosities we often encounter in such gatherings from our critics as well as friends and well-wishers these days. These are the issues of insurgency, human rights and democracy.

However, to put things into a proper perspective, let me briefly recall that the year 1990 marked a major transition in the political life of Nepal as a nation. It ushered Nepal into a new era of multiparty democracy by dismantling the erstwhile political dispensation characterized by the absence of political parties. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990 firmly established the system of multiparty democracy, the parliamentary system of government, and the constitutional monarchy in the country. And, that Constitution remains the fundamental law of the land today.

Initial popular euphoria over the advent of the multiparty democracy began to gradually recede as the successive elected governments engaged themselves more in internal squabbles than in working for the welfare and wellbeing of the common people. By the year 1999, three parliamentary elections were held. People enthusiastically participated in the general elections expecting their leaders to honestly work for them. However, none of the three parliaments could complete its five-year term simply because of self-induced infirmities and weaknesses amongst the political leaders. Nepal's democracy began to be characterized as a worst model of political infighting and instability.

Almost all the major political parties were formally split within a decade or so not because of any substantial policy differences amongst the leaders, but because of personality clash and the unrelenting quest for power.

Insurgency

The problems of poverty, exploitation, inequality and social discrimination were left largely unattended. Corruption crippled the entire system. This created a fertile ground for some politically disgruntled Communist ideologues to sow the seeds of dissent and rebellion in the Nepalese society. And, this is how the Maoist insurgency cropped up in Nepal in early 1996.

Inattention during the initial years and a state of political vacuum created at the local level in absence of local elections made room for the Maoist insurgents to launch their so called people's war in the remote outskirts of the country. A reign of terror has been unleashed by them against the innocent people of rural Nepal.

As the security challenges increased, the past governments had to roll back part of the State's security apparatus to focus on priority areas, thus unwittingly conceding more leeway to the insurgents.

The first major attack against the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) was made by the Maoists in November 2001 which instantly prompted the government to declare a state of emergency and to mobilize the RNA to contain and control the insurgents. With this, the conflict entered a new and more challenging phase.

The insurgents, who were by then declared terrorists, were engaged in extortion, kidnapping, indiscriminate killing of political opponents, terrorizing people and issuing threats or use of force to unsupportive people. Meanwhile, attempts to bring the Maoists to the negotiation table were also made by the government.

Accordingly, two rounds of negotiations were held, but the insurgents remained adamant in their extreme political demands which included dismantling the Constitution and doing away with the more-than-two-centuries-old institution of Nepalese monarchy. In other words, this meant conceding the installation of a universally discredited and outdated system of one-party Communist dictatorship in place of multiparty democracy.

As the insurgents showed no signs of coming to the mainstream of national politics under the existing multiparty parliamentary framework by eschewing violence and terror tactics adopted by them, the State was bound to act with firmness and determination for the sake of maintaining peace and security in the country. The security forces were therefore mobilized throughout the country to protect the life and livelihood of the common people.

The Royal Nepal Army has been very successful in taking on the insurgents in the last few months and with this serious cracks have now begun to appear at the top level of the Maoist leadership.

The insurgency is a problem mired in poverty, injustice and alienation. We therefore have to address these social problems in an appropriate way while trying to resolve the problem of insurgency for good. And, His Majesty's Government believes that the insurgency issue can be dealt with internally and without the direct involvement of any third party.

Human Rights

Nepal is fully aware of its obligations under international law. We have made clear our commitments to human rights and international humanitarian laws publicly and unequivocally.

A National Human Rights Commission has been in existence as a watch-dog agency headed by a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nepal.

Nepal has recently concluded an arrangement with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to enhance technical assistance for the protection and promotion as well as observance of human rights, including through monitoring of human rights by establishing an OHCHR Office in Nepal.

Dozens of human rights organizations are independently working in Nepal.

The Army and the security forces are getting trainings and education on respecting the human rights of the people. Human rights courses have been included in the curriculum of the RNA Staff College. Human rights cells have been set up at the Army Headquarters as well as at the operational levels in the field.

Persons responsible for deliberate and willful violations of human rights are punished. So far, more than 100 security personnel have been already punished, some of them as severely as with imprisonment of up to seven years in jail.

There has been a substantial improvement in the human rights record of the RNA in recent months. Allegations of increasing human rights abuses and violations by the security forces are often exaggerated and unfounded.

As for disappearances, a high-level committee has been examining reported cases of disappearances and it has already brought out six reports so far. The investigation continues. It appears that several pseudo-names of a single person tend to give a false impression as to the total number of such disappearances.

Democracy

There is no question that democracy is the order of the day. The Nepalese people love democracy, and choose democracy as their way of life.

In his recent TIME interview, His Majesty King Gyanendra has said: "Look, democracy is here to stay. No one will be able to get rid of it. And the institution of the monarchy will see to it that no one can get rid of it."

We all know that no two democracies in the world are exactly alike. And differences do matter in a democracy. However, what matters most is who makes the decision for whom and how? A representative government accountable to the people, periodic elections, separation of power, civil liberties, and respect for human rights are some of the fundamental characteristics of a functioning democracy.

Nepal's democratic exercise in the last 14 years has seen many ups and downs. However hard it may have been, we have stayed the course and we are determined to re-energize the multiparty democracy in the country. There is no going back, and there is no reason for anyone to be pessimistic about the future of democracy in Nepal.

The biggest threat to Nepal's democracy has been the Maoist insurgency. It has disturbed election schedules; it has caused political instability; it has led to colossal damage and destruction of physical infrastructure and public property; it has terrorized and dislocated hundreds of thousands of people; and it has taken the lives of more than 11,000 people in the last 9 years.

This has to stop. Democracy has to be functional. And people must be the direct beneficiary of our democratic set up.

The Royal initiative of 1 February 2005 is guided by the honest desire of his Majesty the King to protect and promote a fully functional democracy in the country which really works for the benefit of the common people of Nepal.

Security situation has significantly improved in the country.

The state of emergency has been lifted.

The Constitution is now fully functional.

Political leaders have been freed from house arrest.

Preparations for holding municipal elections within this year (2062 BS) are now underway. This will pave the way for general elections in the country.

These are all positive developments geared towards strengthening democracy in the country.

His Majesty the King has already laid down a road map for peace, stability and elections so as to bring the derailed process of democracy back on track as early as possible.

In his recent TIME interview, His Majesty has said he wants the political leaders to come forward with their perceptions on four things:

a.on our fight against terror

b.on our fight against corruption

c. on fiscal discipline, and

d. on strengthening the bureaucracy to make it more result-, people- and service oriented.

These are crucial issues, and need to be urgently addressed in the larger interest of the country and the people. The government is willing to build an understanding with the political parties and involve them constructively in facing the ongoing problem of terrorism in the country. Our political leaders need to rise to the occasion, free themselves from petty personal and partisan interests, and show the courage and determination to work for the long term interest and welfare of the country and the people of Nepal.

Peace is the foremost need of the hour. The Nepali people want peace, security and prosperity after suffering from a series of mindless violence and conflict for the last nine years. Our political leaders and advocates of democracy should try to fathom the intensity of the prevalent popular mood for peace and join forces with the government in defeating terrorism so as to accelerate the restoration of a fully functional multiparty democracy in the country.

ENDS

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