Every human being has a God-given right to a life of dignity free from fear and want, and it is the duty of the state to do all in its power to realise this right. Scarcity of resources has of course to be acknowledged as a limiting factor, and it is obvious that not all needs can be satisfied at once. What matters is a systematic process aimed at supporting first of all those who suffer most from deprivation and violation of their rights.
Over the years the concept of human rights was often distorted by political rhetoric. Civil and political rights on the one hand and economic and social rights on the other were regarded not as two sides of the same coin, but as competing visions for the world's future.
We have now moved beyond that confrontational discussion to a wider recognition that both sets of rights are inextricably linked. The goal is to achieve all human rights-civil, cultural, economic, political and social-for all people. Access to basic education, health care, shelter and employment is as critical to human freedom as political and civil rights is.
So, what are the links between human rights and peace, and what can we do for conflict prevention and peace-building in Nepal? Much of the work related to building peace needs by its very nature to be confidential. Public statements on issues of substance can be counterproductive, as we have seen during the negotiations last year. Nevertheless process elements of a comprehensive multifaceted strategy can be outlined. These relate to work at the community level, preparatory steps for formal negotiations, capacity building, human rights, confidence building and good governance.
It is now generally accepted that peace and development are two sides of the same coin. Without peace there can be no development, and without development no peace. Similarly I would say that without respect for human rights there can be no peace, and without peace there can be no observation of human rights. To see this, it is necessary to touch on the root causes of the conflict.
While the conflict in Nepal has no doubt a political, ideological and even geopolitical dimension, its main root causes are social and economic, related to frustrated expectations that came with the advent of democracy, related to abject poverty that persists for a large percentage of the population, related to poor and inefficient delivery of social services in areas such as education and health, related to inequality, exclusion and discrimination.
A large percentage of the population of Nepal, in particular Dalits and members of ethnic groups, feel that they are politically and economically excluded, unable to contribute to decisions that affect their lives and unable to benefit from the economic advancement of the nation. The most recent draft of the 10th Five - year plan says this more clearly and better than I could ever formulate it.
The conflict is first and foremost a Nepali problem. Nepali actors will, therefore, have to find appropriate solutions and whatever assistance can be provided from the outside will have to be given in a strictly supporting role under the leadership of Nepali actors and with the full agreement of all concerned.
A five-point multipronged approach is required:
1. Work at the community level
The resolution of conflict and overcoming of violence has to take place to a significant extent at the community level to address the root causes of conflict such as exclusion, discrimination and corruption. Over the years of my stay in Nepal, I have seen many examples of communities who were genuinely empowered. Good governance at the decentralized level can also go a long way in addressing the root causes of conflict, improving delivery of social services, overcoming poverty and creating hope for a better future.
2. Formal Negotiations
Jumping to the other end of the spectrum, formal peace negotiations (Track I) will, of course, be needed. Hopefully they will begin soon. If and when nobody knows. In the meantime, much preparatory work can be done, addressing key issues that will eventually be before the negotiators. Experience from other countries shows that informal consultations involving relevant actors including political parties can be helpful in enhancing understanding and narrowing differences. As a first step the preparation of technical papers by Nepali experts could be facilitated on key issues such as grievances of the excluded and poor, good governance, amendment of the constitution, integration of youth and comprehensive development packages that will have to be part of a comprehensive peace agreement.
3. Track II
Back channel contacts (Track II) can go a long way in preparing the ground for successful formal negotiations. Exposing negotiating teams from all sides to international experience, building their capacity and possibly providing opportunities for informal contacts could be invaluable in moving forward. Case studies from different parts of the world illustrate typical mistakes and pitfalls experienced under similar circumstances. There is no need for Nepal to repeat these mistakes.
4. Human rights
We have seen the report of the National Human Rights Commission, and there can be no doubt that the current human rights situation in Nepal gives reason to serious concern. Unless and until all sides make a firm commitment and implement their commitment to fully respect human rights there can be no solution to the present conflict. Also no side will be able to win the hearts and minds of the people as long as they violate human rights.
5. Confidence building measures
Confidence building measures will be invariably required if the peace process is to succeed. Without trust and confidence there can be no successful negotiations. Effective links could be established between the observation of human rights and the building of confidence. An agreement by both sides to allow the unimpeded access of food and medical supplies to the needy, to strictly observe international human rights and humanitarian principles as enshrined in Article 3 of the Geneva Convention could be a strong building block for trust and confidence. Appropriate monitoring mechanisms need to be established in this context.
There are other elements that are important as part of a multidimensional solution to a multifaceted problem, like a comprehensive approach to good governance including overcoming corruption and genuine decentralisation must be part of the long-term solution. Awareness creation and generating a culture of peace at all levels of society through peace marches will be significant.
Nobody knows whether formal peace negotiations will begin in the near future. Even so, much can be done now to initiate a comprehensive peace process.
(Dr Henning Karcher is UNDP Resident Representative in Nepal, and the above comment is based on a statement he gave on the occasion of Human Rights Day 2002 in Kathmandu on Tuesday.)