Nepali Times
Guest Column
Rollback violence


It has been three years since a comprehensive peace agreement was signed, and a violent civil war came to an end in Nepal. But ordinary people have yet to see any peace dividend.

During the decade of conflict, Nepal's national army increased from 46,000 soldiers to 96,000. Its annual defense budget increased from Rs 4 billion to 12 billion. Nepal today desperately needs at least 60,000 additional primary school teachers and a similar number of pre-school monitors and primary health workers. But we seem not to have enough budget for these national priorities, while we maintain our bloated security apparatus and the upkeep
of 20,000 Maoist combatants in cantonments.

Another tragic development is the widespread availability and use of small arms across the landscape of Nepal. We have an estimated 55,000 small arms and light weapons in the hands of armed gangs, criminals, private militia, and ordinary citizens: far more than the small cache of weapons locked up in the Maoist cantonments.

This is leading to criminalisation of politics and politicisation of violent crimes, particularly in the Tarai and eastern Hills, but increasingly in Kathmandu and other towns as well. The recent spate of kidnapping for ransom, murder and mayhem that have made headlines in Nepal is directly related to the ready availability of small arms, and the glorification of violence that has been nurtured into Nepali politics in the last decade.

In all post-conflict countries, including Nepal, easy availability of such arms makes legitimate law-enforcement increasingly difficult. While we address the culture of violence, it is urgent for all of us, political leaders, civil society activists, concerned citizens, and friends of Nepal, to immediately launch a 'rollback violence' campaign that seeks to make the possession and use of small arms unfashionable, not just illegal.

As a country that saw the spiraling rise of violence in the public sphere in the course of the last dozen years, and as a country which is in the middle of a peace process, Nepal is a perfect place to start a broader campaign for disarmament and human security.

In the name of national security, many countries allocate huge chunks of their budgets to military uses that seriously undermine people's human security. The continuing acceptance of violence as a method of political change further endangers not just human security, but universally accepted human rights and the prospect for faster human development.

We hear much talk about "civilian supremacy" in Nepal these days. Yes, we do need civilian supremacy where ordinary citizens feel that nobody can trample on their fundamental human rights. In a democracy, people have the right to protest, engage in collective bargaining, and press their demands peacefully.

But the concept of civilian supremacy is grossly violated when paramilitary youth groups or sister organisations of political parties subject innocent civilians to violence, intimidation, and extortion with impunity.

Not allowing ordinary people to live in peace, not allowing children to go to school, not allowing innocent passengers to travel on highways, not allowing patients to go to hospitals, not allowing labourers to earn a living, not allowing shop-keepers to open their shops, all these are a violationof civilian supremacy.

We must acknowledge that 'structural violence' of poverty, inequality,exclusion and marginalisation has long persisted in Nepal, but widespread physical violence in public life is a recent phenomenon and a by-product of the decade-long armed conflict.

Let us build a grand alliance of civil society, including religious organisations, the media, parents and teachers associations to put pressure on political parties and other groups that incite or condone violent activities, and help our youth to find peaceful ways of addressing their concerns.

Kul Chandra Gautam is former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. This is an excerpt from his keynote address at the International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security in Kathmandu last week.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)