Local Peace Committees: Still a Model of Cooperation across Conflict Lines
August 5, 2009
Sitting in the small but breezy Local Peace Committee (LPC) office in Nepal’s Rolpa district, LPC Coordinator and Maoist leader Rishi Ram Roka Magar pauses when we ask him if he fears that Nepal is heading toward another war. He contemplates the question with a somber face for a few tense moments, and then his face softens into a smile so large that for a moment he resembles the Cheshire Cat. He tells us that Nepalis from opposite sides of the conflict lines have been working together for the past several years, and people who are interacting with each other through peaceful means are far less likely to fight each other. In his view, the post-war period has enabled Nepalis to become much more aware of the costs of war and the benefits of peace. Now the priorities of the people in Rolpa district are to rebuild and to focus on development and coexistence. “This is coming from somebody who held weapons during the war,” he tells us. “There should be no politics in development.”
LPCs were envisioned by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of November 2006. They are defined as “inclusive committees of political party and civil society representatives which aim to prevent violence and promote reconciliation, dialogue, proactive peacebuilding and inclusive democracy at the district level,” and have been widely recognized as an essential element in Nepal’s national peace process. Although the LPCs are representative of the unique needs of Nepal, they bear a resemblance to local dialogue and conflict resolution forums in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Kosovo, Guyana, and other countries emerging from conflict. The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction (MoPR) is tasked with administrative support, but LPCs are autonomous bodies managed by the people of each of Nepal’s 75 districts. To date, 57 LPCs have been formed since September 2007.
Numerous events in recent months, including the lack of a tangible peace dividend in the aftermath of the elections, the disappointing tenure and subsequent collapse of the Maoist government, and the divisive political reshuffling that accompanied the ascension of the new coalition government, have contributed to a negative shift in Nepal’s political atmosphere. A January 2009 report by SaferWorld found that, “The number of people who think the country is ‘heading in the right direction’ has dropped by 20 percent from 2007.” A recent Nepal Peace Support Project assessment sought to determine how the LPCs in three districts were performing as the national political environment became more hostile.
Rolpa may be a glimmer of much needed light in Nepal’s ongoing peace process. The mountainous district was on the front lines of Nepal’s 10-year insurgency, which killed over 13,000 people and displaced thousands more. We met with Ram-ji two months after the MoPR had established an office and sent administrative personnel to Libang, Rolpa’s remote district capital. Now the LPC has a small full-time staff, a budget, and a respectable place for its members to meet. These small steps have helped to boost the LPC’s credibility.
Rolpa’s LPC had a rocky start at first, but today members from all the major political parties, civil society, and marginalized groups such as women and Dalits work together to address a wide assortment of issues related to the consolidation of Nepal’s peace process. Rolpa’s LPC is designed so that the Coordinator changes every six months, preventing the selection of a leader from degrading into a zero-sum game. Soon a representative from the Nepali Congress will take over from Ram-ji to direct the LPC’s activities, which have included monitoring reconstruction projects in conflict affected villages and conducting joint field visits. The Rolpa LPC has worked with the Chief District Officer to ensure that conflict victims receive compensation, including the families of those killed, disappeared, and disabled during the conflict.
All of Rolpa’s LPC members, regardless of their political or social affiliation, are committed to development and reconstruction, and are working with Nepal’s government to rebuild Jailbhang – one of the worst hit areas during the conflict – into a model peace village. Road construction has begun to connect Jailbhang to Sulichaur and will simultaneously allow Nepali citizens from across the country to witness Rolpa’s transformation and provide this remote village with crucial new economic opportunities.
LPCs still face serious challenges. Many lack vital information on the peace process, guidance and training from the government, and a clear vision of their mandate. Many LPCs have failed to get out of the district capitals to address the far more localized grievances that continue to threaten Nepal’s fragile peace at the village level. Sporadic acts of violence, both criminal and political, continue to afflict the countryside. Many LPCs have not yet found the consensus that is the backbone of successful LPCs like Rolpa. Despite these problems, we found a general consensus that LPCs are important and serve a purpose.
Nepal’s peace agreements will remain “scraps of paper” if local grievances and the root causes of the conflict are not addressed in a localized, inclusive, and participatory process. Thus far, the LPCs have been identified as one of the most promising vehicles for the consolidation of a durable, democratic peace in Nepal. Many individuals in Rolpa are still committed to working for peace, tolerance, and coexistence.
The Asia Foundation, through the Nepal Peace Support Project, plays a critical role in supporting LPC members like Ram-ji on the frontlines of Nepal’s ongoing peace process. Read more about The Asia Foudation’s programs in Nepal.
Joshua Gross and Sneh Rajhandari are interns with The Asia Foundation in Nepal. They can be reached at [email protected].
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