Notes from the Field

Local Peace Committees in Nepal: A Lost Opportunity?

May 20, 2009

Nepal’s peace process has seen significant achievements in the last three years, but not all has gone well. In retrospect, Local Peace Committees (LPCs) feature as one of the most prominent failures.

Initially, the peace committees were designed to sustain peace by providing a common forum for people to locally implement national peace agreements. LPCs were to promote the notion that the responsibility to maintain peace at the local level lies with the people. They would bring together political parties, NGOs, and relevant local government agencies to prevent potential conflict, resolve them as they arise, and promote peace in the district. Following intense discussions, the LPCs were officially approved by the Cabinet in late 2006.  The Cabinet made provisions for peace committees to be created in each of the 75 districts of the country. However, the committees never could quite achieve any of the stated objectives.

Here’s what I think went wrong.

First, the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction (MOPR) – first led by the Nepali Congress party and, later, by a Maoist minister – never supported the idea of forming a High Level Peace Commission, which was supposed to be the national supervisory body for the peace committees. The lack of a neutral, national structure to monitor them gave the MOPR an opportunity to bureaucratize them, which jeopardized their autonomy and effectiveness.

Second, the LPCs were supposed to be formed only after rounds of local consultations, thus ensuring local ownership and establishing clarity on the LPCs’ concepts, functions, and responsibilities. None of these preparatory steps took place before forming the peace committees.

Third, while political parties made public commitments to launch them – and have mentioned them repeatedly – they have never been serious about LPCs’ implementation. While each Nepali political party supports the idea of the peace committees, implementation has never truly been a priority.

Despite these problems, the peace committees are not dead yet. Nearly 40 LPCs formed under the earlier Terms of References were dismissed a few months ago, but some 20 new committees have since sprung up under a revised Terms of Reference. The Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation has recruited 75 officers to work as peace committee secretaries in each of the districts, and the LPC formation may gain momentum in the coming months. Some of the functional LPCs (for example, in Chitwan and Morang districts) indicate that LPCs could become effective fora to maintain local peace – if they are rolled out properly.

If Nepal is going to sustain peace at the local level, there is no alternative to the LPCs.  The rising ethnic tensions in the Tarai — and in different parts of the country – only underscore how a lack of a local peace structure could aggravate the situation.  Nepal has already paid a price for delays so far. If the government cannot bring all political parties to cooperate on peace committee roll outs, the solution may be for non-governmental organizations to make the LPCs functional.  If such an initiative is taken, there will be support from international community and civil society actors alike. Eventually, the political parties may also join in the effort.

Bishnu Sapkota is The Asia Foundation’s Program Advisor in Nepal. He can be reached at bishnu@taf.org.np.

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