Country Background Information
Nepal is a small country in South Asia bordering China and India with an estimated population of 28 million. This landlocked country is endowed with national resources. In the north, evergreen mountains and the snow-capped Himalayan mountains crown Nepal with their beauty home to Mt. Everest, the world's highest mountain peak. The southern area known as the Tarai forms the agricultural heart of Nepal and was the birthplace of the Buddha. It is a country of diverse ethnic groups, languages, religions and cultural riches.
The "People's War"
November 21, 2006 is an historic day in Nepal as it marks the day that the Maoists and the government signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, ending a decade-long civil war, the so-called "People's War." The Maoists began their violent insurgency in February 1996 from the western mountain region of Nepal with the intention of overthrowing the constitutional monarchy and establishing a republic. In the beginning of the conflict, the Maoists created liberation fronts among various oppressed ethnic groups such as the Magars, Gurungs, Tharus and Dalits. They planned to encircle the cities from the villages and to ultimately take over the country. Between 1996 and 2000, the government and the Maoists conducted a series of successive peace negotiations and several ceasefires. In that period, the Maoists generated much power and public support. Nonetheless, not all of their recruits joined willingly; the Maoists often forced students and young people from the villages to join their cause. In fact, it is estimated that 80% of the Maoist militias were under the age of 30 with one-third being under the age of 18.
The conflict caused international donor agencies to pull out their development funds. Youth and local non-governmental organizations that had committed to community development, social justice and human rights were caught in the middle. As a result of the insurgency, more than 13,000 people were killed and around 100,000 - 150,000 people were internally displaced; more than $1.5 billion of national properties were destroyed. Almost 75% of NGOs pulled out their community development programs from rural poor areas and started to work in cities or towns. Schools were closed and students were forced to join the Maoists. Around 85% of young people from rural areas fled to district headquarters and India to save their lives.
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Above: GYC Alumnus, Deepak Chaudhari, whose plan is to organize a Youth Constitution Drafting Ceremony to raise awareness regarding the Nepalese government’s past failures in drafting a constitution and pressure them to draft a sustainable version as soon as possible.
Amidst the ongoing conflict between the state government and the Maoists, King Gyanendra grabbed state power on February 1, 2005, directly threatening the future success of democracy in Nepal. He dismissed the government and appointed a few cabinet members sympathetic to his interests and headed by himself. He arrested political leaders and human rights activists, censored the media, and declared a state of emergency, which was lifted in April/May 2006. Ironically, the king's actions provided an opportunity for the Maoists and the other political parties to work together in an unlikely partnership in opposition to King Gyanendra. A seven-party alliance of political parties, the Maoists and large number of citizens joined together in a democratic movement to force King Gyanendra to give up state power and handed it over to the political parties which he ultimately did in April 2006.
Since then, change has come swiftly to Nepal. Following the signing of the 2006 peace accords, the Maoists put an end to their fighting, joined as members of an interim government and dissolved the parallel government that they had set up during the 10-year civil war. The Maoist delegates included members of marginalized groups, including representatives from the lower castes, never before represented in Nepal's parliament. An interim Constitution has been adopted.
Nonetheless, the potential for continued conflict and violence still exists. Recently the Maoists pulled out of the government, threatening the future of the peace process. Elections for the Constituent Assembly, which will be tasked with creating a new governing constitution for the country and deciding the fate of the monarchy and were scheduled to be held in November 2007 have been postponed twice already. Furthermore, growing tension in the Tarai region of the country among members of the Madhesi community illustrates that long-neglected grievances of oppressed and exploited communities, especially in the southern part of the country, must be dealt with quickly and that a "new Nepal" be a more inclusive one, better representing and serving Nepal's diverse population.