«The 19 November 2013 elections are an important step in the ongoing peace process in Nepal»

Article, 18.11.2013

On 19 November 2013 elections will take place in Nepal for a new constituent assembly. Nepal has been a priority country for Swiss development cooperation for many years. Switzerland’s presence there dates back to the 1950s. In recent years Switzerland has focused its involvement especially on promoting the peace process and the rule of law. In an interview, Ambassador Urs Herren explains how and why Switzerland is committed to a sustainable political system in Nepal.

Switzerland has been involved in Nepal for some 50 years. Since the armed insurgency of Maoist rebels against the monarchical state peaked in 2004, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Human Security Division (HSD) have repositioned their involvement. Alongside activities in the areas of agriculture, the building of roads and bridges, and vocational education and training, the promotion of peace and strengthening of governance have taken centre stage. Switzerland’s entire programme for 2013 amounts to almost CHF 40 million.

Since mid-August 2013, Mr Urs Herren has been Swiss ambassador to Nepal and is responsible for coordinating Switzerland’s involvement there. On the occasion of the 19 November elections, Ambassador Herren describes how and why Switzerland is committed to a sustainable political system in Nepal.

A peace agreement signed in 2006 brought the civil war between Maoist rebels and the government to an end. In 2008 Nepal elected a first constituent assembly, which included the Maoist party. This assembly abolished the monarchy, declared the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, and drew up a transitional constitution. After the parties proved unable to agree on a first constitution, the first constituent assembly was dissolved, having achieved nothing. The transitional constitution of 2008 remained in force and in early 2013 a transitional technocratic government was formed, which prepared the coming elections. The second constituent assembly, which is now to be elected, will have the task of adopting a new constitution.  Acting as Parliament for the next four years, it will also choose a new government.

Interview with Ambassador Urs Herren

Since mid-August 2013, Mr Urs Herren has beenSwiss ambassador to Nepal. © SDC

How important are the 19 November 2013 elections and how will Switzerland support them?
The 19 November elections are naturally an important step in the ongoing peace process and for a new political order for the country. Along with the entire international community, Switzerland has pushed to ensure that the elections actually take place and for Nepal to regain a parliament and a democratically elected government.
In concrete terms, Switzerland has participated directly in the preparations for and funding of the elections, through the Nepal Peace Trust Fund, which is supported by many international donors and the Nepalese government. The elections have therefore been technically well prepared, and the electoral roll is reliable and well documented. Switzerland is also sending experts to monitor the elections as part of the EU observer mission.

Why and since when has Switzerland been focusing its involvement in Nepal on the promotion of peace and the rule of law?
As the conflict between the Maoist rebels and the monarchical state intensified in and around 2003, work to promote peace and strengthen governance began assuming ever increasing importance for Switzerland. Analysis of the conflict has shown that alongside the political dimension to the conflict (autocratic monarchy, which had dissolved Parliament in 2005; civil war with no chance of peace negotiations in sight), there was also a social one, i.e. much of the population was excluded from social and economic development. Switzerland therefore decided that its approach had to include both angles in order to make a meaningful contribution to peace and development in Nepal. It worked to get the parties and Maoist rebels to come to the negotiating table and since 2006 has been supporting the implementation of measures included in the peace agreement. Since 2006 the SDC and the HSD have put together a joint strategy for Nepal. The goal of the current strategy – for 2013 to 2017 – is to support Nepal in building a democratic state that will guarantee the security of its citizens and respect for human rights, and will give all sectors of the population the opportunity to take part in the social and economic development of the country.

How does Switzerland promote peace in Nepal and what results has it achieved so far?
Since the conclusion of the peace agreement in 2006, a major concern has been to prevent renewed political violence and demonstrate that a peaceful solution to the conflict is possible. In making a substantial contribution to the Nepal Peace Trust Fund, Switzerland has supported the demobilisation of the Maoist combatants and the reconstruction of the security infrastructure (for example police stations). Another important element is the Nepal Transition to Peace (NTTP) platform, set up by Switzerland, which makes distinguished public figures available for mediation efforts. NTTP mediators have for example recently attempted to ensure that the dissident parties, which have called for a boycott on 19 November, actually participate in the upcoming elections.

Equally important is support for local human rights organisations, which document abuses of human rights and bring cases before national courts or the UN Human Rights Council. This is an important basis for coming to terms with the crimes committed by both sides during the conflict – something which was set out in the peace agreement but which has not yet been implemented – not least through a truth and reconciliation commission. Switzerland also helps organisations for war victims organise themselves better.

An important goal of the peace agreement and for society is a new democratic, federal constitution. Switzerland has been advising the political stakeholders and the Nepalese people for years on federal government. Thanks to these efforts, today in Nepal there is a much broader and deep-rooted understanding of the necessity to include all ethnic groups, regions and casts in the political process and in the development of the economy.

How does Switzerland go about promoting the building of a democratic state and good governance in Nepal?
A state’s legitimacy stems above all from three things: inclusion of ordinary citizens in decision-making processes, such as those concerning public services; transparent, fair and comprehensible decision-making; and finally it stems from politicians and an administration that are accountable to the citizens. Long before the conflict began, Switzerland was promoting decentralisation and working to strengthen local administrations and boost cooperation between citizens and the state. Ongoing programmes support participation and public involvement in plans for development and budgets at the municipal and district levels, for example, and favour local partners for the building of roads and bridges, as well as in the forestry and agriculture sectors.

Switzerland has an exceptionally positive image in Nepal, as does its work. This can be attributed mainly to the fact that the Nepalese people and government perceive all the work we do as being impartial. The Nepalese also recognise that we take into consideration groups that are often marginalised, such as women, and that we include them and give them a voice. The Swiss principles of inclusion of all citizens and equal treatment have been included in the “Basic Operation Guidelines“, which have been signed by practically all donors in Nepal. These principles formed the basis for our uninterrupted access to our various target groups as well as for the security of our staff and partners – even at the height of the conflict. They remain central to successful cooperation in the ongoing peace process and to the sustainable economic and political development of Nepal.

A fifty-year partnership

Since the first agreement on technical cooperation in 1959, Switzerland’s commitment in Nepal has continually adapted itself to the changing social and political landscape of the country. The total Swiss programme for 2013 amounts to almost CHF 40 million. In addition to promoting peace and democracy, Switzerland’s activities in Nepal focus on the following areas:

  • Vocational training and education: By 2013, around 50,000 young people had found gainful employment thanks to the “Employment Fund” established by Switzerland.
  • Road construction: Until 2009, Switzerland supported the construction of over 100 km of roads. In addition to generating economic development and social involvement, the road construction also provided an estimated 2 million working days in the rural areas.
  • Bridges: In 2013, Nepal celebrated the inauguration of the 5,000th bridge between Okhaldhunga and Khotang. The bridges are used by over 8,000 people and 100,000 animals every day.
  • Projects in forestry and agriculture

Report: 50 Years Nepal-Swiss Development Partnership