"This is a key moment in the peace process in Nepal," said Ian Martin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the south Asian nation of 27 million people. Mr. Martin heads the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which is mandated to support Nepal's peace process by monitoring the arms and armed personnel of the former adversaries and by assisting the election for a Constituent Assembly.
A decade-long armed conflict which brought a death toll of 13,000 and paralyzed life in the countryside came to a formal end with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord last November. A year ago this week, a 19-day "people's movement" which saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in cities and towns across the country culminated in the king relinquishing executive power and reinstating Parliament.
In the 12 months since, the peace process has unfolded rapidly. The alliance of seven political parties and the Maoists set an ambitious timetable leading to the election of the Constituent Assembly.
In December last year the Security Council authorized an advance deployment of arms monitors and electoral advisers. On 23 January, UNMIN was established with a 12-month mandate.
"The management of arms and armed personnel has gone very well, with both the Maoist army and the Nepal Army cooperating with the United Nations in the registration and storage of weapons and the registration of Maoist personnel," said Mr. Martin.
Over 30,000 Maoists have been registered and remain in cantonments monitored by the UN, while the Nepal Army remains in its barracks. The first phase of this process was completed in mid-February. "This has contributed to establishing a climate for progress in the peace process."
The former insurgent Maoists joined a new interim legislature in January, and in April entered the new Interim Government, heading up five ministries.
"At the start of 2006, nobody would have thought it possible that Nepal could have come so far so quickly. At that time, the armed conflict was raging in the countryside and democratic rights were under attack," Mr. Martin said.
Nepal's independent Election Commission recently announced that the planned June date for the election was not technically feasible, and that conditions for a free and fair election were not yet in place. This has caused concerns among Nepalese political parties, which have yet to decide upon a new date.
"A delay in the planned June election should not be considered a disaster, but neither is it a guarantee that a later date will lead to a successful election," noted Mr. Martin. "There are valid concerns that a delay in the Constituent Assembly election could open space for spoilers. It is important now that the Interim Government, political parties and civil society cooperate to ensure public security and a climate where parties and individuals can campaign freely and vote freely."
It will also be important that the Interim Government uses this time to deal with issues raised by the diverse range of groups which have been traditionally marginalized, according to UNMIN. In the southern plains of the country, an area known as the Terai, strikes and demonstrations have been almost continuous in recent months and over 60 people have lost their lives.
"Inclusion is another key issue in the success of the peace process," explained Mr. Martin. "This election is not just an election for one parliament and government: it is for the one-time Constituent Assembly, which will determine the very nature of Nepal's future democracy."
The envoy emphasized that the electoral system must be accepted by all groups as broadly fair. "Traditionally marginalized groups must feel that they have been properly consulted and listened to, so that they have a motive for cooperating rather than wanting to boycott or wreck an election," he said.
Also today, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal issued a statement welcoming the progress achieved since the movement began last April while cautioning that more must be done, citing the need to address accountability and the right to justice of the many who have suffered violations or abuses at the hands of the State or the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), both during and after hostilities.
OHCHR-Nepal paid tribute to the role played by human rights defenders both during and after the people's movement, known as Jana Andolan. "They continue to be vital partners for the Office in its daily work," the statement said.