Secretary-General to Nepal's Constituent Assembly: Nepalese people have taken stand for democracy; your role is to set Nepal on course for more positive future


Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's address to the Constituent Assembly of Nepal, as prepared for delivery on Saturday, 1 November, in Kathmandu:

It is a great honour to be the first United Nations Secretary-General to address this Constituent Assembly. I offer sincere congratulations on the historic transformation your country has undergone and in which you have played such a key role.

Let me also say at the outset how distressed I was at the loss of life caused by the devastating floods in August and September.

The United Nations Mission here worked closely with the Nepal Red Cross to transport tons of relief supplies to people in need. The United Nations country team continues to help the Government in its ongoing relief and resettlement efforts. We are your partners, dedicated to your progress, safety and well-being.

The elections here in April allowed Nepal's people to speak, and they raised their voices for peace, development and change. This Assembly is the most inclusive legislative body in your country's history. When I look out across this hall, I see the rich diversity of Nepal's peoples and cultures.

This Assembly is proof of your remarkable progress. Collectively, you have tremendous potential to realize the Nepalese peoples' hopes for a new and better future.

All of you -- and all of the people of Nepal -- drove the peace process. The United Nations is proud to be part of this historic change.

As your partners, we are taking many concrete steps. The United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, for example, has released $10 million to the United Nations Peace Fund for Nepal. This money will finance local peacebuilding programmes. It will also help to reintegrate former combatants, generate youth employment and put other measures in place.

When I met with Prime Minister [Pushpa Kamal Dahal] Prachanda in New York recently, he said he wants Nepal to be a "model for peace" with United Nations assistance. That is a wonderful goal. It also means we must both shoulder significant responsibilities. I wish to assure you of my personal support and that of the entire United Nations system for Nepal's political, economic and social transition. As we do our part, I encourage you to do yours. Steady progress in the peace process will ensure international support.

The most immediate challenge ahead is to integrate and rehabilitate Maoist combatants. In this regard, I welcome the recent establishment of the special committee to supervise, integrate and rehabilitate Maoist army combatants. I encourage the parties represented on the committee to ensure that it begins its important work as soon as possible. I also call on the Government to move quickly on the formal discharge of minors and disqualified combatants.

The women of Nepal have in many ways particularly borne the brunt of the conflict. I would like to pay a tribute to the many women across the country who have been working in numerous ways to consolidate peace. This process will be greatly strengthened by ensuring the fullest possible inclusion of women at all levels.

Sustaining peace will also require efforts to heal the wounds of the conflict. That means clarifying the fate of those who disappeared and compensating victims. It means enabling the return of displaced persons to their homes. And it means undertaking an honest and inevitably painful acknowledgement of the truth of past human rights violations, and to end impunity.

You must also draft a new constitution. This will be extremely difficult, but also extremely rewarding. The process will bring you to face to face with a number of contentious issues, such as State restructuring. You will have to create a federal State that empowers different ethnic groups, while maintaining national unity.

I hope that each of you will advance in a spirit of cooperation. Through dialogue, you can forge a shared vision. This is a tremendous opportunity to lay the foundation for a stable Nepal for generations to come. I urge you to give your grandchildren, and even their grandchildren, reason to look back with pride on your role in your nation's history.

You owe this to your people. They need to see improvements in governance. They need to feel the benefits of a peace dividend. They need better access to employment opportunities, health care and education.

And they need it now, especially at a time of global financial crisis and dramatically higher prices for food and fuel.

All over the world, the poorest of the poor are suffering from these interlinked crises. More people each day are being driven into poverty and hunger. Their voice must be heard and their plight acknowledged. I am urging Governments everywhere not to backslide on their commitments to reach the Millennium Development Goals and to address the problem of climate change.

At this time of crisis, we have to take a long-range view. Our future will be secure only if we protect our planet and its most vulnerable people.

I know that many Nepalese are facing hardships. There is literally and figuratively "no fat" in Nepal to withstand any additional shocks, such as a drop in vital development assistance or remittances.

The United Nations country team is working with the Government to help the hungry now -- and to achieve food security in the future.

More broadly, I am convinced that the political transformation of Nepal can and must go hand in hand with social and economic transformation. These are like the two wings of a bird; both are needed for this country to soar.

You have been through many tests. Each time, you have overcome your differences. This is the democratic process in action. I am confident that you can minimize potential rifts through dialogue and compromise.

I call on all parties in the coalition Government to maintain cohesion while continuing to work with parties outside the Government in a spirit of cooperation. The Nepali Congress Party has made invaluable contributions to the peace process, most recently in its lead role in the Interim Government. Now that it is the opposition party, I hope that it will continue participating in key decisions. This will help ensure success.

At the same time, all parties to the peace agreement must honour their commitments. And all parties must respect the rules of democratic government and human rights.

I call on the Government to continue its dialogue and consultation with all parties. And I want to stress that they, in turn, are accountable to the Nepalese people in helping to complete and consolidate peace.

In achieving peace at home, Nepal can draw on its ample experience with global engagement. For half a century, your country has played a leading role in the maintenance of international peace and security through United Nations peacekeeping.

Over the past 50 years, you have contributed 60,000 Blue Helmets to some 40 peacekeeping missions. Today, Nepal is the world's fifth largest contributor of troops and police. And a Nepalese is the Force Commander in the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), one of our largest peacekeeping operations.

You have given us your best resources -- your men and women. Some have sacrificed their very lives for the cause of peace under the United Nations flag.

The bravery of one Nepalese soldier is very fresh in my mind. In June 2005, Major Kabindra Jung Thapa was helping to escort a human rights team to a dangerous part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They were investigating mass rapes -- one of the worst atrocities of the war there.

When the team was leaving, hundreds of armed militia men surrounded the helicopters and started firing. Major Thapa made sure that every person got on safely. He was the last to board. Just as he got inside the helicopter, he was shot and killed.

Major Thapa died protecting his comrades. He died protecting the cause of peace and human rights. He died protecting the United Nations.

In his valour, we can see the potential of all the people of Nepal to live up to Prime Minister Prachanda's vision of this country as a "model of peace".

The people of Nepal have taken a stand for democracy. They yearn for a better life. Your role is to set Nepal on course for the more positive future they so richly deserve. I wish you every success in that mission.

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