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Nepal Visit, June 11-16, 2007: Trip Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter

June 27, 2007

The purpose of my visit to Nepal was to help support the peace process through a series of meetings with our Carter Center long-term observers, U.S., Indian, and U.N. officials, other diplomats, civil society leaders, "marginalized groups," and representatives of the many political factions.

Democracy Program Director David Carroll was with me, and we received valuable information and advice from Ambassador Peter Burleigh, who had formerly served in Nepal. Our team of thirteen long-term observers (from nine nations) was coordinated by Darren Nance and Sarah Levit-Shore.

The Carter Center has been involved in this process for about four years, having dealt with representatives of the government, the Maoists, and the royal family. With the king effectively deposed, the primary players now represent the Eight Party Alliance (EPA), including the Maoists, that has the responsibility of setting the criteria for an election to choose representatives who will write a new constitution for the nation.

In the absence of progress, violence increased as formerly excluded groups of citizens demanded greater political participation in the future. These include, of course, the Maoists and also the Madhesis (southerners in the Terai region near India), dalits (untouchables), women, and janajatis (indigenous peoples). In deciding on a framework for the election, the Maoists have called for the prior declaration of a republic that totally excludes the royal family, and other previously marginalized groups have resorted to demonstrations of their impatience and displeasure.

Although a Comprehensive Peace Agreement requires that Maoists disarm and their fighters remain in U.N. monitored camps, some of their ancillary organizations, such as the Young Communist League (YPL), continue with acts of violence and intimidation. They themselves have suffered attacks from militant elements of the Madhesis. The underlying struggle is between powerful groups who wish to retain their historic control over wealth and politics influence and others who are demanding equitable status.

During my visit I met with U.S. Ambassador James Moriarty, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, members of the national election commission, Special U.N. Representative Ian Martin, Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee and other diplomats from Denmark, United Kingdom, Belgium and Canada, prominent civil society leaders, leaders of the Indigenous Nationalities, the Madhesi, Army Chief of Staff General Katawal, president of the Nepali Congress (Democratic), Communist Party General Secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, Maoist Chairman Prachanda, Dalit and women's activists, domestic election observers, and finally representatives of the thirteen parliamentary parties, headed by Prime Minster Koirala.

The United States is the only nation that classifies the Maoists as terrorists, and our diplomatic representatives are precluded from a constructive role in promoting peace. There were several allegations during my meetings that our government is helping some of the dissident groups, including those still loyal to the king, in their efforts to prevent the Maoists from playing a role in a future government. Ambassador Moriarty denies this, but has been consistent in his public condemnations of the Maoists (which some Nepalese have welcomed). A new U.S. ambassador will take her post in August.

During my brief visit, the parliament decided on the basic framework for the constitutional assembly including an ultimatum to the king that will result in his being deposed if he interferes in the democratic electoral process. In any case, the future role of the palace will be minimal.

I expressed my concern publicly about the ineffectiveness of the police and the improper activities of the Young Communist League, as witnessed by Carter Center observers during their recent personal visits to 70 of the 75 districts in Nepal. Maoist leader Prachanda promised me that he would investigate these reports and take action to correct the problems. Another concern is that one-half the assembly delegates will be elected on a proportional basis from national party lists, but with the elected representatives selected by party leaders. They must include 50 percent women, 31 percent Madhesi, 13 percent Dalits, and 38 percent Janajatis (individuals may fall into one or more of these quota groups). A potential problem is that the identify of these choices will be concealed until after the election, which could permit party leaders to choose subservient or incompetent people whose loyalty is to the party and not to their own marginalized group.

If this fragile peace can hold together with quotas honored, Nepal will set an almost unprecedented standard for nations that have had marginalized or excluded groups deprived of their civil rights.

It is now expected that on 23 June the cabinet will set an election date, either in late November or early December. The Carter Center is proud to participate in this courageous but difficult move toward peace, democracy, and human rights.

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