Briefing by Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal Hon Mr. N P Saud in Peacebuilding CommissionEducation’s role in building peace in Nepal and Sierra Leone
Thursday, 14 September 2023
H.E. …………. of Sierra Leone,
Deputy Secretary General Madam Amina Mohammed,
Mr. Fahad Hamad Hasan Al- Sultaiti, CEO of Education Above All Foundation,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I feel honoured to have this opportunity to share the experience of Nepal on the role of education in post-conflict transformation, development, and peacebuilding.
I deeply appreciate and thank the Chair and the Peacebuilding Commission for convening this important meeting, just before the high-level week.
First of all, allow me to share some background.
Nepal faced a decade long armed conflict from 1996 to 2006, which resulted in deaths and disappearance of thousands of people. Many others were disabled and displaced.
During the conflict, both private and public properties were destroyed. The country had to pay a huge price economically. At the societal level, it created cleavages and polarization. It impacted the whole society and disrupted its social, cultural, and economic fabric.
Nepal, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, the apostle of peace, was once one of the most peaceful countries in the world. Unity among diversity was the ethos of Nepali society. The conflict unsettled this foundational attribute of the nation.
The cost of conflict was colossal and at some point of time, the political actors on both sides realized that. They felt with urgency that settlement of the conflict was inevitable. And the process commenced with the understanding between the seven-party alliance, led by the oldest democratic party Nepali Congress, on one side and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which started the armed rebellion, on the other.
The two sides signed the 12-point agreement in 2005 pledging to work towards democracy, peace, social justice, prosperity, and advancement. They also agreed to work together for the end of King’s autocratic rule.
The Agreement set the foundation for the resolution of armed conflict.
Following the Agreement, the political parties launched nation-wide people’s movement against the then monarchy’s direct rule. In front of the power of people’s will, the authoritarian regime had to give way. The direct rule of the King was ended and the power was returned to the re-instated Parliament. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between the Government and the Maoist Party in November 2006 which marked the beginning of Nepal’s unique, home-grown and country-led peace process.
The most important milestone in the peace process was making of a new, inclusive and democratic Constitution in 2015 by the elected Constituent Assembly. The Constitution guarantees an array of civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights of the people.
What Nepal underwent is a socio-political transformation of historic proportion. It has rarely happened elsewhere in the world that a party in armed rebellion and the mainstream political parties, with their totally incompatible political ideologies and perspectives, come to a compromise, find a way to end armed conflict and settle their divergent agendas through peaceful process of constitution making.
In Nepal, peace prevailed over violence; ballot prevailed over bullets.
That became possible thanks to the wisdom and pragmatism shown by political leaders across the party spectrum. Also important was the goodwill and support from the international community including the United Nations.
Today, Nepal has one of the most progressive polity arrangements. We have constitutionally guaranteed at least 40 percent representation of women at the local and provincial assemblies while 33 percent representation of women in Federal Parliament is ensured. The President and Vice President are required to be from different gender or community.
The Constitution stipulates that the people have right to participate in the State bodies on the basis of the principle of proportional inclusion.
The right to education has been institutionalized as a fundamental human right. Free basic education is guaranteed for all.
The decade-long conflict had severely affected education sector too.
Education infrastructures were destroyed in several parts of the country. In conflict affected areas, schools were closed for months. In some instances, schools were caught in the crossfire between the conflicting forces on two sides.
Students in remote faced challenges in accessing education due to the lack of schools, transportation, and the fear of violence. Teachers were displaced from their home villages or even faced violence.
After the conflict ended, the process of reintegrating conflict-affected students into the formal education system became challenging.
Recognizing that education plays a central role in peacebuilding, and in ending conflict and violence, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2006 explicitly mentioned the respect of right to education.
It stated that both parties are committed to maintaining an appropriate academic environment in educational institutions, and guarantee that the right to education will not be impeded. They also agreed to put to an end, on an immediate basis, to activities like taking the educational institutions under control and using them, abducting teachers and students, taking them under control and disappearing them.
We prioritized education as an important vehicle for national advancement and social cohesion. We emphasized addressing the educational needs of conflict-affected students and communities for the long-term peace, development, and stability of the country.
The Government adopted a School Sector Reform Plan (2009 – 2015) which had a provision for education in mother tongue as an approach to promoting local languages and culture and addressing the learning needs of all communities.
The Government and development partners worked in concert to rehabilitate and rebuild damaged school infrastructure. More than 2000 schools were reconstructed. More than twenty thousand conflict-affected students were provided with scholarships.
In May 2011, the Government endorsed a directive declaring all schools, (including school buses) as Zones of Peace which aimed at ensuring that schools remain safe for children and teaching and learning could continue unhindered in a peaceful atmosphere.
Efforts were made to provide training and support to teachers, particularly in conflict-affected areas, to improve the quality of education.
The government established many temporary learning centres in such areas to provide education as long as formal schools were unavailable.
The government initiated special programs to reintegrate former combatants into the formal education system. These programs provided them with catch-up education and psychosocial support to help them transition back into a regular school environment.
In areas where schools were damaged or non-existent, temporary learning centres were set up to provide education. These centres helped ensure that students had access to education even in challenging circumstances. Teaching through radio and TV was initiated.
Community-based education programs were launched to reach children in remote and marginalized areas. Ministry of Education promoted linguistically inclusive and locally relevant learning materials in the schools with the view of promoting peace in society that comprised of diverse communities.
The curriculum was revised to include education on peace and conflict resolution. This helped students learn about the importance of peacebuilding and how that can be done. With the support of the UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament for Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD), the Government of Nepal integrated peace and disarmament education into the national curricula and educational materials for grades 8 to 10.
Efforts were made to promote gender equality in education. This included initiatives to encourage girls’ enrolment and retention in schools and to address gender-based violence.
Counselling and psychosocial support services were provided to students who had experienced trauma during the conflict.
I wish to appreciate in this context the financial and technical assistance from international organizations including UNICEF, UNDP, and other development partners.
Engaging communities and civil societies in the education process was crucial.
Because wars are born in the human mind, they can only be reshaped through education in laying a solid foundation for peace and peacebuilding. The resilience of education in preventing conflict, solving conflict peacefully and building sustained peace is well proven.
To that end, education should focus on promoting a culture of peace and non-violence at the social level.
Providing training and support to teachers, especially in conflict-affected regions, is crucial.
Offering psychosocial support to students who are impacted by conflict is essential for their well-being and the continuity of their education.
Madam Deputy Secretary General,
While we made important achievements in various fronts since the signing of CPA, we wish to take our successful, unique, nationally-owned, and home-grown peace process to a logical conclusion, with the accomplishment of one remaining task. We have firm commitment to conclude the transitional justice process and provide justice and reparation to the victims of the conflict.
The Comprehensive Peace Accord, the directives of the Supreme Court, and relevant international commitments, as well as the concerns of the victims, will guide our endeavours towards this end.
The political parties have forged a consensus that the transitional justice process should be credible. The perpetrators of serious human rights violations should be brought to justice and victims to be compensated.
The Amendment Bills to the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act have already been tabled in the Federal Parliament for its endorsement.
The Bills have adopted a victim-centric approach and recognize reparation as a right of the victim.
We are hopeful that the Bills will move ahead in the near future.
On this score, we wish to request our partners and international community to support our efforts to accomplish this last remaining task of the historic peace process.
This will help build enduring peace. This will also be an example to the international community how homegrown and national-led peace process could be concluded and transformed into long-term peace and development.