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Re-Framing Nepal: Building Democracy in a Himalayan Nation

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Re-Framing Nepal: Building Democracy in a Himalayan Nation

The Nepali Constituent Assembly (CA) is running out of time [written in 2012]. Six years after the truce that ended a catastrophic decade of civil war, the Supreme Court of Nepal has mandated the CA to finalize the new constitution by May 28, 2012 or face dissolution. That deadline is only months away. While most of the constitution has been crafted, the Framers remain confounded by several impasses: Should they adopt a federal system of government? What criteria would define state boundaries? How should they meet the demands of the 59+ Indigenous groups recognized by the government? With over one third of the Constituent Assembly comprised of Indigenous Peoples, how can the CA address their need for cultural preservation, identity and autonomy?

As the Framers struggle to complete the founding documents, Nepal's political forces wrestle to radically overhaul every aspect of their society. What was once a centralized, strictly Hindu top-down monarchy is now transforming into a decentralized, secular representative democracy. The same nation that cleaved to caste privilege, condoned persecution of "untouchables" (Dalits) and allowed indentured servitude a mere ten years ago, has now catapulted itself into a commitment toward comprehensive human rights, upsetting every layer of traditional Nepali society. As the leading political parties confront the seismic shift in their social infrastructure and jostle for power and influence, they must transition out of the battlefield mindset for Nepal to move forward. The major stumbling blocks are lack of consensus among and within major political parties, and a lack of capacity in post-conflict peace-building. They must discover new methods of political co-existence in order to emerge from crisis, govern effectively and address their people's needs.

As democracy struggles to be born in this ancient Himalayan nation, a young Nepali human rights lawyer, Rajendra Ghimire, works doggedly to be its midwife. Trained both in Nepali law and international law, he thinks he has found some answers to help his country emerge from its quandaries. As Executive Director of PPR-Nepal (Forum for the Protection of People's Rights), he deftly navigates the labyrinth of Nepali politics and grapples with the most thorny issues, from human trafficking to the rights of Indigenous peoples. Rajendra also trains lawyers, members of civil society and the judiciary in mediation skills; he has blanketed the countryside with a cadre of 500 trained mediators.

Ever seeking more effective conflict resolution skills, he journeyed to the New Mexico for additional mediation training. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Rajendra discovered an entirely new approach to mediation that could, in his opinion, transform conflict at every level of society in Nepal. After two weeks of intense mediation training, he vowed to bring these new skills to Nepal, to train politicians, both at the national and district level, so that these leaders can be empowered to serve their constituencies with greater competency and skill. While in Santa Fe he was also introduced to Eight Northern Pueblos and discovered to his great delight that Native American communities are preserved as self-determined sovereign nations within the American federal system. They retain their own tribal law, government, language and religion, even while exercising their rights as US citizens. Rajendra was inspired by this discovery.

At a time when the Constituent Assembly is stymied by issues of Indigenous self-determination, is it possible that the example of US Indian Law and intra-tribal forms of self-governance could facilitate resolution to the daunting constitutional impasse surrounding indigenous tribes in Nepal?

Re-Framing Nepal is a ground breaking project that brings leaders of the Indigenous Caucus of Nepal's Constituent Assembly together with Native American tribal leaders and some of the best minds in US Federal Indian Law and history, to provide models, mentoring and cautionary tales about issues of Indigenous self-determination within a broader federal framework. 

This project produced a five-day colloquium between members of the Nepali Constituent Assembly, high-level indigenous attorneys who advise the Constituent Assembly and experts in US Indian law and history. A final report on this project will be available after the May 28th deadline.