In April 2006, nineteen days of massive public demonstrations forced the king of Nepal to give up absolute rule and led Maoist insurgents to seek a political solution to their grievances. Nepal had been ruled as a monarchy since the 18th century in spite of several failed attempts at democratic reform. Between 1996 and 2006, over 12,000 people died in a civil war between a Maoist movement that gained control of much of the region outside of the capital and an increasingly repressive state. In 2008, national elections led to the creation of Nepal’s first broadly representative parliament tasked to write a new, people-centered constitution. However, cooperation among the parties has proved enormously challenging, and the constitution is still not finalized. Nepal also faces daunting problems of poverty, underdevelopment, difficult terrain, geopolitical pressure because of its strategic location between China and India, as well as ethnic, caste and class prejudices, the reintegration of combatants, and little national consensus on its future.
Karuna Center began working in Nepal in the 1990’s, leading workshops for women focused on women's equality and empowerment, and workshops for indigenous communities that were concerned with issues of cultural preservation, human rights, and political representation. In April 2006, Karuna Center was invited by the Human Rights Organization of Nepal (HURON) to lead a conflict transformation seminar for human rights activists, just as the people's demonstrations were building. Our workshop became a living laboratory for activists who shuttled between the classroom and the streets, for developing strategies to maintain a peaceful protest and for applying theories of nonviolent conflict transformation to the immediate situation, Karuna Center has been active in Nepal ever since, working with civil society and political leaders in addition to consulting with multilateral organizations, such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
Current and Recent Programs
Community-based Disaster Relief
Karuna Center facilitated donations directly to community-based efforts led by a Nepali partner organization (Institute for Conflict Management, Peace and Development) to help rebuild rural communities hard-hit by the 2015 earthquake. Though the financial support we contributed was humble, we were able to provide construction materials to local self-help committees and support links between earthquake affected areas and skilled vocational students who were mobilized as volunteers. The primary focus of the project has been to teach and assist people to construct their own low-cost and environmentally practical short-term and mid-term shelters.
Negotiation and State Building Program for Nepal Political Leaders
From 2010-2011, Karuna Center lead a capacity building program in interest-based negotiations and collaborative leadership for 75 members of the Constituent Assembly, which also serves as an interim parliament. The program was conducted in partnership with the Nepali Institute for Conflict Management, Peace and Development (ICPD) and the Tufts University Fletcher School for Law and Diplomacy, and funded by the US Department of State. All political parties were involved, including the Maoists, and a Backchannel Group was created for senior leaders to create a confidential space where the most contentious constitutional issues could be safely explored.
Consultation and Training for the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank
Karuna Center provided consultation to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank regarding the intersection of development and peacebuilding, along with training for bank staff and Nepali government officials. We worked with the Asian Development Bank to revise their “peace filter,” which is now publicly available here. For the World Bank we performed a Peace Audit of current and recent programs, and developed recommendations for improving the conflict sensitivity of future programs.
Programs for Women Leaders
Women have never had equal rights, status, or opportunity in Nepal. In July 2008, Karuna Center, with support from the Institute for Inclusive Security launched a series of programs to promote women’s leadership on issues of peace and security. Women parliamentarians from conflicting parties developed a common agenda for a women’s caucus. And in partnership relationships with Women in Good Governance (WIGG) and Federation of Women Entrepreneurs in Nepal (FWEAN), we developed peace leadership programs for women in business and civil society that focused on advocacy, social justice, and reconciliation.
Peacebuilding in the Birthplace of the Buddha
Between 2007 and 2009, Karuna Center facilitated a series of conflict resolution processes in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha in southern Nepal, close to the Indian border. Over recent decades, misperception and conflicts between the monastic communities from a variety of Asian countries, the Lumbini Development Trust, and the local population have resulted in tensions and delayed progress on the development of Lumbini as a spiritual and World Heritage site. Through a consensus building process, new agreements were developed that met the interests of all stakeholders.
Promoting Multi-Sector Dialogues and Partnerships
In 2008, Karuna Center conducted two seminars in partnership with our Nepali partner, ICPD, and the Office of the Prime Minister, in which participants from government ministries and civil society formed cross-sector working groups to develop public/private partnerships in the following areas: Constitution Making a Peacebuilding Tool, Transitional Justice, and Social Healing. Recommendations were presented to invited national and international guests.
In 2007, Karuna Center led a four-part, year-long peace leadership series with ICPD, for participants from diverse sectors, including government ministries, NGOs, political parties, human rights organizations, trade unions and the private sector. Participants developed joint peacebuilding projects with encouraging practical results. For example, a group of women developed a three-year reconciliation and income-generating program for women in the Rolpa district who have lost husbands either to Maoists or state forces. A journalist applied his learning on the importance of inclusion and tolerance to radio dramas and discussion forums that reach over 1.6 million listeners in districts throughout the country.
Constitution-Making as a Peacebuilding Tool
In August and December 2006, Karuna Center was invited by the Canadian Cooperation Office to work with their Nepalese NGO partners from all five regions of Nepal on engaging civil society in the constitution making process. Recent experiments in Africa and Latin America have demonstrated that constitution-making can be an important post-conflict peacebuilding tool if it becomes a truly participatory process that reaches out to all groups, including the most marginalized. Participants developed action plans for the specific roles that their NGOs could play.
ARTICLES AND RESOURCES
"I think Karuna Center has been very successful in convincing the CA members and other leaders that it is important to hear what the other person, particularly your opponent, is saying. The more there is difficulty in understanding, then more you need to hear them. Karuna has helped us to understand each other’s constraints, each other’s expectations, each other’ challenges and that when forming a constitution and when one is entering peace process, it is not about one ideology, it is about finding the right combination."
Maoist Party Parliament Member
Wife of Prime Minister, Baburam Bhattarai
Since a people's movement in Nepal successfully brought about an end to the civil war and the monarchy, Karuna Center has engaged hundreds of civil society and government leaders in skill-building for sustainable peace. Our work has reached from rural war-torn villages to the halls of parliament. This 20-minute documentary tells that story, with rare and vivid footage of social change in action.