Shailendra Kumar Upadhyay:

The government called upon the Maoist rebels to come to the negotiating table by January 13. The rebels ignored this call. The present position taken by the government is to keep the door open for negotiation and go for the general elections. The date to hold the elections has yet to be announced.

Democracy cannot be conceived without people’s representation and for such representation elections are a must. There are no two views on the necessity for elections in order to let the parliament function and make the government responsible to it. However, there does not seem to be a common stand on the issue among the coalition partners in the government, and the political parties in the streets are against any election at the present juncture as the law and order situation in the country is not at all conducive to elections.

The whole nation is involved in the discussion today whether the elections could be held in the present situation when even the movement in the national highways is not safe, movement of people in rural areas can be totally stopped by threat of explosives and even patrolling of the security forces is minimum.

While the debate on elections is taking place all over, the debate on the ways of achieving peace is simultaneously going on with seriousness. There is a surge in the activities of the civil society by holding rallies and seminars and workshops and meetings to call upon the government and the rebels to stop fighting and start talking. However, there is no sign of response to the people’s wishes from either the government or the rebels. They have their own conditions for talks that do not seem reconciliable.

Everyday the news of maiming and killing by the government and the rebel forces appear, detailing the atrocities perpetrated by the forces. Innocent people who do not take sides and are interested only in keeping their job and looking after their family have been victims of suspicion by both sides and are suffering. So, the entire population of the country save a few with guns in their hands are craving for peace. However, the insensitivity of the warring factions does not show any hope of a peaceful settlement of the present crisis.

Such a situation is not unique to Nepal. In the world, in many countries a similar situation has been witnessed. In Nepal the fight between the government and the rebels is going to enter into a second decade, in many countries it has been going on for more than two decades. There is no guarantee that the fight in Nepal is going to stop soon. It may linger for another decade.

The Nepali people are fed up with the violence and crave for peaceful solution but the rebels and the government stick to their respective strategy, which does not lead towards peace. Therefore, it has to be accepted that the war is going to be protracted. Since the civil society has not been able to convince the government and the Maoists of the need to declare ceasefire and start negotiation, it has now to opt for a strategy for controlling further damage. Both sides fighting against each other claim to fight on principles and to defend the principles they believe in. So, let them limit their targets against each other and not involve the innocent civilians who are neutral and unarmed. They can do so only by adhering to the internationally prescribed and approved rules of war. They must respect the Geneva Convention and act according to its directives during the conduct of war. Both sides have accused the other side of foul play and violating the Geneva Convention. During the early days of ‘people’s war,’ the Maoists were very vocal to demand the observance of the Geneva Convention. The government, having signed and ratified the convention and a number of other declarations, claimed to honour them. Yet the rampant violation of the Geneva Convention and other statutes by both sides can be traced every day. It is a matter of grave concern to all that such violations question the civic and humanitarian sense of the violators.

The people are for peace, but in the absence of peace, at least the adherence to civilised norms has to be demanded from those who perpetuate conflict. Therefore, the civil society has to call upon the government and the Maoist rebels to sign the Human Rights Accord as drafted by the National Human Rights Commission. The drafted accord was given to the government and the Maoists as far back as July 2003. There has not been any response from either side yet. We claim to be a civilised nation. Whatever the causes of conflict, both sides belong to the civilised category. In order to prove our commitment to a better-civilised society, let the government and the Maoists, without delay, sign the Human Rights Accord.

The war may continue until both realise the futility of it and the need for negotiation or it could continue until one side vanquishes the other. As long as the war continues the country will face great damage. However, to reduce the damage, protection of basic human rights is essential. And for assuring the people of their really popular agendas, the Maoists must sign the Human Rights Accord and to show their commitment to protect the fundamental rights of the people. The government too must reaffirm its faith in protection of human rights by signing the Human Rights Accord. The civil society must create a movement to motivate the government and the rebels to sign this accord.

Upadhyay is a former foreign minister