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After the revolution

By Daniel Quinlan - posted Tuesday, 19 April 2011

In 2006, the Nepali people overthrew their King in a revolution that became known as Jan Andolan 2 or the 'second peoples' movement'. The first peoples' movement occurred in 1990, and ushered in a period of democracy in Nepal that was disappointing to many, characterised by corruption, political intrigue and ineffective, unstable government. Resentment against the system produced by Jan Andolan 1 spawned a Maoist insurgency that became a 10 year civil war that left 13000 dead and more than 1300 people 'disappeared'.

As the war progressed, human rights were eroded, democracy floundered and, in 2005, a Palace coup left the king with absolute power.

Then came Jan Andolan 2.


Jan Andolan 2 was carried out by a wide cross section of Nepali society, which rose up against absolutist rule with the same courage displayed in recent months across the Arab world. Many Nepalese suffered greatly, as have many of the Arab rebels. They were killed, tortured and jailed. But despite a curfew and shoot-to-kill orders given to the Nepalese security services, the people's movement continued and ultimately prevailed. This victory led to the establishment of a new federal democratic state and, with it, hope of a new Nepal. Five years later, the euphoria and hope has given way to a widespread sense of disillusionment. People seem fed up with their politicians and Nepal remains in flux as the country struggles to conclude the peace process and create a constitutional order for the 'new Nepal'.

The high levels of disillusionment and frustration amongst ordinary people in respect of the failure to create a 'new Nepal' is palpable. A number of times I received the same response to my questions about the political situation... Nepal is finished. Others are less disparaging but most are disappointed. A small business owner said the real change was when there was a king only one man was "robbing the people, now there are 601" (referring to the number of constitutional assembly members).

As the famous Nepali author, Manjushree Thapa, noted in the New York Times recently "we have learned it is easier to start a revolution then to finish one". This lesson has been learned elsewhere as well. The 'Orange" and 'Rose' Revolutions of Ukraine and Georgia respectively have so far produced flawed, incomplete democracies.

While it would be false to say Nepal has made no progress, it seems agonisingly slow.

So where has Nepal gone wrong? And what lessons can be learned for Tunisia, Egypt and, hopefully, other Arab and North African States?

Much of Nepal's woes stem from the failure to establish the rule of law, through a strong judiciary and robust and independent policing and security services that are accountable and trusted by the people.


As the International Crisis Group points out, "impunity for past crimes encourages political violence now". As yet there hasn't been a single successful criminal prosecution from the conflict era. There is still no law that criminalises gross Human Rights violations such as torture or enforced disappearance. The major political parties regularly intervene to have cadres released, including those accused of serious crimes. A recent review found that 100,000 court verdict's remain unimplemented.

Recently, Reporter's Without Boarders condemned "the failure of the government to act in the face of the growing number of attacks" targeting journalists. In the past week, three bombings have taken place in the troubled Teri region, the latest injuring 28.

John Locke said, 'where there is no law, there is no freedom'. While there is Law in Nepal it is weak and has done little to protect citizens or punish those who violate it. Without a rule of Law to protect them, Nepali citizens are forced to maintain client- patron relationships with powerful people or groups for some sense of security. It also creates an environment in which investment grinds to a halt and corruption and the black economy flourishes. It is estimated that one thousand Nepalese leave the country every day seeking work or education. This ironically helps the current rulers, as the remittances they send home helps keep the economy afloat and drains the pool of disaffected who might decide it is time for another peoples movement.

If the Arab states who have recently overthrown their tyrants are to avoid Nepal's mistakes, they must build strong and independent institutions capable of enforcing the rule of law. This will be difficult and take time and unfortunately is still a revolutionary change that needs to occur in many parts of the world. When these changes occur in Nepal it's future will brighten considerably, and many of those who have left but long to return will do so bringing with them skills and energy to help create a 'new Nepal'. While, the new constitution is already a year late and is unlikely to be completed by the May 28 deadline, it can still be the important foundation of the 'new Nepali' that its brave citizens so obviously deserve.

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About the Author

Daniel Quinlan recently returned from Nepal were he was based for fifteen months as a Human Rights Field officer for Peace Brigades International. The views expressed are solely his, and do not necessary reflect those of the organisation PBI.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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