This piece was written while the author was completing a Master of Arts degree in Peace Studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
The term Peacebuilding, like the word peace, has different definitions. The United Nations Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992) defined it as "post conflict action to identify and support structures which tend to strengthen and solidify peace to avoid a relapse into conflict". Lederach (1997) stated that "peacebuilding is more than just a post-conflict reconstruction; it encompasses, generates and sustains a full array of processes, approaches and stages needed to transform a conflict towards a more sustainable relationship." Ricigliano (2012) defines peacebuilding as a holistic approach. For him, a key to building peace is bridging the gap between success at the local and policy levels. These definitions show how important the grassroots approach in peacebuilding is. Studies have shown that the involvement of local leaders, such as leaders involved in local communities, non-government organizations (NGOs) and other formal and informal organizations in peacebuilding, has become a very effective strategy in strengthening community and building peace at the local level. Lederach (1998) explained , "These people understand intimately the fear and suffering with which much of the population must live; they also have an expert knowledge of local politics and know on a face-to-face basis the local leaders of the government and its adversaries."
A Local Peace Committee (LPC) refers to a forum/committee that is formed at that level of a district, municipality, town or village with the aim of encouraging and facilitating joint inclusive peacemaking and peacebuilding processes. An LPC by its nature is inclusive of different sections of the community that are in conflict and has the task of promoting peace within its own context. In the case of Nepal, the 2007 cabinet, including the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists), adopted the Terms of References (ToR) for the LPC. That was the official beginning of forming LPCs in 75 districts of Nepal.
The LPC of Kavre district of Nepal is a transitional inclusive peace forum, established under the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction (MoPR), of the Government of Nepal at the end of 2010. ToR article 3.1 stated that a LPC should comprise a maximum of twelve members from the political parties that took part in the CA election from the district. Four members should be from local organizations including human rights activists or civil society. Similarly, there should be four representatives from victims of conflict, one from the chamber of commerce and the remaining two from the minority groups. The chair will rotate every six months.
Despite having great hurdles, the coordinator was selected and the committee started functioning on April 29, 2011. The committee was made up of twenty-one members at the beginning. Among them, each of the eleven political parties had a representative, one was from the Chamber of Commerce, Kavre, four victims of conflict, four members from civil society including women's organizations, journalists and other local organizations. Similarly, one representative each was from the indigenous community and untouchable community. In this sense, the LPC of Kavre is quite inclusive in its structure.
Although resources for the LPC come from the MoPR, it has been given the status of an autonomous inclusive local body. Similarly, it has been given a mandate to conduct any project needed to promote harmony and build human communities in the district. The basic conception of the government of Nepal was that the LPC should also "fill a void or weakness in governance" at the local level, in the absence of an elected government during transition.
I served as secretary of the LPC, Kavre from 2009 to 2011. Simply put, my job was to handle the administration of the office. This included supporting the LPC coordinator to formulate programs, implement projects, conduct meetings and complete other tasks. In this sense, the LPC Officer was a tough job to handle. This paper will be my personal reflection in which I will describe what I experienced working at the LPC in Kavre district. I will provide an assessment of what I perceived to be strengths and weaknesses of the LPC in building community and promoting dialogue in the Kavre district of Nepal.
Strengths of the LPC in Kavre
The LPC was designed to sustain peace by providing a common forum for people to locally implement national peace agreements. It suggested that "peacebuilding will succeed if citizens of affected society assume responsibility for implementing peace (ownership). Similarly, they need to be willing to sustain the peacebuilding process by relying on local resources, both human and financial (capacity)".
Kavre is one of the major conflict-affected districts in Nepal. Before forming an LPC, there was no particular place where political parties could interact with each other to prevent, manage or resolve further atrocities among themselves or others. Communication between parties and the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) did not function well for a long time in Kavre. This situation created difficulties in implementing development projects. At this juncture, the LPC became a focal point which helped to bring together all parties for dialogue and established harmony within inter-party politics in Kavre. Since then, it has been continually working with local stakeholders, such as local NGOs, women's groups, and local media to promote peace, harmony, justice and human rights at the local level.
From the very beginning, the LPC has been continually facilitating the District Administration Office (DAO) headed by a Chief District Officer (CDO), the highest administrative officer in district, to provide interim relief for victims of conflict. As of 2006, hundreds of victims, including relatives of 265 killed, 20 detained and 6 casualties, applied for interim relief.  Prior to the formation of the LPC, there was no particular organization that scrutinized the applications. The LPC studied all applications, verified them and facilitated the DAO for further proceeding at the ministry. The major intention of this overview was to find real victims and help them to get their interim relief in a timely manner. With the committed support of the LPC, thousands of victims of conflict have already received their interim relief. In order to help victims of conflict, LPC Kavre has been routinely disseminating information either via telephone or through a radio program for people living in the remote areas. Due to the good coordination of the LPC, victims have been easily getting necessary information about the MoPR related to interim relief and other support.
Similarly, every year, the LPC received a small program budget of about $8,000 from the MoPR. From this resource, we conducted radio programs, various trainings for victims' families, community mediation training for LPC members, offered small help for the education of victims' children, reconciliation programs for conflict victims, and other services in the year 2011/2012. Among these, the radio program was most effective. It helped the LPC to be recognized in everyone's home, even in the most remote areas of Kavre. The program was basically focused on promoting human rights and peace at the local level. In this way the LPC became a bridge to join victims and other stakeholders of peace. Similarly, other projects, such as a talk program helped to increase the awareness of peace, human rights, and reconciliation of the local stakeholders, as well as the conflict victims in the Kavre District.
The LPC helped to enhance the mediation and conflict resolution skills of its members by offering them community mediation training and other personal development training. This kind of training helped them to take every small dispute in a serious way, finding the root causes of conflict and offering them viable alternatives for reconciliation. The ideas learned from the training were applied in mediating numerous local disputes in the district. This proves that the beauty of LPC Kavre is to build relationships and promote harmony at the community level.
ToR 4.2 has clearly mentioned that a LPC should monitor the reconstruction programs of the MoPR at the district level. However limited, LPC Kavre has been frequently monitoring the reconstruction activities of the MoPR, compelling concerned authorities, such as the District Technical Office and the City Development and Building Construction Office, to effectively implement reconstruction projects in the district. Due to the absence of local governance, implementations of these programs were very poor. In this context, monitoring these new constructions by the LPC, to some extent, helped to control corruption and improve the quality of the work.
Finally, in the absence of local government in Nepal, corruption has mounted at the local level. Kavre could not remain untouched by this problem. In this context, the presence of a LPC in Kavre, to some extent, helped to monitor the governance activities at the district level, which has helped to minimize corruption and has assisted people in getting services from these offices.
Weaknesses of the LPC
The LPC has continuously been involved in promoting dialogue, reconciliation and building peace and human communities in Kavre. However, it has serious weaknesses in its structure and its performance. Although LPC Kavre looks inclusive in its structure, it didn't fully incorporate some local actors such as the Informal Service Center, a renowned national NGO working for the promotion of human rights at the local level. This organization is very popular--even in the remote areas of Nepal. It was also working during the conflict. However, it was not included in the LPC. Similarly, LPC Kavre failed to include other NGO leaders and civil society actors who actively participated in saving human lives during the war, and have good networks and popularity among the local community. Had it included them, the LPC could definitively have earned more support and increased trust from the people. I built good personal relationships with some of these organizations and leaders, as many of them were my colleagues and friends. These relationships helped me to be known among the victims community. However, it remained true that many NGO leaders didn't coordinate with the LPC openly. Excluding these actors from the LPC has raised questions of the impartiality of the LPC. In addition, this dynamic showed that the LPC experienced difficulty in being perceived as nonpartisan and exempt from political influence.
A lack of resources posed another very important problem for the LPC in Kavre. The district comprises 3 municipalities (Urban administrative divisions) and 88 village development committees (VDCs), the lowest administrative division. These organizations represent local forms of governance in Nepal and function in the absence of elected local government since 1997.
The MoPR deployed me as an officer; however, the preparation was very minimal, forcing me to work on my own. Similarly, LPC Kavre didn't have its own authority to control its finances. Although the LPC was considered an autonomous body, control of it was given to the Chief District Officer (CDO). The CDO caused a lot of unnecessary tensions, particularly with regard to financial issues. This kind of situation promoted corruption and created difficulties in providing services to the people and completing projects on time.
Due to the lack of financial and logistic resources, the LPC could not act effectively in some emergency situations. As an officer, I frequently used my own resources to work in these situations; however, getting reimbursed from the CDO would be very difficult. This kind of situation sometimes strained the relations between the LPC and the CDO. This dynamic indicates a dearth of 'vertical and horizontal relationships' among leaders.
Lack of cooperation from other governmental organizations is another problem for the LPC. Because of its temporary structure, the bureaucratic sectors usually do not seriously cooperate with the LPC. There are numerous committees, including reconstruction and other peace related programs, in other offices where at least two members are from the LPC. However, the presence of the LPC members was just for show. For this, the organizations had to consult with the LPC; however, often they didn't like to share information.
Temporary recruitment of the LPC Secretary is another grave problem the LPC faced. With the changing of government, the staff changed too. Rather than extending the term of the LPC Secretary, a new pattern of ministers emerged - relying on the recruitment of secretaries from their own party, or people who were close to them personally. This promoted forms of nepotism and patronage, which had a negative impact on the impartiality and fairness of the LPC and the public's perception of their values. Similarly, the preparation of the MoPR to the staff was minimal. In this context, rather than working effectively, each staff member tried to secure their job, seriously hindering the functionality of the LPC. On the other hand, the structure of the LPC is devised in such a way that an officer must have the knowledge of project management, peace building and relationship building.
The lack of educated committee members is another challenge faced by the committee. As a result, the LPC could not reach its potential. Similarly, in my opinion, the LPC has not been concerned enough about research and other studies. Because of its lack of resources, it couldn't document all the issues related to conflict and peacebuilding in the district. In addition, due to its limited relationships with other civil society organizations, it could not initiate partnerships to promote peace, human rights, or harmony in the local communities.
LPC Kavre has been continuously monitoring the reconstruction projects of the MoPR; however, in the absence of resources and clear mechanisms, the monitoring activities of LPC have not been effective. Although many people complained about the poor construction of the reconstruction activities, the LPC could not go to the field in time. Finally, LPC Kavre has formed many VDC and Municipal level LPCs. The major intention was to make a network at the lowest level; however, , in the absence of particular funding and other resources, these LPCs are inactive.
However imperfect, the LPC is a very important institution in promoting peace and harmony in the Kavre district. There would be no alternatives to replace the LPC because only the local actors, who have better knowledge of, and relationships with, the district, can manage the disputes in the district. I have seen that LPC Kavre has several times saved lives, broken political deadlocks, solved problems, and restored ordinary life in the district. They have contributed to minimizing violence and building a new upward momentum to heal the former war atrocities, wounds and promoted reconciliation at the community level. Although fragile in its structure and practices, the LPC in Kavre has offered a relatively cost-effective investment for sustainable peace building in the district. In the absence of elected bodies, it has at least a minimal influence over other government agencies.
The LPC in Kavre is the only institution that has a national mandate to implement the plans and policies of the MoPR in the district; however, it suffered a serious lack of coordination with the national ministry. To function well, more support and better cooperation is needed between the MoPR and other national and international agencies. We should not forget that the origin of the conflict was in rural areas where people experienced marginalization. In this context, only the local actors, such as Maoists who had directly involved themselves in the conflict, should work for sustainable peace. In this situation, the LPC in Kavre still has the potential to prevent violence, and promote brotherhood and peace at the grassroots level.
In my previous discussion, I mentioned that despite having so many gaps, there is no alternative for the LPC in Kavre. However, it needs to improve a number of things to make its performance more effective. In this context, my recommendations include the following:
For the LPC
- The LPC of Kavre should replace its members and incorporate local organizations that have a long history of working at the community level. This will help to win the hearts and minds of the people living in the community by earning their trust.
- The LPC of Kavre should cooperate with all other government organizations which will pressure them to work together with the LPC for peace-related projects.
For NGOs and others
- NGOs and other actors should support the LPC in Kavre and enhance the capacity of staff and members by offering training, seminars and discussions, so that LPC staff and members can work effectively.
For the MoPR
- The MoPR should give the LPC financial authority by changing its obsolete bureaucratic rules. Similarly, the MoPR should give more authority and resources for the LPC to monitor reconstruction work effectively. It will help to minimize corruption and compel concerned authorities to be more accountable and transparent to their activities.
- The term of the LPC secretary should be managed as a fixed term appointment for at least 3-4 years so that he/she can work effectively. Similarly, the responsibility of the LPC Secretary should be broadened. The post should be given the authority to handle all the administrative work.
Finally, there are some specific questions that have to be considered to make the LPC more effective.
- The question regarding "power." Should the LPC be given capacity to arbitrate certain disputes or should they prepare for a facilitative role?
- What would be the new things that could help LPC, Kavre work more effectively? Is it its mandate, the right composition, the commitment of the members or the quality of MoPR support?
- It is mentioned that LPCs are not allowed to receive funding from other resources. How can an LPC develop more sustainable forms of income and funding?
There are a number of issues that need to be discussed. In this sense, further research is necessary to have concrete findings that would help to improve the functionality of the LPCs in Kavre and other districts in Nepal.