By Deepak Dhital, Kathmandu Oct 29: The official visit of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, to Nepal from October 29 to November 1, 2023, is a testimony of excellent bonds of Nepal-United Nations relations that have grown from strength to strength since Nepal joined the UNO in 1955.
It may be recalled that since the last visit by then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2008 at the peak period of the country’s transition from conflict to peace, a political settlement of burning issues has already been achieved following the promulgation of the Constitution in 2015.
Subsequently, socio-economic transformation and shared prosperity upheld by sustainable development are the prime agenda of the nation. The United Nations decided to graduate Nepal into a developing country in 2021 with a grace period of five years. Similarly, the World Bank upgraded Nepal into a lower-middle-income country in June 2020. These are definitely positive signals of the advancements the country is making. At the same time, the emerging global challenges that have come up in a formidable way in various forms and manifestations and the domestic challenges that have cropped up due to continuing vulnerability, structural impediments and capacity constraints to overcome them have baffled to sustain the developmental gains and move forward towards larger horizons.
The purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and the idealism of peaceful, cooperative relations of all nations of the world, connecting all humanity, have inspired the fundamental tenets of the constitution of Nepal. In fact, Nepal has initiated and continued to set all major universally acclaimed values and ideals through its Constitution, laws and policy initiatives, which largely go in line with the ultimate goals and principles of the United Nations. The challenges of implementation in a way bear similitude, albeit to a smaller extent within our national context.
Looking at some of the opportunities that we can tap in the global and national contexts by working closely together with the United Nations System, it is relevant to touch upon some crucial ones in the context of the Secretary-General’s visit.
Three Functional Pillars
Maintaining peace and security in a geopolitically transforming world through the semblance of equity and justice has always been most formidable. The United Nations as a member-driven organization is always effortful in this priority agenda. In recent times, the UN has not been able to contain and peacefully resolve the Russia-Ukraine war. We have to see how far the UN General Assembly resolution passed on the ceasefire of the Israel-Hamas war goes in restoring mutually acceptable peace and security in the Middle East. Any conflicts, hostilities or confrontations have repercussions in a globalized and connected world, with the most vulnerable economies having to bear the brunt of these eventualities.
It is satisfying to note that Nepal has been at the forefront of the UN peacekeeping operations, currently occupying the position of the second highest troops-contributing country. It has almost been the sole area in which Nepal is willing and able to make contributions to the global community. Aspirations to be a number one troops contributor in relation to the South Asian neighbours, who are also among the highest contributors in this regard, will add to the national honour and prestige. A South Asian Peacekeeping Training Centre to be located in Nepal and managed and operated with collective efforts is a cherished goal to be achieved. As Nepal has significantly enlarged the magnitude of participation in peacekeeping operations, seeking enhanced roles for the security personnel in higher leadership and management positions, both at the headquarters and the fields, is but natural.
On the development front, the United Nations’ continued endeavour to forge a common global agenda and actions through campaigns like MDGs and SDGs are innovative and welcome steps. This has raised hopes among billions of people in the global South for integration of their countries and societies in the development mainstream, thereby making a positive movement towards equitable and just world order as a foundation of peace. If the UN had the power to marshal resources needed for these noble endeavours in an equitable manner, the world would have been a different place to live in for everybody. As a country in need of more development assistance and technical support, ensuring smooth flows of these scarce and valuable resources through the UN and other donor countries in a coordinated form during the transition to graduation and beyond is essential for our nation.
An important area in which we can take pride is the big transformation in the human rights regime of the country over the last two decades. In relation to what has already been achieved in human rights regime in comparable developing countries and, to some extent, even in certain specific areas in some developed countries, the commitments made through the Constitution of Nepal, 2015 and relevant laws, and subsequent progress made in crucial areas of human rights in a relatively shorter period of time is phenomenal. Nepal needs further human, physical and institutional development and support of the international rule of law and rule-based international order to sustain this momentum to a satisfactory end.
At this juncture, however, a mention of the transitional justice (TJ) mechanism that Nepal has made commitments to the Nepali people and the global community at large through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and all relevant actions of the peace process that followed the CPA, is relevant. It should not remain as a blemish in otherwise a very successful peace process that concluded, in a way, following the constitution writing, sans this important component. The amendment to the relevant legislation, under consideration by the Parliament, to bring it to an all-acceptable level in the best interest of the conflict victims and for the sake of lasting peace and reconciliation of the Nepali society, will be completed soon. Bringing the TJ process to its logical conclusion to meet the expectations of the national and international communities would set examples for countries trying to exit from conflict situations.
LDC and LLDC Agenda
The Prime Minister as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs made various interventions in the 78th UN General Assembly in Nepal’s capacity as coordinator of the Global LDC Bureau. It is a very positive gesture on the part of the Secretary-General that he accepted our Prime Minister’s invitation when Nepal is in a position to work together with the global community to champion the cause of the global LDCs. The United Nations mechanisms – through ECOSOC, CDC, UNOHRLLS and various specialized agencies, funds and programmes – have put up all-out efforts within their capacities to ameliorate the situation of the LDCs. More is necessary from able and willing member countries to contribute to overcoming the structural constraints and vulnerabilities suffered by the LDCs on various fronts of sustainable development. Nepal now finds a suitable forum to collate the genuine socio-economic, human, environmental and trade concerns of the LDCs and work towards global consensus for enhanced and accelerated support for the 46 least developed countries, constituting a sizeable 13 per cent of the global population.
Though having met the graduation criteria for two consecutive terms of the UN Committee on Development Policy, Nepal’s graduation by 2026 suffers a high degree of vulnerability because of the recent global economic slowdown, rising inflation, resurgent trade barriers and increased geopolitical tensions. A notable point is that Nepal has never met the UN criteria set for the GNI per capita index, unlike other graduating countries. It means that there is much more to do in the promotion of economic diplomacy at the multilateral, regional and bilateral levels. The national players must have a clear and coherent picture of our scope and limitations and push hard towards realizing the proven potential the mountainous country harbours. Importantly, Nepal’s Graduation Strategy should be brought out sooner than later in order to dovetail all available support and cooperation from the world community for a sustainable and irreversible graduation.
Nepal may not remain an LDC after graduation, but it will still carry on the tag of LLDC and the handicaps it causes on overall development and enhancement of export trade. Enhancing and enlarging connectivity of efficient and effective transport networks, policies, institutions, technological advancements, ideas and innovation within the region and beyond, therefore, needs to be guided by our political vision and commitment. The UN Framework for sustainable development of LLDCs has remained a useful guideline for global cooperation, the potential of which must be maximized.
Climate Change and Other Emerging Crises
The United Nations system and its evolving mechanisms are most suitable to fight the catastrophic effects of climate change and avert or manage the impacts of pandemics like COVID-19 collectively. Likewise, a strengthened, rule-based and fair global system alone will be capable of curbing the menace of drugs, illegal arms, smuggling and other transnational crimes. The LDCs require climate justice as they collectively emit less than 4 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, but bear the brunt of climate change. Support for adaptation and mitigation as well as compensation for ‘loss and damage’ already suffered by these countries in unequivocal terms is what is necessary. Nepal alone has projected requirements in excess of US$ 46 billion equivalent of resources for the implementation of a long-term adaptation plan, which is believed to be far more important climate action. The uniqueness of the mountain terrains, and the heightened urgency to tackle the disproportionate rise in temperature which is detrimental to billions of people living in the downstream areas for dependency of life-supporting water resources, have been less talked about.
Hopefully, the Secretary-General will be able to see with his own eyes how devastating and quick transformations climate change has been making in the higher Himalayan region of Nepal when he visits Syangboche in Solukhumbu and Annapurna Sanctuary in the Annapurna massif in the course of his scheduled visits to these important touristic sites. Many seemingly internal issues which are causing a lot of suffering, but which are not of our own making, must be highlighted and brought to global attention during propitious occasions like this.
Our geopolitically sensitive location, highly mountainous terrains, less developed economy, meagre export base and trade, and a socio-economic transformation process that still suffers from transitional policy gaps and institutional weaknesses seek enlightened pragmatism and inspirational guidance from our liberal, human rights-oriented and ideally construed Constitution. All other downstream developments get positively transformed thereof. The United Nations can function well in a friendly, cooperative and ideal global milieu for which the values and principles emanating from conventional wisdom, idealism and idealistic realities are beacons to govern the complex and complicated world in the interests of the entire humanity.
(Dhital is a former PR/Ambassador of Nepal to the United Nations)