Nepal, a country of approximately 28 million, continued its political transition in 2007. The November 2006 peace agreement between the then-Seven-Party alliance and the Maoists ended the decade-long insurgency and called for the Nepal Police (NP) and the Armed Police Force (APF) to enforce law and order across the country. The country operated under an interim political system in 2007: a parliamentary democracy with a powerless constitutional monarchy. An interim parliament of 329 members governed the country under the authority of an interim constitution that provided for the election of a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution. In April 2008 the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist won a plurality of seats in Constituent Assembly elections that were generally accepted by the population but marred by violence, intimidation, and voting irregularities. In 2007 members of the security forces committed some human rights abuses, and the Maoists and its subsidiary organization, the Young Communist League, as well as members of other small, often ethnically based armed groups, committed numerous grave human rights abuses. In addition, the Madhesis, an historically disenfranchised group, staged a mass political movement, marked by frequent periods of violence, in the lowland Terai region near the Indian border. Lacking political backing, the NP and APF were often reluctant to intervene, particularly against the Maoists. Members of the security forces occasionally used excessive and lethal force in response to demonstrations. Impunity for human rights violators; threats against the media; and violence against women and trafficking in persons, mainly women and girls, continued.
The United States pursues three democracy promotion priorities in the country: consolidation of gains in the peace process, promotion of security sector reform and the rule of law, and strengthening democratic institutions. In 2007 the peace process was fraught with challenges due to the postponement of the Constituent Assembly election, a three-month Maoist withdrawal from the cabinet, and protests in the Terai. Nonetheless, the United States worked with the government and its security forces; other members of the international community; the media; civil society; and the political parties themselves, except the Maoists, to ensure that all actors remained engaged and committed to holding a Constituent Assembly election. As part of this initiative, the United States worked with key leaders of the Madhesis and other disadvantaged groups excluded from the formal peace process.
The United States encourages the government to undertake necessary reforms to democratize its security forces, create a judicial system with adequate oversight and accountability, and to include traditionally marginalized populations in the political process. Through public diplomacy programs, the United States combats widespread Maoist propaganda on several issues, including an open economy. To promote ties between the United States and Nepal, the U.S. government encourages participation in university-level studies in the United States. The United States also supports political party training to encourage grassroots democratization of political parties.
The United States interacted regularly with political leaders, government officials, and civil society leaders to reiterate the importance of the Constituent Assembly election. Senior U.S. officials, including the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor in June 2007, consistently urged the government to maintain its commitment to democratic transition; create the conditions necessary for a free, fair, and transparent election to be held; and hold past and present human rights abusers accountable. In 2007 the United States issued statements supporting the creation of an interim constitution, expressing disappointment that the Constituent Assembly election was postponed, and urging the government to combat trafficking in persons. In addition, U.S. officials consistently voice concern about the continued use of violence by the Maoists, condemn violent clashes by ethnic minority groups, and urge the government to enforce law and order. The United States supports an international organization's work to monitor and improve the human rights situation in the country and to provide capacity-building support to the National Human Rights Commission. The United States supports the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor the observance of human rights and international humanitarian law throughout the country.
The United States provides technical assistance to the newly appointed Election Commission focused on drafting relevant election laws and regulations and training staff members. U.S. assistance also provided three high-capacity ballot printing machines to the commission. The United States supports training for political party poll watchers and provides leadership, outreach, and communication training to political party members. A U.S.-funded partner created a domestic observer alliance of local NGOs to help promote free and fair elections, and U.S.-supported civic education programs sought to ensure that marginalized groups were prepared to participate in the election process. Through a grant to a media development foundation, the United States convened a forum among journalists and government spokespersons to improve the interim government's communication with the electorate. In 2007 the U.S. government sent three influential local journalists to the United States for training under the Edward R. Murrow Program and one journalist on an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) focusing on investigative journalism.
The United States works to build the capacity of the judiciary by improving the transparency and credibility of the supreme court and selected appellate and district courts. For example, with U.S. assistance, in 2006 the supreme court launched a Web-based legal information and communications system, which allowed the court to post immediately its proceedings and decisions online for the general public. In addition, in 2006 the United States helped the supreme court to implement an automated case management system, which in 2007 helped the court to reduce significantly its backlog of cases. The program also provided civil society organizations with skills to lobby the executive and legislative branches to fund better the court's operations. U.S.-funded court-referred mediation centers promote mediation as an alternative means of dispute resolution. U.S. assistance contributes to increasing women's participation in judicial services by providing counseling, forums, advocacy trainings, and special coaching to female law graduates.
To promote security sector reform and human rights, the United States organizes and funds workshops on democratic control of the security forces, national security strategy development, and security sector legal reforms. Participants from different sectors of government, the security forces, and civil society attend these workshops. The United States sponsors soldiers to attend military education and training programs, all of which include instruction on respect for human rights. Through a partner organization, the United States also provided funding to the National Human Rights Commission to strengthen its capacity to investigate alleged human rights abuses across the country and to provide key services to victims of the conflict. In 2007 the program aided the commission in reducing its case backlog by 44 percent.
Through the IVLP, the United States sends promising leaders to the United States to learn about human rights, grassroots democracy, the U.S. judicial system, and combating trafficking in persons. In 2007 two former IVLP participants gave speeches in the country focused on female participation in the peace process to an audience of more than 100 individuals. The resources of the American Library in the country provide information about democracy, rule of law, and minority rights.
U.S.-supported programs focused on the country's transition to peace continue to assist the government and protesting groups in the formation of local peace committees. Other U.S.-supported grassroots civic society programs provide training to individuals on good governance, livelihood improvement, biodiversity, conservation, and policy advocacy.
U.S. antitrafficking initiatives provide potential victims and relevant stakeholders with targeted orientation and awareness training on trafficking and safe migration. One U.S.-funded program provides safe migration information to labor migrants crossing the border between Nepal and India and in 2007 allowed 173 potential trafficking victims to be intercepted at the border and reintegrated with their families. U.S. partners provide non-formal education and vocational training to at-risk and trafficking in persons survivors as an economic strategy to prevent the problem. The United States works with the government, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Tibetan community to seek continued safe passage of Tibetan refugees transiting to India through Nepal. In 2007 the United States made contributions to UNHCR to assist more than 107,000 Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. The United States worked along with other interested governments to lobby successfully the government to accept a durable solution for the Bhutanese refugees, which included third-country resettlement.