Helen Clark to The Constituent Assembly of Nepal

Nov 23, 2011

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to address the Constituent Assembly today. I do so in my capacity as Administrator of UNDP, and Chair of the UN Development Group of funds, programmes, and specialized agencies. Prior to that I was a serving Member of Parliament, Prime Minister, and political leader in my own country, New Zealand, where there is great interest in Nepal flowing from the life-long links of Sir Edmund Hillary with this country.

I bring greetings from the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, who visited this Assembly in late 2008. The Secretary General and the wider UN-system remain deeply committed to supporting Nepal through its peace and constitutional processes. We are pleased to have been able to assist Nepal on its road to peace to date through the United Nations Country team and the former UN Mission in Nepal.  The Secretary General was especially happy to learn of the important agreements reached on peace and integration earlier this month, and has applauded Nepal’s leaders for steering the process back on track. He hopes that momentum can now be maintained.

Before I say more about the important role of the Assembly, let me acknowledge the progress Nepal has been making on achieving the Millenium Development Goals, not least in child and maternal health.

The National Planning Commission of Nepal has demonstrated strong leadership on the MDGs by integrating them into Nepal’s Three Year Plan (2010 – 2013).

While there are still goals which are lagging behind here, with a strong push much more can be achieved by the MDG target date of 2015. I understand that the Planning Commission is keen to work with the UN Country Team and other stakeholders on MDG acceleration in areas like the completion of primary education by all children and the provision of clean water and sanitation. We would be delighted to assist with acceleration of progress and in continuing to support Nepal to address both poverty and inequality.  

I also commend Nepal for its international leadership role as Chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries, and for all the work done by your representatives in the lead up to the Fourth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries in Istanbul in May and the adoption of the Programme of Action for LDCs there.

I return now to the important role of the Constituent Assembly in advancing Nepal’s peace process – a “home grown” process, led by Nepal with international partners and friends, including the United Nations, standing in support.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement is a blue-print for a new Nepal where inclusion, human rights, equity, and the rule of law are firmly established.

The development of a new constitution is at the heart of the peace process. The task of delivering that has been placed on your shoulders as members of the Constituent Assembly. The process you have adopted for this purpose is participatory and, inclusive, and this Assembly itself is both diverse and representative.

That helps ensure that the constitution you produce will enjoy legitimacy and authority, by truly reflecting the dreams and aspirations of the peoples of Nepal. 

UNDP has experience in supporting constitution-making around the world. Our observation is that when these processes are open and inclusive, they do tend to produce constitutions which respond to the needs of the people as a whole, including those who have been disempowered and marginalized. 

South Africa, for example, went through such processes as it transformed itself from the repression of the apartheid state to become a constitutional democracy. As in Nepal, a representative body was charged with the responsibility of drafting a new constitution. The challenges and issues they faced will be familiar to Nepal; for example:

  • seeking the balance between achieving stability and the need for radical change;
  • designing institutions which are representative and inclusive;
  •  finding a formula for federalism and self-determination within a unified nation; and
  •  respecting local customs and norms without compromising on international treaty obligations and standards, for example on the critical issue of citizenship to ensure equal treatment of men and women and to ensure that no child is left stateless.

More recently, the constitution-making process in Kenya has also included public consultation, both by the committee of experts working on the draft constitution and after it was produced. There too, the final outcome contains provisions dealing with the basic needs of the people, and strong mechanisms for accountability of government and state institutions. 

A significant feature of both the South African and Kenyan constitutions - and indeed of modern constitution drafting in general - is the emphasis given to the incorporation of values and principles in the document. Constitutions are no longer only about institutional design and the allocation of responsibilities and functions, but also about setting out the norms and values which will govern society as a whole.

My visit to Nepal helps me to appreciate the great diversity of your country and to understand why designing a secular, federal republic with inclusive values has become a primary objective for your new constitution.

The limitations of unitary, highly centralized constitutions in responding to the challenges of multi-ethnic, multi-religious states are obvious. Federal constitutions which seek to promote unity in diversity are increasingly popular in countries made up of many ethnicities and faiths. The challenges in the design of such a constitution are to recognize difference and affirm what it is which unites people; and to devolve power while safeguarding the unity and territorial integrity of the nation state.  In a country as diverse and multi-faceted as Nepal, that is no easy task, but it can be achieved.

I would like to commend the work of the Constitutional Committee of the Assembly and its various sub-committees and task forces which have worked tirelessly to reconcile the various proposals, and move towards consensus on the contentious issues over the last three years.

I am also pleased that UNDP has been able to support the process in many ways from assisting the Assembly itself to facilitating widespread popular participation and engagement, assisting in the development of constitutional options, including by drawing on international comparisons, and beginning to prepare for the challenges of transition to and implementation of the new constitution.

The Centre for Constitutional Dialogue which UNDP is supporting has had nearly 80,000 visitors come through its door. 500,000 Nepalese have participated in ‘democracy dialogues’ we have facilitated across every Village Development Committee in the country.

We have also been pleased to work with various caucuses within the Constituent Assembly, including the Women’s and Indigenous Peoples’ caucuses, and with the Dalit community, to facilitate study of and cross party consensus on complex constitutional issues.

In parallel, UNDP has continued to work closely with the Election Commission, to develop the capacity of this important institution which plays such a crucial and, complementary role to your own role. Our work with the Human Rights Commission and with the judicial system at the national and local level are also part of our broader contribution to helping build strong foundations for the rule of law in Nepal.

I take this opportunity to place on record our appreciation to the Governments of the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, the United States, Australia, and Austria for their financial support for our work on the constitutional process to date. Partnerships with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), the Swiss Development Corporation and the Canadian Bar Association have also been important.

The coming weeks and months, will be very demanding of the Assembly as it enters what we hope is the final stretch of this complex process.  You have the draft constitution to complete, a country-wide public consultation on the draft to conduct, then to consider the views expressed, reach accommodation on outstanding, contentious issues, and finally to adopt the new constitution. 

The day it is enacted will initiate a new phase of constitutional development, which will also be arduous. The new constitution’s provisions will need to be implemented, and there will be a transition to it to manage. Public expectations will be high, with many hopes vested in the new institutions. Resource and capacity constraints will need to be surmounted.

Yet I have no doubt that Nepal possesses the knowledge, the skills, and the capabilities to respond to this challenge. For our part, UNDP and the whole of the UN system remain committed to help in whatever way we can. We know that Nepal’s constitution-making process is a result of the popular demand expressed by the historic people’s movement of 2006. The new constitution which you are developing will not only reflect that desire for change, but will also create the platform for Nepal’s  ongoing transformation.

An independent judiciary which understands the spirit of the new constitution will be vital for its implementation and for the rule of law.  Independent commissions, including the National Human Rights Commission, will also play an important role in ensuring that the constitution is upheld.  Reaffirmation and strengthening of the rule of law and creating a culture of constitutionalism are vital if the new constitution is to be established as the supreme law of the land.

The new parliament too will have a vital role to play as a deliberative assembly which discusses, debates, reflects, contemplates, engages, and grapples with different opinions and ideas. In a constitutional democracy this ensures that the views of all people can be considered when laws are made.

The next few weeks and months will require generosity of spirit, wisdom, and leadership from the members of the Constituent Assembly and the many political actors in Nepal. We in the United Nations, stand in solidarity with you, and extend our support to you, as you work to complete this historic enterprise of peace and constitution building.

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