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Writing Nepal's constitution not for the faint of heart


Published: April 20, 2012

AT HIS Carmel law firm, Frank Hespe has handled some of the county’s most notorious elder abuse cases, coming to the aid of seniors who have been swindled by predators.

But not many of Hespe’s clients know that he can casually claim the title of “international peacekeeper.”

The 51-year-old attorney recently returned from Kathmandu, Nepal, where he spent nearly four days in talks in an effort to forge agreements between former Maoist guerrillas and the Nepalese government over the war-torn country’s long-sought constitution.

“I had ex-Maoist guerrillas on one side, and at the other table there were two retired three-star Nepalese government generals,” Hespe told The Pine Cone.

“These guys a few years ago were shooting at each other, and now they are sitting at the same table trying to enact a constitution,” he said.

Until a peace accord in 2006, Maoist rebels battled Nepalese government forces in an effort to overthrow the country’s monarchy. Since then, the country has failed to write a constitution and is facing pressure to come up with one.

During four days of workshops, Hespe and others — including Naval Postgraduate School professor Matt Vaccaro — were commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense to hash out details of the document.

“It’s common after horrible civil war to figure out how to put the genie back in the bottle and form a government,” said Hespe, who is an expert in international law.

Hespe focused on the military aspects of Nepal’s constitution, challenging the two groups to meet eye to eye on issues that for years had been impossible to agree on.

“I had to ask out loud the hard questions,” said Hespe, who, along with attorney Al Nicora, has a law firm on Dolores Street. “They needed someone to be the lightning rod.”

One day, for instance, was spent on the peculiar query of deciding which wing of the Nepalese government would be responsible for declaring war.

“It used to be the king,” Hespe said. “Is it the president who gets to do it? Does the prime minister get to do it? Do you have to have an act of parliament? Who has the power, and which way does the power flow?

Though the questions weren’t completely answered by the time Hespe left Nepal, he said the groups were working toward a process of checks and balances which would require more than one entity to declare war.

Another issue was women’s rights in the military.

“For the most part,” Hespe said, “the Maoist guerrillas were more open to allowing women to take a more active role in the army than the old royalist army.”

The parties also discussed the degree to which sexual harassment takes place in the military and what, if any, individual protections should be included in the constitution.

Another hotly debated topic, Hespe said, was the question of how to incorporate the Maoist fighters into the official Nepalese army. Some segments of Nepalese society feel the guerrillas are a bunch of untrained, uneducated peasants not fit to be in the military.

“The other side of that coin pointed out that the guerrillas sacrificed a tremendous amount during the war,” Hespe said, “and they had as much right as anyone to be a full member of the army once peace was declared.”

Vaccaro, 44, is program director of NPS’s Center for Stabilization and Reconstruction Studies, which teaches the armed forces, civilians and others how to help resolve conflict in countries affected by war or disaster. The organization is part of the Center for Civil-Military Relations, which organized the Nepal workshop.

“My goal was to help the people of Nepal anticipate challenges in advance,” Vaccaro said, “so that they might be able to develop their own solutions to these challenges as they work to complete their peace process.”

Vaccaro traveled to Nepal again this week for a follow-up workshop that focused on its process to develop a national security strategy — the guiding document the country will follow to keep the peace.

Despite the austere tone of the workshops, the highly educated representatives on both sides were receptive and civil, occasionally exchanging jokes and laughs.

“The Nepalese are amazingly wonderful people,” Hespe said. “Even though they went through a horrible civil war, they really were willing and able to talk about this stuff quite honestly with each other.”

As unique an opportunity as it sounds, Nepal wasn’t the first time Hespe had spent time in Asia helping write a country’s governing blueprint. Fifteen years ago, he went to Tajikistan to help with its constitution following that country’s civil war in the 1990s.

He used Tajikistan’s history to warn the Nepalese.

“In Tajikistan, it all went wrong, and today it’s not a functioning democracy,” Hespe said. “My point to them is that Tajikistan is a cautionary tale as to what to avoid. And they listened.”

According to “The Hindu” newspaper in India, last week the Nepal government officially took control of the former Maoist army’s weapons and its 15 major military garrisons.

Nepal Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai was quoted as saying the integration marked the end of “one state, two armies.”