Multilateral forums such as the Human Rights Council are points of relevance for smaller power states, such as Nepal, in light of our foreign policy goals and the vision of sustaining political gains in our development. Immense goodwill, support and cooperation by countries and international organisations are indispensable to any country’s journey carrying such a vision. The rule-based order provides small states with the opportunity to maximise its foreign policy avenues. In this vein, voices and friendships with like-minded countries can be important assets in the long run. Much can be attained through diplomatic brilliance of forging strategic partnerships and by translating national interests to convince on why one ‘good’ is practical for Nepal among ideological choices of many other ‘goods’ in the realm of human rights and international law.
Coincidentally, within few months of Nepal’s constitutional and political achievements, its maiden role as a ‘member’ of the HRC, began in January, 2018. Nepal entered one of the prime multilateral forums where global politics lashes out each day, raw at the core of ‘realpolitik’ and polished on the surface of ‘international law’ ‘human rights’ and ‘humanitarian law’.
Here, the words of George Bernard Shaw, one of the greatest playwrights, are particularly relevant. He once famously quipped, ‘The single biggest problem of communication is the illusion that it has taken place’. As with most of our national machineries on their pursuit to provide much-needed clarity on issues of national interests — and especially while we relegate that journey in the backdrop as ‘works-in-progress’— this piece is written with the intention to contribute some important points of discussion.
First, Nepal’s engagement in HRC is an important opportunity to create our national narrative and to engage in image building — especially at this critical juncture where multilateralism is receding. Nepal’s presence as a council member would accrue many benefits.
Identity and recognition politics play a dominant role in the global and local nation-building narratives. As long as the global world order thrives on the early nineteenth century Westphalian state-system model, a state not participating in any narrative would mean losing a chance to win the support of the strategically aligned like-minded ones. The chapeau argument is rooted in the philosophical bases of Aristotle and Rousseau, in terms of the importance of consistent expression of a ‘State’s sovereign will’ having long-term value for its entity preservation.
Within the intricate web of interactions across the continents, a country at HRC, since 2006, is evaluated for its international standing amid the bloc politics, religion-based politics and overall normative value rankings. By virtue of its voting capacity, this is the first time Nepal is able to get appraisal among member states for our non-aligned positions — including ‘amity to all and enmity to none’.
The decision-making at the HRC surpasses mere ‘regional groupings’ as it also importantly embodies identity-politics based lobbying, levied through representation and agendas pushed by the Organisation of Islamic States, Eastern European Countries, and others.
The 47-seat membership of the HRC is drawn from all the 193 member states in accordance with geographical distribution, which turns out to be weighted in favour of Asia and Africa. The benefit of being able to voice the country’s strengths coupled with the opportunity to become more familiar with the contextual and evolving foreign policy positions of countries around the world has proved to be valuable by-products of involvement.
With this platform, Nepal is getting counted in decision making processes, and thereby gaining relevancy, and forging deeper ties with regional and global entitites. Institutionalisation of these accomplishments can add significant value to Nepal’s foreign policy in the forthcoming days.
Second, HRC is mainly a forum for relatively powerful states/blocks versus the relatively smaller/fragile ones in terms of voice recognition. The mid-level or rising countries in terms of power influence are mostly comfortable watching the spectacle caused by the arm-twisting between these two camps. Amid these dynamics, coming past the traditional cold war factions, most countries in the developing and least developed countries have reoriented their positions to separate within the human rights and international law domain; traditional or national security issues and softer themes-based stands such as climate change, women and children’s rights, protection of vulnerable groups and so forth.
Nepal’s realities and its strength of upholding values — such as ‘peace’, ‘non-alignment’, ‘non-proliferation of arms’— resonates a more universal appeal in the first category and emphasises on aspirations for equality, inclusiveness and development including international cooperation. This, in turn, can reflect a prudent foreign policy choice in the long-run. But homework is needed here: Nepal must decipher where its national bearings of regional political outlooks are and determine where embracement of competing values can bear higher significance for the causes of its national interest.
The third point relates to Nepal’s opportunities that have opened up with Nepal’s taking up of the ‘Regional Co-ordinatorship’ role for the year 2019 of the Asia-Pacific Group. If its visions are to be backed well, Nepal, in this capacity, can strengthen relationships, leverage regional standing and engage constructively with other states. While paying tribute to predecessors, who bore foreign policy foresight and worked to platform Nepal’s image as one capable of neutrality and trustworthiness in various multilateral forums, Nepal has the prospect to gain further confidence and credence in international politics. The APG is the most diverse and biggest regional group comprising 53 member states. Asia Pacific Region, regarded as the hotspot of what is predicted by the international relations experts as the next global order, Nepal has an opportunity to heighten its image by balancing the interests and aspirations of some politically active countries in this region with finesse.
Multilateral diplomacy yields results in the stretch of time if a nation consistently invests in it with a foresight that places emphasis on national ethos along with the commitment to engage in global affairs. Gone are the days when Nepal’s diplomacy was perceived to be inert. It is in a myriad of avenues today, and for Nepal, HRC is irrefutably one of them.
The Kathmundu Post, February 11. Antara Singh is the Second Secretary Permanent Mission of Nepal to the UN and other International organizations in Geneva.
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