Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia


[Special Issues for the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights]

Embargoed for 2 February 2005
Index: Review/58/2005

Nepal: End of the puppet shows

The declaration by His Majesty King Gyanendra himself as the de jure ruler of Nepal after dismissing Sher Bahadur Deuba led coalition government on 1 February 2005 has all the ingredients of a coup d’état. Emergency has been declared and all civil liberties including the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly remain suspended. The Council of Ministers including Prime Minister Deuba and other prominent political leaders have been put under house arrest. Scores of political activists have been arrested to prevent any unrest. Capital Kathmandu has been cut off from the rest of the world as communication lines, including mobile, internet , long distance calls

Former Prime Minister Deuba being arrested in June 2004

remain suspended. International airport in Kathmandu has been closed down. Press censorship has been clamped. Foreign news channels including Indian cable TV have been banned. Yet, on 1 February 2005 itself, King Gyanendra confirmed that he would participate in the 13th summit of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to be held in Dhaka on 6-7 February 2005 to show normalcy in the country. On 2 February 2005, the King has installed a “crisis cabinet” without a Prime Minister, clearly to bargain with political parties to gain legitimacy.

Except China, the King’s own choreographed script has shocked the international community. Given the closure of the offices of the Dalai Lama by Nepal on 21 January 2005, China had to reciprocate. However, India, United States, United Kingdom and Secretary General of the United Nations have expressed grave concerns. This is despite the fact that there has not been any democratic government since the dissolution of the parliament on 22 May 2002 and subsequent dismissal of the elected government of Sher Bahadur Deuba on 4 October 2002. The Narayanti Palace has been ruling Nepal with puppets – Lokendra Bahadur Chand, Surya Bahadur Thapa and Sher Bahadur Deuba.

The present situation in Nepal is not exactly what the Spokesman of India’s Ministry of External Affairs had described yesterday: “The latest developments in Nepal bring the monarchy and the mainstream political parties in direct confrontation with each other.” Rather the latest developments bring international community and the de jure and de facto ruler, King Gyanendra into direct confrontation over democracy, human rights, rule of law and conflict resolutions. The excuses made by international community that they are dealing with a democratic government have partly contributed to the present imbroglio. Fortunately, international community including India can no longer make these excuses now.

The democratic forces in Nepal are also responsible for the current mess. First of all, a draconian provision like Article 127 should have never found a place in the Constitution of Nepal. After a decade of misrule in 1990s, former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala never allowed his erstwhile deputy Sher Bahadur Deuba to function effectively after he was forced to resign over the Maoists violence in July 2001. King Gyanendra drew first blood when he dissolved the parliament on 22 May 2002, taking advantage of the split in the Nepali Congress, largely created by Koirala. There were murmurs but little visible protests to shake up the Palace. The King gave four months to Deuba before sacking him on 4 October 2002 on frivolous grounds and restoring his own rule through proxies. When Surya Bahadur Thapa resigned on 7 May 2004, the squabble between Koirala and Deuba continued with Koirala openly questioning the possible re-appointment of Deuba as the Prime Minister. Ultimately, Koirala refused to join the coalition government. Since Deuba was re-appointed as Prime Minister on 2 June 2004, Madhav Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Lenninist) was sucking up to the Palace to prove that he is more loyal than the King. Yet, international community conjured up a spectre of united democratic forces to confront the Maoists.

The violations of human rights following declaration of emergency on 26 November 2001 are instructive for the current situation. Nepal witnessed unprecedented human rights violations including arbitrary arrest, torture, disappearances and extrajudicial executions. Thousands of people have disappeared. Women were raped and innocents were killed. Political activists, human rights defenders and the journalists were harassed, tortured, imprisoned and executed. Yet, the criticisms against Nepal received necessary credence because of the independent role played by its National Human Rights Commission in highlighting such gross and widespread human rights violations. The members of the NHRC whose term expires soon are likely to be next victim - the King through an ordinance may appoint new members. The MOU signed with the OHCHR on 16 December 2004 may well be thrown out of the window. 

The suggestion reportedly given by government of India that the only way for Nepal to overcome the Maoist threat was for the monarchy to evolve a broad consensus with the mainstream political parties and to present a united front is an illusion in Nepal's context. It is a reality that disunited democratic forces of Nepal have to play second fiddle to the autocratic forces – King Gyanendra or the Maoists.

After His Majesty King Gyanendra decalred himself as the ruler for the next three years, the buffer between His Majesty and the Maoists is gone. The dismissal of the Sher Bahadur Deuba government might be a blessing in disguise to start meaningful talks with the Maoists. The Maoists have insisted either holding direct talks with the King or mediation through third parties.

As we upload this issue of ACHR REVIEW, as a clear rebuff to King Gyanendra India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided not to attend the SAARC summit and the summit has been declared "cancelled" as its Charter requires attendance by the head of the government or the State.

King Gyanendra has become desperate. The closure of the international airport, which has prevented departure of thousands of foreign nationals without their ability to contact families, is an act desperation. Desperate King Gyanendra may as well immediately launch a military offensive against the Maoists to create a dilemma for the international community whether to support his authoritarian moves or the Maoists. Though the Maoists have termed the latest dismissal of the Deuba government as an “act of an medieval feudal lord”, any talks with the Maoists without a military offensive might add credence to the Kathmandu’s rumour mill that His Majesty has nexus with the Maoists. In the early days of Maoists uprising, Prince Gyanendra reportedly supported the Maoists to discredit the democratic system. Having taken the biggest gamble that threatens the survival of the institution of monarchy in Nepal, His Majesty also would not like to be seen to be cow-towing to the democratic forces led by his betenoires – Deuba, Koirala or Madhav Nepal.

A military offensive against the Maoists at present will spell dooms for Nepal. It will intensify the conflict and further eschew the democratic space already destroyed by the King and the Maoists. Further repression by the Royal Nepal Army at the behest of the King will compel the democratic forces to align with the Maoists.

International community must act more decisively and swiftly, NOW, by freezing all assistance including military assistance to Nepal unless His Majesty King Gyanendra:

-          Lifts emergency and restores all democratic freedoms and institutions including the immediate release of all those who are detained following the dismissal of the Deuba government, restoration of communication lines, including mobile, internet, long distance calls, and opening of the Kathmandu International Airport and lifting ban on press freedoms;  

-          Creates a national consensus process involving all the major democratic forces for holding direct talks between the King and the Maoists or between the Prime Minister (to be appointed yet) or any other Minister and the Maoists through third party mediation;

-          Takes immediate measures for implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 13 December 2004;

-          Extends the term of the present members of the National Human Rights Commission.

The United Nations must also act decisively. The members of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights should hold a Special Session on the situation of human rights in Nepal immediately and send an international investigation team to Nepal report to the forthcoming 61st session.

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