Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia

ACHR REVIEW
[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for 5 October 2005
Review: 93/05
Nepal: The case for sanctions and extension of restrictive measures

1. Overview

A delegation of the European Union (EU) Troika is scheduled to visit Nepal from 4 to 6 October 2005. The EU Troika had last visited Nepal in mid-December 2004 and had met the proxy government headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba who is presently in jail.

Despite the intervention of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights at its 61st session and subsequent establishment of the Office of the United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights, there have been reports of systematic human rights violations. It is no longer limited to the use of disproportionate force against the protestors but extreme sexual violence including biting of women protestors and poking batons at the sensitive organs, sexual molestation and other violations during arrest as well as while under police detention.

The limited sanctions on sale of arms to Nepal have so far failed to break the political stalemate. Dr Tulsi Giri, Vice Chairman of the Council of Minister has made clear the intention of King Gyanendra to cling on to power.

The EU Troika must not restrict its visit to the assessment of the prevailing situation in Nepal or talking to the wall, King Gyanendra but assessing the effectiveness of the measures taken so far to enable the delegation to make appropriate recommendations to break the stalemate.

2. Mapping the key actors

As EU alone cannot be effective, a mapping of the key actors would be useful.

i. King Gyanendra – The Royal Folly

King Gyanendra shows no signs of restoring democracy or resolving the Maoists conflict – the official raisen detre – for Royal takeover on 1 February 2005. Instead, he has spurned the unilateral cease –fire declared by the Maoists on 3 September 2005. The Royal Nepal Army (RNA) on many occasions sought to provoke the Maoists.

King Gyanendra has been trying to re-invent himself as a popular ruler of Nepal. He wears camouflaged army dress to show solidarity with the Royal Nepal Army. He also orchestrates interactions with the public to fool the international community. It is another matter that on 22 September 2005 eight students were injured in a clash with the police in front of Ratna Rajya Multiple Campus while they were protesting against the “forcible” deployment of students to welcome King Gyanendra on his visit to Lalitpur district.

Vice-Chairman of the Council of Minister, Dr Tulsi Giri’s penchant for public speaking leaves little doubt about the intention of King Gyanendra to cling on to power.

ii. The United States: Change the tunnel vision

The United States continues to suffer from the “policy of generalisation” which equates the Maoists with Al-Qaeda. Unless the US policies are adapted to address specificities of Nepal, they will only endure autocracy and violations of human rights.

While the unilateral cease-fire declared by the Maoists on 3 September 2005 was welcomed across the spectrum, the United States failed to react until 22 September 2005. Its belated but cautious welcome can be construed as a statement of recognition of the respect for cease-fire by the Maoists. It is essential that the United States equates the King and the Maoists, rather than the Maoists and the Al-Qaeda, to find a solution to the crisis.

iii. India: Shun cold war phobia

India’s reported objection to the role of the United Nations or any other third party for mediation in Nepal needs to be addressed. It is clear that New Delhi’s mandarin still suffer from cold-war phobia.

Mediation is a different issue from cease-fire monitoring. Given India’s reservation on mediation by the UN or any other third party, EU should explore the possibility of monitoring of cease-fire agreements if the government of Nepal responds. The monitoring of cease-fire between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had perceptible effects on the ground. New Delhi, EU and the United States must realize that  monitoring of cease-fire by international observers will only strengthen the democratic forces of Nepal who have been virtually squeezed by the RNA and the Maoists.

Since the Maoists declared cease-fire, the National Human Rights Commission has expressed the desire to monitor the cease-fire. A Civil Society Ceasefire Monitoring Committee too has been set up.

The NHRC members who have been appointed by King Gyanendra do not have legitimacy, capacity and independence to monitor cease-fire. The Civil Society Ceasefire Monitoring Committee is unlikely to have necessary access.

The presence of international cease-fire monitors does not imply the presence of the blue helmets. A Memorandum of Understanding can be signed with the OHCHR to develop “Code of Conduct on Human Rights” to be signed by the government and the Maoists and monitoring of its implementation including possible cease-fire agreements.

 iv. Political parties – will GP be BP or a sell-out?

The political parties have failed to show their strength on the streets to force change. It is partly because of the lack of faith of the people due to a range of factors as well as overwhelming security presence in Kathmandu. The dictum – “whoever controls Kathmandu controls Nepal” – holds true.

Political parties have so far reacted to the initiatives of both the King and the Maoists. This is despite the fact that both these anarchists require the imprimateur of the political parties.

The formation of seven-party alliance was a welcome. It took over six months for the political parties to welcome talks in principle with the Maoists.

The informal talks between the political parties and the Maoists have been reportedly struck on the prickly issue of the restoration of the parliament. The Maoists have expressed reservations on the restoration of parliament. Political parties have also failed to dispel the fear of the public and the Maoists that they will compromise with King Gyanendra if the parliament is restored. Most importantly, the political parties have also failed to spell out their programmes of action they will undertake if the parliament were restored.

Nepali Congress led by G P Koirala reportedly has a hard line approach for the restoration of the parliament. GP has the historic opportunity to play the role of the patriarch in Nepali politics that he is. He has the opportunity to rise above the party politics and be the leader of all the Nepalese democratic forces and not only Nepali Congress. The bickering between G P Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba in 2002 provided the opportunity to King Gyanendra to dismiss the parliament and rule Nepal with proxy governments.

In many ways, GP Koirala has the opportunity to go down in the history like legendary BP Koirala.

v. The Maoists: Stop looking through the barrel of the gun

The declaration of unilateral cease-fire by the Maoists has been welcomed across the spectrum. The attempt of the RNA to provoke the Maoists has further given credence to the cease-fire.

Instead of falling victims to the provocation of the RNA, the Maoists must utilise the goodwill generated by the unilateral cease-fire. In this regard, the Maoists must bring an end to violence against civilians and non-combatants, extortion, hostage taking, extrajudicial executions and recruitment of child soldiers.

The Maoists should seriously consider unilaterally signing the Code of Conduct to ensure respect for human rights and humanitarian laws and establish accountability mechanisms for abuses by its cadres.

In addition, the Maoists must also declare their intention to participate in the mainstream politics to work with democratic political parties for resolution of the problems in Nepal. Across South Asia, governments have been holding talks with the armed opposition groups without the armed opposition groups laying down their arms but the intention to participate in democratic process must be unequivocally made clear.

If the Maoists declare their intention to participate in democratic processes and take measures to hold talks with the political parties, it could be decisive for Nepal.

3. The case for sanctions and extension of restrictive measures

If the political parties and the Maoists reach an agreement to have formal dialogue, human rights violations are likely to escalate. If King Gyanendra still refuses to give up, a full-scale civil war or further gross violations of human rights cannot be ruled out. The increasing approximation of understanding between the Maoists and democratic forces on holding formal talks requires the EU Troika to take effective pre-emptive measures to break the stalemate and find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Among others, the EU Troika should recommend a Common EU Position and Regulation to impose sanctions against King Gyanendra and his administration including a visa ban and a freeze on assets of the members of the Royal family, on government ministers, senior members of the Royal Nepal Army, state-owned economic enterprises, and on beneficiaries of the government’s economic policy and members of their families. The sanctions should also include a ban on technical assistance, on financing and financial assistance related to military activities, and on the export of equipment that might be used for repression on pro-democracy activists.

If EU takes such a step, India and United States will be forced to follow.

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