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The Deepening Crisis in Nepal

by Sage Friday, Jun. 07, 2002 at 5:50 PM Boston

In order to continue the "state of emergency" against the wishes of parliament, King Gyanendra recently dissolved parliament. Human rights groups report that government security forces have been acting with impunity, engaging in torture and summary execution, and killing of noncombatants. Journalists have been tortured, report media rights groups. Yet the U.S. has promised increased support for the Nepali state. Now is the time to get the Senate to add human rights language to the funding bill.

Freedom of the Press?

On June 6, 2002 the Committee to Protect Journalists announced the results of their delegation to Nepal. Their delegation interviewed many journalists who have been arrested and detained since the declaration of emergency. They told stories of illegal arrests and a pattern of abuse and torture. "We are alarmed by the arrest of journalists in Nepal who are tortured, blindfolded and even threatened with death while in custody," said Josh Friedman of the Committee to Protect Journalists at a news conference.

CPJ met with Prime Minister Deuba, who told the delegation that, "We have instructed the army and the police not to violate human rights," and added, "democracy can only be saved in a democratic way." He pledged to look into cases where abuses have occurred.

However, journalists in Nepal report an ongoing atmosphere of intimidation, leading to self-censorship. Scott Baldauf, the South Asia Bureau Chief for the Christian Science Monitor, filed a story about government security forces engaging in death squad behavior [Christian Science Monitor, May 8, 2002]. He commented, "The interpreter I work with is a reporter, and usually he would have rushed back to his office and filed a story on this apparent human-rights atrocity. But because of the state of emergency, he didn't think it was safe to write about this event. 'There have been so many journalists arrested that nobody wants to write such stories anymore,' he told me on the two-hour, bone-rattling ride home to Kathmandu."

Over 100 journalists have been arrested and detained in Nepal since the declaration of the state of emergency six months ago. Many are still in detention. Several newspapers have been shut down. FM radio stations are prohibited from broadcasting news, leaving only the state-run Radio Nepal and state-run Nepal TV to broadcast news on the airwaves.

All copies of the November 28 issue of Nepal's largest English-language daily, the Kathmandu Post, were siezed by the government. Government officials warned the paper's editors not to publish articles or photos that "glorify" the Maoist movement. The same day, the Ministry of Information and Communication issued a statement listing several proscribed topics, including reports that "create hatred and disrespect against His Majesty the King and the Royal Family" or "harm national dignity, create social disintegration and instigate terror." The statement also encouraged the media to publish official news and reports "regarding bravery and achievements of [the] Royal Nepal Army, police and civil servants.".

Defending Democracy?

On May 6, White House spokesperson Air Fleischer said that, "Nepal is fighting a Maoist rebellion, and Nepal is an example, again, of a democracy, and the United States is committed to helping Nepal."

Nepal's King Gyanendra dissolved the Nepali parliament on May 22. The King and Prime Minister Deuba wanted to extend "emergency rule", which curtails freedom of the press and gives the army and police sweeping powers in their fight against the Maoist guerrilla insurgency.

Factions in both the majority Nepali Congress party and almost the whole minority party were opposed to extending the state of emergency, which requires a two-thirds vote. The measure was not likely to pass.

Dissolving parliament is, surprisingly, within the King's constitutional power, revealing that fundamentally Nepal remains a monarchy with democratic trappings. The King also has full sovereignty over the Royal Nepalese Army.

Three ministers have resigned in protest over the dissolution of parliament, and Prime Minister Deuba is being suspended from the Nepali Congress party for his complicity with the dissolution.

Despite these developments, the U.S. has nonetheless pledged to increase ongoing foreign military assitance to Nepal by million this year. "It's obviously an internal matter to be worked out within Nepal's democratic system through procedures established by their constitution," said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker as quoted by the AFP newswire. "They certainly continue to struggle against the Maoist insurgency that we've talked about and we reiterate our support for the right of the government of Nepal to safeguard their citizens against the Maoists guerrillas within the framework of the constitution."

"The dissolution of parliament does not affect our plans to provide economic and security assistance to Nepal," he said.

Human Rights?

The government security forces have killed noncombatants and tried to cover up the executions and intimidation by demanding affadavits from villagers that the slain were killed in combat situations, according to several news reports by foreign journalists in Nepal. Security forces have also summarily executed captured Maoists instead of holding them prisoner. There have also been numerous reports of torture perpetrated by the Nepali police, a continuation of a long-running police tradition in Nepal.

Just after September 11, references to the insurgents by the government of Nepal, and mainstream media inside and outside of Nepal, switched from using the word "Maoists" to "terrorists". Thus, the internal insurgency in Nepal, rooted in economic inequality, has become part of the global "War on Terrorism", despite the fact that there are no known connections between the Nepali insurgents and Al Qaeda or any other group associated with any criminal actions against the U.S.

The recently release Amnesty International 2002 country report on Nepal, covering events in 2001, reports a pattern of extrajudicial executions, 'disappearances' and unacknowledged detentions, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture and ill-treatment. This pattern has not abated in the months of 2002, report human rights groups.

"Foreign Military Financing"

Currently under consideration in the U.S. Senate S.2551 ("2002 Supplemental Appropriations Act for

Further Recovery From and Response To Terrorist Attacks on the United States") is currently under debate in the Senate. The section called "Foreign Military Financing" is where the money for Nepal is procured. There is no language about human rights or any conditionality for the 'aid' money.

Amnesty International has recommended that U.S. citizens call their senators to urge inclusion of language about human rights in this bill.

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