SAM KANG LI
The doctrine of sovereign rights is the last refuge of scoundrels and demagogues in the world's most brutal and authoritarian regimes. They don't want any outside interference as they go about committing genocide on their own peoples.
The police state needs complete independence to detain, torture, and even kill prisoners of conscience. Many of these states make a disingenuous distinction between individual freedom and the collective good, and argue that political rights are secondary to social, economic, and cultural rights. In a country plagued by inequality and discrimination, where hunger is rampant and good governance is seriously lacking, one can make quite a convincing case for shelving political freedoms until everyone has enough to eat. Which is exactly what one-party states, those still ruled by communistic parties, those under command capitalism or populist socialism are doing.
In countries as diverse as China and Singapore, Venezuela and Russia, political parties have, with varying degrees of success, lulled citizens into believing that one can't eat democracy, or that freedom makes you poor. In reality, ruling parties are just using this argument to consolidate or prolong their hold on power. Leaders exploit populism or whipped up nationalism to get to power and then proceed to systematically dismantle and emasculate the very democratic institutions that they used to get to office.
Every day that Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai stays on in power, it is clear that he is most comfortable in an authoritarian role. It would be wishful thinking to believe that a hardcore ideologue-in-chief of the Maoist party would behave any differently. After all, this is a man who, when confronted with graphic images of executions and violence committed by his cadre during the conflict, defended the use of "political violence in a historical context".
Which is why Bhattarai's outburst on Tuesday in which he lashed out at the UK government for the detention and trial of Col Kumar Lama of the Nepal Army for his involvement in torture during the war was not at all out of character. The irony of it all, of course, was that he was defending an officer of an army that his guerrillas fought against.
Nepal's war was different from others in the region because neither side won, and neither side lost, the warring sides are both in the establishment. Quite clearly, there is a cosy understanding between the Maoists and the Nepal Army, Police, and the Armed Police Force to let bygones be bygones and not rake up wartime atrocities. In the same speech on Tuesday, Bhattarai went one step further to warn that judicial proceedings against the killers of Dailekh journalist Dekendra Thapa would undermine the peace process. Thapa was detained, tortured, and buried alive by Maoist cadre who have confessed to the crime. 'Protecting the peace process' has now become a euphemism for both the Maoists and the security forces in Nepal for impunity and a blanket pardon for all those involved in war crimes.
If this is Prime Minister Bhattarai's take on justice, the protesters demonstrating for the past two weeks at Baluwatar against violence against women may need to assess whether holding placards is enough. Under the doctrine of 'state obligation' it should be a sovereign nation's responsibility to protect citizens and deliver justice. But we can't hold out much hope given Bhattarai's utterances on the Kumar Lama and Dekendra Thapa cases. They prove that justice is very low on the list of priorities for this prime minister.
When the state abdicates its role in state obligation, perpetrators can be apprehended anywhere and anytime in the world under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Col Lama's torture of one prisoner pales in comparison to the wartime atrocities of the comrades. And that precisely may be what is so scary for Maoist leaders who are now in positions of power.