Nepali Times Asian Paints
Here And There
Human rights and wrongs


There is a maddened slavering demon stalking this land and its appetite for blood and despair is growing. Nepal and Nepalis are being brutalized by a culture of violence that is transforming this former land of peace in the Himalayas and there may soon be no going back.

I invite anyone who thinks these thoughts are over the top to read "Nepal: A Deepening Human Rights Crisis" released this past week by Amnesty International in London. Almost alone among international organisations, Amnesty has been watching developments here since the Maoists fired their first shots in February 1996. Amnesty's policy is to monitor countries from outside their borders, visiting as frequently as possible to check primary sources but staying out of the day-to-day swirl of events and attitudes. Local Amnesty activists may offer some logistical support to this process but mostly they watch other countries, doing as their colleagues from London do, but for Malaysia, Pakistan or elsewhere.

Again, it enables the organisation to function with integrity and minimal influence from local power centres or militant groups. This is why Amnesty's actions are taken seriously and this is why the authorities here, and the Maoists, must read this report urgently and act upon its recommendations. Donor countries certainly will do all of these things, and Nepal needs to worry about this. Amnesty's latest findings are of a country that's sinking ever deeper into a morass of bloodshed and disregard for the basic humanitarian norms, let alone the rules of conflict.

Both the Maoists and government forces are accused by Amnesty International of blatantly ignoring or deliberately, as a matter of policy, abusing the human rights of Nepali civilians. Case after case is raised, names are named and details are given of grisly incidents-deaths in custody, extortion, kidnappings, rapes and torture. Each and every case raised in this report needs to be investigated thoroughly by both the accused parties and by independent bodies.

A reputed Nepali-language publication should take up these cases on a regular basis, weekly if not daily, reporting first the allegations then the action taken by either the authorities or the rebels to find out the truth. If a particular party is exonerated, then that can be shouted from the rooftops. If someone is found guilty of a crime-and abuse of the human rights of any civilian is a crime, not a means to an end or a regrettable but necessary casualty of conflict-then perpetrators need to be tried and punished by the courts, if found guilty after due process.

And there can be no excuses. Let us not hear of "Asian values", "Western values being misapplied to developing societies" "revolutionary zeal" or anything else that tries to avoid repugnant truths. Torture is never justified, nor is extra-judicial killing. Rape is a war crime and must be punished as such. The use of violence against unarmed civilians by any party to a conflict is banned under the Geneva convention, to which Nepal is a signatory.

The Maoists too, according to the National Human Rights Commission, say they uphold the rules of war as agreed under the convention. Many of you may say: I've heard it before, all too often, and in different situations. It comes from supporters of the security forces, perhaps from policemen or soldiers themselves, and it goes like this: "We are fighting a brutal uprising, our enemy uses terror and fear against us. We have no choice but to respond in kind, to fight violence with violence, fire with fire."

This argument is spurious and self defeating. It is also potentially criminal. Ask the Indians how far dirty tricks got them in Kashmir, ask the British about how death squads and human rights abuses by their security forces in Northern Ireland only strengthened the resolve of their opponents and provided recruits to the militant groups. Ask the Sri Lankans about the same things.

The situation in Nepal is not yet beyond retrieval. I for one feel that peace is possible in 2003 (2060 BS), but only with a radical realignment of strategies by the security forces, civil society and-please-the Maoists too. It could start with the formal acceptance of Amnesty's latest report on human rights, and a pledge by all sides to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. The well-being of the country demands no less.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)