Nepali Times
Seven years, 7,000 dead and counting

Sudip Pathak, President, Human Rights Organisation of Nepal, and Convenor of the Committee for Facilitation of Peace Dialogue.

On the impact of the conflict: An increasing number of people are trapped by the conflict. This kind of violence is not natural and unacceptable. We have been campaigning to restore peace, and have been getting the parties involved to give up violence. We don't even have the exact data on the number of people killed, rendered disabled or displaced due to the conflict. Over the last few months, thousands of people have been fleeing their homes in the mid-western hills in search of safety and employment. We don't know where they are living and under which conditions, or where they have gone. It is the responsibility of the government to provide them security and create an environment where its citizens can lead a life with dignity.

On the prospects of peace: We strongly advocate a peaceful solution to the present conflict which has exacted enormous socio-economic costs on the nation. The late Hrishikesh Shaha, had called for peaceful solution to the conflict when the Maoists launched their "people's war" in 1996. We appeal to both the government and rebels to find a negotiated settlement to the problem through dialogue. Both of them must be sensitive towards the situation in the country.

On mediation efforts: We have been in direct touch with both sides involved in the conflict. We have urged them to start a dialogue process, to begin with. In the second phase, we could identify the agenda for talks and in the third phase, formal peace talks or negotiations could start. But before that, both the sides will have to agree to some sort of code of conduct. We believe that the peace talks are possible through joint efforts of the government, Maoists, political parties and the civil society.

On creating an environment for talks: We have yet to create an environment for peace talks. We are still far away from bringing both the sides over to the table for negotiations. Of course, both the sides have expressed their commitment towards dialogue, which in itself is a positive sign. The Maoists have said that they will not target infrastructure, and will not kill cadres of different political parties. The human rights community, including ourselves, want to monitor whether their commitment is being implemented. Similarly, the government needs to make public whereabouts of Maoist cadres under detention and start releasing them to create an environment of trust. The government should adopt a flexible approach toward the rebels and withdraw allegations against them. Only an environment for peaceful talks can bring both the sides together.

Krishna Pahadi, Chairman, Human Rights and Peace Society.

On the fallout of the conflict: Unarmed people and civilians are increasingly being caught in the crossfire between the security forces and the Maoist rebels. We recently visited two western districts, Dang and Baglung and found that innocent people had been killed by the security forces alleging them to be terrorists. Similarly, Maoist rebels ambushed passenger buses in Sindhuli and Dolakha, which is a gross violation of human rights.

Appeal to the parties in conflict: Our appeal to both the parties in conflict is: Don't lose patience and try to find a peaceful solution to the problem. We urge you to stand in favour of humanity and abandon this spiral of violence and hatred.

On broader democratic agenda: People's fundamental human rights can't be protected in the absence of democracy. We have been launching peace campaigns in different parts of the country calling for the protection of people's democratic rights. We have also organised sit-ins and "upava" (fasting) to press for this cause. We denounce the government's intervention even in the peaceful demonstrations in the capital and elsewhere.

Kundan Aryal, journalist affiliated to the human rights group, Informal Sector Service Center.

On the impact of conflict: People feel scared and have to a great extent lost the tradition of generosity towards strangers. The greatest victim of this conflict has been the freedom of expression. People don't speak their mind fearing reprisals. People have been forced to live under curfew for more than 14 months in districts like Dang. And, the irony is that they don't feel secure even under the curfew. What is the justification of imposing such a prolonged curfew at a particular place? Aren't there alternatives to maintain peace and order?

On the Geneva Convention: The Geneva Convention stipulates that civilians should not be targeted during the conflict and that humanitarian assistance should be made available to the injured and sick. But there have been numerous instances of violation of the provisions of this convention by both the parties in Nepal over the last seven years. We have the widespread culture of impunity which needs to be changed. Moreover, the human rights community must warn the parties in conflict that they will one day have to face the International Criminal Court for their gross human rights violations and abuses.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)