Nepali Times


Nepal's international partners have been strangely quiet as the UN High Commission on Human Rights prepares to debate Nepal's human rights situation in Geneva next week and as the expiry of the three-month state of emergency draws to a close.

But there is an indication that the donor community is not as monolithic as it appears, and there is a divergence on what will work better in persuading the king to roll back on curbs: carrots or sticks, or both. Government officials, meanwhile, are trying to soft-peddle on human rights and democracy to deflect the pressure mainly from the Europeans and India.

"We are looking to see if the king will lift the emergency, restore press freedom and civil liberties and make moves on a peace process," one Kathmandu-based ambassador told us. In meetings with the international community, senior government officials have reportedly softened their position offering concessions on human rights monitoring as well as assurances that freedoms will be restored soon. But the Information Minister told a media delegation on Thursday that the restrictions on news on FM radios will stay and denied reports that mobile phones will be restored soon.

Key donors and diplomats in Kathmandu say they are waiting for the resolution on human rights in Nepal to be tabled in Geneva on Monday afternoon. A vote is expected by 15 April.

The resolution, coordinated by the Swiss, will be reportedly drafted under Article 9. It will emphasise restoration of fundamental rights, signing of the human rights accord between the state and Maoists and appointment of a special rapporteur for international human rights monitoring.

"The outcome of that debate will decide whether aid agencies will harden their stance or continue multilateral support," explained one Kathmandu-based donor representative. The Swiss, the Danes and the Nordics have been the most uncompromising on Nepal's human rights record and the February First royal move.

But there is said to be hectic behind-the-scenes lobbying going on in the corridors of the Palais des Nations in Geneva not to sponsor a country resolution that would spotlight Nepal. The Americans and the British are reported to be taking a slightly softer line saying a critical country resolution could actually create a backlash in Nepal and make matters worse. "I don't know who is involved in the resolution, but it is doubtful if the resolution will get through," explained a foreign aid expert.

Indian diplomats, who bailed Nepal out during last year's debate, have taken a harsher stance this time. Even though Indian diplomats across Europe, in Washington and Japan have been lobbying hard on governments to be tough on Nepal, New Delhi may not vote for the UN resolution because it has itself refused international monitoring in Kashmir. It is likely that member nations such as Cuba will help Nepal out on a no-action motion.

A European diplomat says the Geneva meeting is not just about human rights and February First. "It's not about hurting Nepal but about how to move the country forward," he told us.

The Europeans have been pressing hard on Nepal to allow international human rights monitoring. But there are fears this may complicate even further access to the districts for their aid personnel.

While there are still some disagreements among donors about aid cuts, most have agreed to wait and see what happens end-April when the 100-day timeframe the king wanted is over.

Some donors are critical of colleagues who have been unforgiving of the government. "The king has been relaxing curbs, we don't see a reciprocal response on the part of some donors," said one Kathmandu-based aid representative in an off-the-record interview this week.

Some diplomats consider the release of NC leader Girija P Koirala as a gesture of faith that the king is listening to foreign powers, and say they have detected a loosening of press censorship in recent weeks. But others don't agree things are improving: human rights abuses are not being reported, radio stations can't broadcast information and political leaders are still in detention.

Explains one foreign aid worker: "The Maoists have benefited the most from censorship because news of their brutality is not getting reported and curbs on movement of human rights activists means their atrocities are not being exposed."

There is a feeling among some donors that King Gyanendra is in it for the long haul and even if the emergency is lifted things will not change dramatically. They are also worried that the conflict will be even more entrenched and fear for the safety of their project staff.

Meanwhile, a letter signed by 11 members of the US Congress to King Gyanendra this week warned: "We cannot condone any deprivation of the basic freedom and civil liberties to which your people are entitled."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)