11-17 January 2013 #638

Transboundary jurisdiction

Thank goodness there are countries out there which still act on human rights violations, no matter where or when they took place
Prateek Pradhan
A soldier stands in front of a banner with photos of Maoist rebels who died in the civil war.
Harvard Professor Bryan J Hehir in his famous class named Ethics of Statecraft liked to say: "The strong do what they will, and weak do what they must."

Nepal falls into the category of nations thatare forced to do whatthey must. Our despair and frustration at being a weak country means that we compensate for it by jingoism, pseudo-nationalism and an inflated sense of our worth as a nation.

The latest example of that is the reaction in Kathmandu to the arrest of Nepal Army Colonel Kumar Lama in London by the UK Metropolitan Police. Had a British person who had violated human rights during the Northern Ireland 'troubles' been detained while trekking in Nepal, we would not be invoking universal jurisdiction to apprehend and prosecute him, for sure.

But should our ineptness and powerlessness infringe upon our need to uphold human rights and the pursuit of justice? The case of Kumar Lama might be over-inflated. The alleged torture of a civilian at Gorusinghe Barrack in 2005 may be not be comparable to what the Maoists perpetrated during the insurgency. It may be far less inhuman than the behaviour of US interrogators in Guantanamo.

For sure, Lama's transgression was much less brutal than the monstrous treatment of journalist Dekendra Thapa by Maoists in Dailekh at about the same time. Thapa was severely tortured for two days and buried alive when he refused to accept his mistake in protesting Maoist acts. There were many more far more ghastly crimes committed during the insurgency, so Lama should not be the only one punished.

Let us look at this through the eyes of the family of Ujjan Kumar Shrestha, a shopkeeper from Okhaldhunga. A Maoist named Bal Krishna Dhungel killed Shrestha out of personal enmity in 2004, nothing to do with Maoist ideology. Dhungel was found guilty and convicted for by the District Court, but the Baburam Bhattarai government got him released and he is walking around a free man, even serving as a nominated member of the dissolved Constituent Assembly.

If the Maoists remain directly or indirectly in power, Dhungel and many others like him will never be prosecuted and punished. Given this impunity, they may even resort to further violence in future just as the Maoists in Dailekh this week threatened journalists who are reporting on Dekendra Tahpa's murder. Thapa's executioners would probably never have been booked had they not belong to the breakaway Kiran Baidya faction of the Maoists.

So, who is going to protect the proponents of freedom of speech and other fundamental rights ensured by the Universal Human Rights Declaration and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights if the state turns fascist, absolutist, or totalitarian? There are severe cases of violations of human rights by the security forces as well, but should we not take action against a culprit just because worse war criminals are still at large?

The argument some commentators have used to criticise Kumar Lama's arrest in the UK reeks of paranoia and nationalist jingoism. If an independent journalist values national sovereignty more than justice, then the future is bleak indeed. At the rate things are going, the Baburam government may turn tyrannical and if that happens we need an international cushion to save critics of his establishment. Safety in such a case comes only from powerful countries that dare to take action under the doctrine of the responsibility to protect.

Ironically, the most naive and reckless reaction to the Lama case came not from an authoritarian-minded political force, but the party with the longest tradition of democracy and human rights: the Nepali Congress. Either the NC leadership has lost its core values or it simply thought that siding with Nepal Army in this case was politically expedient.

Lama's arrest in the UK has empowered Nepali journalists like me to be more vocal in the support of democracy, free press and human rights. I do not mind that Nepal's national sovereignty has been compromised because an individual's right to live fearlessly transcends the physical borders of a country.

Thank goodness there are countries out there which still act on human rights violations, no matter where or when they took place. It is good to see perpetrators of similar violence squirming at the prospect that the strong arm of the law can transcend international frontiers.

Prateek Pradhan is the editor of Karobar newspaper in Kathmandu.

Also see:

Photo reporton the CPN-Maoist 7th general convention held in Thundikhel on Wednesday.

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