The conflict may be over, but a new survey shows high levels of violence because there are so many guns around
The Nepal Armed Violence Assessment released recently shows that although the conflict may be over, the prevalence of small arms and a legacy of violence have promoted gun culture in society.
The two-year study by the Small Arms Survey group showed a persistence of serious gun crimes all over the country. The worst affected regions are the eastern Tarai with more than seven per cent of citizens in Sunsari, Morang, and Dhanusha saying they had been personally victimised by gun crimes between 2007-2011 (see map).
The findings include a record of 440,000 privately held firearms (mostly locally made ‘katuwa’ pistols) currently in Nepal and that the entry points for the illegal trafficking of arms have moved from the western region to areas around the Kathmandu Valley as well.
The prevalence of guns, criminalisation of politics, joblessness, and poverty are factors keeping violence levels high in Nepal, according to the assessment. Although the security situation has shown signs of improvement, the survey notes that urban areas in the Tarai, and now even the capital, have become ‘hotbeds of criminal activities’. It recommends lessening political interference in police work and the courts and more training to security personnel.
“Nepal has been suffering from armed violence since the last decade, particularly in the Tarai and urban centres,” said Finance Minister Shankar Prasad Koirala, who used to be joint secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs when the survey was released. “We will share information with the other countries to better control the flow of arms.”
An investigative report in Himal Khabarpatrika last year showed that small arms were readily available across the border in Indian towns and could be bought for as little as INR 2,000. Experts say more information is also needed on residual small arms from the conflict, obsolete or surplus stocks of state arms, as well as storage and inventory conditions.
The Nepal Armed Violence Assessment is a project of the Small Arms Survey, a project of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and is supported by the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development and AusAid.
“Following the UN Conference on small arms in 2000, Switzerland decided to focus on practical, small-scale programs,” explains Swiss ambassador Thomas Gass, “the culture of violence still persists in Nepal and violence is still committed with impunity. Implementing the Geneva Declaration, which Nepal became a signatory of in 2008, requires teamwork and not blame.”
The Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development is a diplomatic initiative aimed at addressing the link between armed conflict and development. First adopted in 2006, the Declaration calls for the support of programs, both practical and academic, aimed at reducing violence so as to promote development.
Mihaela Racovita, an associate researcher of the Nepal survey, said it was based on primary research, including household surveys, focus group discussions, and interviews with key informants.