Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, World Social Forum

NEPAL: Civil Society Protests Laggard Gov’t

Marty Logan

KATHMANDU, Jan 3 2007 (IPS) - Civil society activists who led the fight against the former royal regime are now risking jail to protest against the government they helped push to power.

At least 70 demonstrators were arrested Monday during a sit-in before the prime minister’s residence and the Home Ministry warned Wednesday police will continue to intervene in protests in prohibited areas.

NGO Federation of Nepal President Arjun Karki told IPS his group will continue to organise demonstrations until the government finalises the interim constitution and forms a temporary government that includes former Maoist rebels.

The deal was worked out in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed by the governing seven-party alliance (SPA) and Maoist leaders in November. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) gave up its 10-year guerrilla war after uniting with the SPA to spearhead three weeks of protests in April that forced King Gyanendra to hand over rule to the house of representatives that had been dissolved in 2003.

The SPA and Maoists then travelled a bumpy peace process to the CPA, which calls for an interim government to rule until elections to a constituent assembly in June. The Maoists are also supposed to lock up their soldiers and weapons in 28 camps across the country but that is delayed because United Nations monitors have been slow to arrive.

Prime Minister Girija Koirala argues that the former insurgents cannot join the government until monitoring begins, but Karki, president of Rural Reconstruction Nepal, told IPS the leader “only wants to buy time”.

“The Maoists are in the cities, we know that they possess arms, but they’re working with the PM, they’re part of the decision-making process. The longer we keep them out of the government the more vulnerable peace becomes,” said Karki.

“After the Maoists join, all the problems like arms will also become their problems and they will be more responsible. The government either doesn’t understand this, or they are under pressure to keep the Maoists out, from external or internal forces,” he added.

Because the interim government was not formed by the Dec. 1 deadline, the Maoists have been violating the peace pact: their cadres are stopping NGO employees and government officials from returning to work in the countryside of this largely rural South Asian nation; preventing police from re-establishing posts that they surrendered to the rebels in the past decade; and collecting ‘taxes’ from businesses and customs offices.

On Monday, Maoist Spokesman Krishna Mahara said his party would not permit some posts to be opened until its representatives were sitting in government.

The former rebels “feel very vulnerable” according to Roderick Chalmers of the International Crisis Group (ICG). “They’re the illegitimate force, outside government, trying to get a stake in power. If the interim government is formed, I think that will add an awful lot of pressure on them,” he said in a recent interview with IPS.

But it is the government that is facing pressure from many sides these days. Late Wednesday afternoon traffic police were pleading with motorists to detour around the major avenue that runs past the Supreme Court, where former indentured workers known as ‘kamaiyas’ were holding a sit-down protest. The men and women were surrounded by an almost equal number of police, but they were watching only.

A day earlier police hauled away 100 demonstrators who were just sitting down to their protest 100m away, in front of parliament’s main gate. They were demanding medical treatment for those injured in April’s ‘people’s movement’.

Tribhuvan University staff were beaten and arrested Monday for a protest to demand that the government appoint a vice-chancellor and other senior officials. The posts have been empty since April.

On Monday, human rights activists demanded the government implement the report of a commission formed to probe those responsible for suppressing April’s ‘people’s movement’, in which nearly two dozen people were killed or mortally wounded by security forces. It recommended action against 202 people, including King Gyanendra, former government ministers and security officials.

“Implementation of the report will help check the existing impunity in society and make the government answerable to the people,” said Harihar Birahi of the Joint Forum for Peace and Human Rights. He warned that ignoring the recommendations could fuel autocratic forces trying to destabilise the new government, reported local media.

Such forces are more powerful than external players, such as the United States and India, which are lobbying to keep the Maoists out of government, said Karki. “There are royalists in all the political parties. If there’s a power vacuum, if the elections don’t happen on time, the people will not have legitimate representatives. It will destabilise democratic forces and the people might think ‘maybe the king is the best option’.”

Civil society groups were the first to violate anti-assembly laws enacted by the royal regime after King Gyanendra fired his handpicked prime minister and seized power Feb. 1, 2005. But today they are ignored by the government, according to Karki. “They created the interim constitution, with many flaws, but never thought to consult civil society before they signed it – that has really created a gulf between us.”

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