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HUMAN RIGHTS: Activists Call for Firm Action on Nepal

Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Apr 8 2005 (IPS) - Leading civil society groups pressed the United Nations Commission on Human Rights this week to adopt a resolution condemning the regime in Nepal, where hundreds of protesters were arrested Friday.

In a joint statement, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Human Rights Watch called on the U.N. Commission to take firm action on Nepal and to put in place a strong international mechanism to monitor human rights violations.

ICJ Secretary-General Nicolas Howen said “This is a crucial moment in the history of struggle for democracy and rights in Nepal.”

Since King Gyanendra dissolved the government and suspended civil liberties on Feb. 1, there has been no “softening of the state of emergency and the sanctions…but an intensification of the violence against civilians in the conflicts in the countryside,” said Howen.

Since 1996, the Himalayan kingdom has been shaken by an armed uprising by forces led by the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal.

In November, Howen headed an ICJ mission to Nepal, where he observed a drastic deterioration in human rights, with “brutal action” by the Maoist guerrillas against civilians, including torture and extrajudicial executions, as well as “systematic violations” by the army and police.

“All the fact-finding missions to Nepal have said the same thing: that the conflict is deepening and that there are gross and systematic violations of human rights on both sides.”

On Friday, the anniversary of the establishment of multi-party democracy in 1990, hundreds of demonstrators were arrested in Kathmandu and other cities as they protested King Gyanendra’s seizure of power.

Arjun Karki, president of the NGO Federation of Nepal, said in Geneva that “More than 10,000 people have been killed since 1996. And the number of people killed, and arrested and held incommunicado seems to have increased since Feb. 1.”

According to Howen, there were already some 900 people “or more” in prison, including politicians and journalists, prior to Friday’s arrests.

Although Howen mentioned that there have been a few releases of prisoners, Loubna Freih, director of Human Rights Watch in Geneva, said the Nepali government has been engaging in “delaying tactics or providing some smoke screen measures such as the release of a few political prisoners here and there.

“We understand as civil society that these are just a fig leaf to human rights improvement.”

Karki noted that King Gyanendra argues that he seized power “in the name of strengthening democracy and building peace.

“But what we think is that this will neither strengthen democracy nor bring lasting democratic peace in the country. This will intensify the conflict in the country,” he added.

The Nepali activist called for “strong international support to strengthen democracy and good governance in Nepal. We should not wait until millions of people are killed,” he underlined.

“There is no government structure that is accountable to people, only to the military regime,” said Karki. “All the government structures are militarised. This is evident from the recent appointment of five ambassadors, to France, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and the United Nations. All of them are military officials.”

The human rights groups expressed their support for a draft resolution that would condemn the Nepali regime for its abuses, which they said was being lined up by Switzerland. The initiative already has the support of the European Union, especially Britain and Denmark, said Freih.

With respect to the United States, the activist said the government of George W. Bush is afraid that heavy pressure on the Nepali authorities could work in favour of the Maoists.

The groups urged the Commission to designate a special rapporteur to report on the human rights situation in Nepal, and to approve a resolution calling for the establishment of a U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights office in that country.

Meanwhile, the King and his government have “closed all democratic avenues at this stage,” said Freih.

According to the activist, the Nepali security forces are guilty of some of the highest levels of forced disappearance in the world today.

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