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HUMAN RIGHTS: Nepal Avoids Censure Resolution in UN Commission

Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Apr 11 2005 (IPS) - By signing a last-minute agreement with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Nepal avoided condemnation by the international community Monday for the abuses committed by government security forces.

In the end, Kathmandu agreed to allow the OHCHR to set up offices in Nepal to monitor human rights abuses by both the government security forces and the Maoist guerrillas. A similar office began to function in civil war-torn Colombia in 1996.

The agreement between High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and Nepal was reached while several countries, under pressure from human rights groups, were preparing to file a motion censuring Nepal and the Maoist rebels who have been staging an armed rebellion since 1996.

Monday afternoon was the deadline for submitting motions on the human rights situations in individual countries, under item nine of the Commission’s agenda.

But a few hours before the deadline expired, Arbour announced that she and Nepali Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey had signed an agreement.

Swiss officials who were “steering” the resolution against Nepal with other donor countries immediately stated that they would refrain from filing a censure motion.

The announcement that human rights monitors would be sent to Nepal satisfied Switzerland and the other nations that had been working hard to reach an agreement to avoid condemning the Himalayan kingdom, whose King Gyanendra dismissed the government on Feb. 1, expanded the state of emergency, and banned activity by the country’s political parties.

Since then, at least 1,000 opposition politicians, journalists and activists have been arrested.

Switzerland’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Blaise Godet, said the group of countries, which he described as “the critical friends of Nepal”, “tried hard to avoid what you may call a naming and shaming approach” for the Himalayan kingdom.

Nicholas Howen, secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), commented to IPS that the agreement between Arbour and Kathmandu establishes “what we were calling for.” He was referring to a joint statement issued late last week by his organisation, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

He called the agreement “a step forward”, and said it “will allow the U.N. to protect ordinary civilians from both brutal attacks by the guerrillas and systematic abuses by the security forces.”

Last Friday, the ICJ, the London-based Amnesty International and the New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the Commission to take firm action against Nepal.

The case of Nepal will thus be addressed in the Commission with a resolution tabled under agenda item 19, which basically refers to technical cooperation that the U.N. offers countries in the field of human rights.

Godet said his delegation was getting ready to draft the resolution, which must be done within the next three days, before the Commission begins the last week of its six-week annual session, that ends Apr. 22.

Howen said the Commission should recognise the abuses committed in Nepal, and should take on the role of “guarantor and witness” to the agreement between Kathmandu and the High Commissioner.

The Swiss ambassador, meanwhile, announced that Berne would provide the OHCHR with technical and financial assistance to carry out its human rights monitoring mission in Nepal.

Arbour said in a statement that “Breaking the cycle of serious and systematic abuses will be the first essential step toward achieving peace and reconciliation in Nepal.”

Activists blame the human rights abuses in Nepal, which include torture, killings and forced disappearances, on the Maoist guerrillas as well as the army and police.

In November, Howen headed an ICJ mission to Nepal, where he observed a drastic deterioration of human rights, with the use of “brutal action” by the guerrillas as well as “systematic violations” by the security forces.

King Gyanendra, meanwhile, has closed the last avenues for Nepalis to exercise their fundamental freedoms and rights, said the activist.

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 the King’s Feb. 1 seizure of power.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in Nepal since 1996, according to the president of that country’s NGO Federation, Arjun Karki.

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