May 4, 2004
We write in advance of your participation in the 2004 Nepal Development Forum (NDF) to urge you to use this year’s NDF to support respect for human rights in Nepal. Nepal faces the most severe human rights crisis since civil war flared up again between the government and Maoist rebels in August 2003. Thousands of civilians have been killed or injured by both sides, and public participation in the country’s political process has stopped. Although the Government of Nepal limitedly lifted a ban on public assemblies as of May 3, 2004, Human Rights Watch remains concerned about the depth of government commitment to observing its obligations on human rights.
The Role of Donors
Donor pressure has already had a positive impact in Nepal. After extensive pressure from the international community, the Prime Minister of Nepal announced at a March 26 press conference that the government would protect the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and to ensure that the Nepali Government would abide by its obligations under international human rights law. The Foreign Minister of Nepal reiterated this pledge to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on the same day. The ban on protests and the attendant mass arrests, coming within weeks of the public pledge, cast doubt on the sincerity of the government’s commitments, as does the timing of the lifting of this ban one day before the donor conference. Similarly, the powers granted on April 8 to the Nepali security services have allowed them to arbitrarily detain thousands of persons and deny them access to legal representatives and family members, in contradiction of Nepal’s international obligations.
In order to assist in the implementation of Nepal’s pledge to abide by its international human rights obligations, we urge you to take the following steps at the 2004 Nepal Development Forum:
- Express concern about the ongoing serious human rights violations being committed in Nepal by both the government and the Maoist rebels. Assert that economic development in Nepal cannot take place without respect for human rights, freedom of assembly, freedom of political opinion and political participation.
- Adopt a clear set of benchmarks for the Nepalese government to measure progress on human rights standards, so the international donor community can measure its progress on human rights standards. These benchmarks should be incorporated into the performance indicators of the Nepali Government’s Foreign Aid Coordination Division. The benchmarks should include respect for freedom of assembly, a return to a democratic and participatory political system, an end to summary killings by the security forces, an end to “disappearances” and resolution of outstanding cases of missing persons, and accountability for abuses committed by the security forces.
- Increase support for the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal and other human rights institutions. This should include allowing the NHRC unfettered access to places of detention, and cooperation with any and all investigations the NHRC undertakes in furtherance of its mandate.
- In cooperation with NHRC and other actors in the international community, including the U.N. and the European Community, push for greater transparency and dialogue of the Nepali Government with civil society groups and incorporate human rights concerns into the monitoring and implementation of the program.
The government’s complete suspension of political activity in Nepal has excluded virtually the entire population from participation in the political process, in direct contravention of the “good governance” principles that the donor community aims to promote as a strategic priority in Nepal.
Government Crackdowns on Freedom of Expression and Assembly
In April 2004, the five major opposition parties began a series of popular protests demanding a return to democracy in Nepal. The government responded to the protests with excessive force, injuring 150 protesters on April 4 alone. On April 8, the government announced a ban on all political gatherings in Nepal, and granted the security forces sweeping powers to detain anyone engaging in “suspicious activity.” Since then, thousands of protesters have been arbitrarily detained, including hundreds of lawyers, journalists, human rights monitors, medical workers, and members of various political parties. Among those detained have been prominent political figures such as former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. The arrests continue unabated: On April 21, several hundred lawyers and journalists were arrested, and excessive force was used by the police, including the tear gassing of the entrances to the emergency wards of Kathmandu Model Hospital. Of particular concern was the systematic targeting of members of left-of-center political parties, who were separated and held incommunicado for up to two weeks simply because of their political affiliation.
Also of concern is the continuing disregard for the basic requirements of the laws of war by both government forces and the Maoist rebels in the civil war in Nepal. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of summary executions of civilians and suspected Maoists by government forces. Most of these acts have gone uninvestigated and unpunished. Government forces have also been responsible for the “disappearances” of hundreds of detained persons, most of whom we fear have been tortured and killed in custody.
Maoist Rebel Abuses
The Maoists rebels have also been guilty of serious abuses. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of extrajudicial killings of suspected government informants, local government workers, and local activists of non-Maoist political parties, including some cases involving pre-execution torture. Maoists have also engaged in extensive extortion of civilian populations, humanitarian aid workers including United Nations staff, and local business people, punishing those who refuse to pay with death. The Maoists strictly enforce their system of local and national strikes, when all economic activity must be suspended. Businesses that refuse to close or vehicles which go out on the roads are regularly bombed or burned, further diminishing economic activity. The Maoists have also expressed hostility to international development organizations, effectively ending the implementation of development projects in large areas of Nepal.
It goes without saying that the main victims of the conflict in Nepal have been the civilian population, who find themselves caught between the demands of the Maoists for food and shelter, and the retaliation they will face from the government forces if they harbor Maoists. Statistics gathered by local human rights organizations convincingly demonstrate that the majority of the victims of the conflict in Nepal are civilians.
Nepal is in a deep state of crisis, and needs the support and guidance of the international donor community to bring about a return to democracy and respect for human rights. The development potential of Nepal has been fundamentally undermined by a civil war marked by massive abuses by both government and Maoist forces. Respecting human rights in Nepal would contribute to greater accountability and quality of the development program.
Thank you for your consideration for these serious matters. We look forward to hearing from you.
HRW Letter to Prime Minister of Nepal
Letter, April 21, 2004
Nepal: Police Violence Undermines Reform Process
Press Release, April 8, 2004
Nepal: Without Plan of Action, Rights Pledge Will Fall Flat
Press Release, April 2, 2004