NEPAL: Nepal’s return to absolute monarchy threatens the life and liberty of many

The situation in Nepal following King Gyanendra’s dismissal of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s cabinet and his formation of a new government of which he is the head, poses some hard questions to the international community. Nepal’s closest neighbor, India, has condemned the King’s move despite its previous close links to the King. King Gyanendra has decided to suspend multi-party democracy for “three years”. During this time, the direct target of his attack will clearly be the leaders of these parties, who at present are said to be under house arrest. The capacity of these leaders to communicate with the Nepalese people and with the outside world has been interrupted by the declaration of emergency, which has suspended the rights of free expression and association. The only way these political parties can now operate is clandestinely. In this way, all except those who directly support the King are outlawed.

In fact, those supporting the King have reportedly been allowed to rally and express their support. This creates a dangerous situation giving way for Royalist groups to hunt or harm members of democratic parties and others. At least one such clash with students has already been reported. There are also reports of democratic party supporters’ lists being made by Royalists. Similar circumstances in other countries have seen arrests, detentions, torture and disappearances take place as cooperation develops between the military and favoured political groups against others.

King Gyanendra’s intention seems to be to take Nepal back to the time before 1990, when a popular uprising ended Nepal’s absolute monarchy and brought about several democratic reforms by way of a constitution that established a constitutional monarchy. The present King was not in support of such democratic reforms, which were in fact quite limited.

The King has now put himself against all those who support a democratic system in Nepal. Such a move will naturally be resisted by those who have struggled for so long to end the age old monarchical system in Nepal, which is known to be severely repressive. The emerging situation is thus explosive, and it would be naïve to believe that such a wild political dream can be achieved without provoking violence.

There is little that can be done within Nepal to stop the King’s ambition to return to absolute monarchy. Much will depend on the way the international community responds to the situation. Statements that have been issued by the office of the UN Secretary General, the Indian government, the US State department, the European Union and other governments demonstrate that King Gyanendra’s move has not inspired support. However, much will depend on the practical measures by which their opposition is expressed. The position taken by India in not attending the SAARC conference is a significant political gesture.

Prior to this state of emergency, Nepal was already mired in an exceptional situation of anarchy, which had been prevailing in recent years due to conflicts with the Maoist rebels who occupy large sections of Nepal. The declared basis of the Maoist revolt was that the 1990 democratic reforms did not go far enough. With the King’s present attempt to wipe out those limited reforms, the situation will hardly get better. In the meantime, as recently published human rights reports show, gross human rights abuses are taking place on a large scale throughout the country. Nepal’s judiciary had in fact been brought to a stand still long before the current emergency.

The international community must act now. The Secretary General of the United Nations must initiate a process leading to this action with the cooperation of all governments. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which possesses an enormous amount of material on the human rights abuses in Nepal, should play a more proactive role to get this matter discussed at the Security Council with the view to develop a strategy to deal with this potentially dangerous situation. The earlier this happens, the greater the number of lives and liberties will be saved. The basic human rights of the Nepalese people, including the leaders of the political parties, should not be left to the mercy of the King.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-11-2005
Countries : Nepal,
Issues : State of emergency & martial law,