NEPAL: International Community needs a strategy: Coup wiping out Nepali democracy is consolidating itself; life and liberty of many is at risk

The abrogation of the Nepali democracy through the 2005 February 1 coup d’ètat by the king who took absolute power upon himself, is continuing with harsher repression being exercised over all democrats, human rights workers and the media.  Arrests are continuing and the whereabouts of the arrestees are often unknown.  Even the families of leading politicians have been denied access to the detained.  The courts are completely paralyzed and there is no way for it to assert itself against the military acting with emergency powers backed by the king.  Judging by the practices of the recent past, in all likelihood the detainees are being tortured.  Human rights organisations closely observing the situation have expressed the concern that some of the arrestees may end up as statistics of enforced disappearances.

The manner in which the disappearances are taking place can be demonstrated by the way Krishna Pahadi, a prominent human rights leader, was arrested on February 9.  According to an eye-witness, about five plain-clothed policemen led by an inspector entered the office of the Human Rights and Peace Society (HUPRES) and grabbed Pahadi and took him away to a police van waiting outside the office building.  When a journalist from the Washington Post, present in the HUPRES office at the time of the arrest, asked the police whether they had an arrest warrant they replied that they did not; when asked the reason for the arrest the policemen were unable to give any.  The whereabouts of Krishna Pahadi remain unknown.  Another human rights activist, Sukram Maharajan, of the Human Rights Organisation of Nepal (HURON) was also arrested by plain clothes policemen on February 8 from his residence and his whereabouts are also unknown.  

Thus, the arrests are taking place all the time both in Kathmandu and outside and the actual number of the arrestees are unknown.  Meanwhile, wherever there have been protests against the coup, violence has been used as well as teargas and the firing of live rounds.  Some have been injured by these attacks like for example, Geeta K.C., a student of Prithibi Naryan Campus, Pokhara, who had to be hospitalized.  About sixty students were taken away from their campus by army personnel and were randomly kicked and beaten with boots and wooden batons.  They were blindfolded and their hands were tied at the time they were beaten.  All the students were ordered to sit in a trench for an entire night.  The next day their photos were taken and details recorded and they were released only after the intervention of the campus chief.

There are many other arrests taking place all over the country and in most cases the arrestees are not released, nor is any information given out about them.  Meanwhile, all media references to the coup or the human rights violations are forbidden.

The move by the king to undo the 1990 Constitution’s provisions for the establishment of democracy has been condemned by the international community.  India called it a “serious setback” to the cause of democracy.  The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan called for an immediate restoration of democracy and the European Union has also condemned the coup.  The governments of the United States, Britain and many others have also condemned the coup.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also written to the king.  However, none of these things have had any impact in restraining the king and the military.  The issue of the restoration of democracy is not a message that has gotten through to the king who is the only political authority in the country at the moment.  Thus, while the coup continues its brutal path, interfering in the life and liberty of all those who care for democracy, human rights and media freedom, the international community still lacks a comprehensive strategy to deal with the present situation.  The lack of a comprehensive strategy allows the coup to proceed with impunity to all those who want to end democracy and engage in gross human rights violations.  

The situation of Nepal was exceptionally bad even before the February 1 coup, in fact, the International Crisis Group’s report on February 9 is entitled, “Nepal’s Royal Coup: making a bad situation worse”.  The report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on human rights assistance to Nepal dated January 31, 2005 (E/CN.4/2005/114) also refers to the deteriorating human rights situation in Nepal even before the coup.  It speaks of Nepal in 2004 “having attracted international attention by having the highest number of new cases of disappearances of any country in the world.  The use of disappearances by the security forces is so wide spread.”  This report also speaks of other major human rights violations reported committed by the security forces including widespread arbitrary arrests and torture.  It further speaks of the people who are detained in army barracks throughout the country being held incommunicado and under no legal authority.  The report also reproduces a press statement issued on July 14, 2004 by eight independent experts of the UN Commission on Human Rights relating to their serious concerns over the significant increase in reports of abuses of human rights in Nepal.  Nine United Nation’s human rights experts issued another statement on February 8, 2005 expressing serious concern about the situation in Nepal.  In the concluding paragraph their statement states:

“We consider that steps should be taken to reinstall democratic institutions and to protect Nepalese citizens and their representatives, as well as human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and political leaders.  In addition, measures should be implemented to put an end to the climate of impunity prevailing in the country for serious human rights violations, crimes and abuses committed in the past.”

The Asian Legal Resource Centre and Amnesty International also published detailed reports on the extremely disturbing human rights situation in Nepal by the middle of January 2005.

While the international community is in agreement that the conduct by the Nepali king is violative of all the basic principles of human rights and destructive to the democratic process in Nepal, still the international community has not been able to develop anything that may be called a strategy to deal with this situation.  This acts to the advantage of the king who is pursuing his ambitions for consolidating absolute monarchy as it existed before 1990.

In the Asian Human Rights Commission’s previous statement dated February 7, 2005 entitled “February will be a chilling month for Democrats, Human Rights Workers and Media in Nepal” we suggested five elements that should form a part of the international strategy for immediate and effective intervention regarding the Nepali situation, particularly with the view to save the life and liberty of Nepal’s citizens:

That all aid to Nepal be frozen forthwith; Nepal’s status in the United Nations be suspended for its violating of the UN charter; all military assistance and cooperation to the Nepalese Armed Forces be suspended; a UN Envoy be permanently present within Nepal so as to facilitate the return to democracy and that the UN appoint a Special Rapporteur to constantly monitor the human rights situation in Nepal.

We believe that the aforementioned elements can be the beginning of an effective discussion on how to stop what is happening in Nepal just now.  As for the freezing of all assistance including military assistance and cooperation to the Nepali armed forces, the Indian government has announced the severance of such assistance.  However, there has been no reference to this issue from the developed countries such as the United States and the European Union.

The matter of the appointment of a Special Rapporteur for the monitoring of the human rights situation in Nepal, as suggested by several international human rights organisations, can only take place at the sessions of the UN Human Rights Commission and it will take at least a few months before that materializes.  By that time the coup would have already run much of the brutal and cruel course it has set out to follow.  Similarly, the sending of a UN Envoy will also depend on a time scale of a similar sort unless the Secretary General of the United Nations decides to send his representative for this purpose on an urgent basis after receiving necessary approval.

Perhaps the most important immediate intervention is for the UN Security Council to review the national status of the government of Nepal, which came into being as a result of the coup, with a view to suspending its membership for violation of the UN Charter.  There can hardly be any doubt that the UN Charter has been completely flouted by the absolute monarch.  Suppose some member of the British royalty were to suspend the parliament of the United Kingdom and took power to himself, suppose somebody claiming some royal blood in France were to abolish democratic institutions in France and return to the situation before the French revolution, suppose someone in America were to suspend Congress and were to declare himself to be the absolute ruler of the United States, would anyone who does such an act claim to have a seat in the United Nations.  Why should the matter be dealt with differently regarding the people of Nepal?  In 1990 through a peaceful revolution the people of Nepal brought the absolute monarch to his knees and established the first ever democratic institutions in their country.  Now someone from the monarchy has risen to wipe out that democratic revolution and reestablish the order as it was before 1990.  How is that conduct in any way different to the hypothetical situations we have described above?  Does not the international community owe the same obligations to the Nepali people as it would the British, French or American people?  This is the embarrassing question that has been posed to the international community by the king of Nepal.

Further to our earlier elements of the strategy we proposed we also further propose that the members of the international community act under Rule 3 of the Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Committee.  This rule states that special sessions of the committee shall be convened by the decision of the committee when the committee is not in session.  Such sessions can be convened at the request of a state party to the covenant.  Once such a request is made special sessions shall be convened as soon as possible at a date fixed by the chairperson in consultation with the Secretary General and other officers of the committee.  We urge the member nations who are state parties to the ICCPR to request the chairperson of the Human Rights Committee to convene a session to discuss the present situation of Nepal arising after from the coup.

The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to state that with every passing day arrests, torture, extra judicial killings and disappearances would increase.  The democrats will be brought to humiliation and all those who in any way support democracy will be punished.  Once the coup consolidates itself it will lead to very much worse situations not excluding the possibility of massacres and crimes against humanity.  Unlike, on many other occasions where such events have taken place, the international community has had more than enough notice about the brutal and cruel situation that is being developed through the many reports from UN agencies, media reports and reports of human rights organisations.  If no action is taken at this time no one can claim a lack of information or knowledge about the situation as in other cases in Asia, like what happened in the mid 1970s in Cambodia.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges member nations of the United Nations to defend the ICCPR with a resolute plan of action.  We urge the human rights community and democracy loving people throughout the world to stand in support of the Nepali people in their hour of need by demanding resolute interventions form their own governments and from the United Nations.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-15-2005
Countries : Nepal,