NEPAL: Police brutality results in Dolpo deaths in Dolpa district

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-087-2014
ISSUES: Environmental protection, Indigenous people, Police violence, Right to life, Rule of law,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information about a brutal police crackdown on 3rd June 2014 in Dho village, located in the upper regions of Nepal’s Dolpa district, which has left 2 persons dead and more than 50 critically injured. Most victims belong to Dho and the neighboring Tsarka villages, where the Dolpo are a majority. While sheer abuse of power in Nepal has allowed the police to express itself once again with such violence, the source of the dispute in this case centers on the authority and justification for royalty collection for Yarsagumba (caterpillar fungus), which fetches high prices due to its medicinal value. Apart from flagrant abuse and impunity, the AHRC is concerned about the threat faced by Mr. Phurwa Dhondup, who helped publicize this instance of police brutality. 

CASE NARRATIVE:

According to information received by the AHRC, a skirmish took place at around 4 p.m., in the afternoon on the 3 June 2014, between two groups of local residents from Dho village and the Buffer Zone Management Committee (BZMC) officials from the district headquarters in Dunai, who had been accompanied by 35 Armed Police Force (APF) personnel and15 local police personnel. The dispute arose from a disagreement on the collection of royalties for harvesting Yarsagumba (caterpillar fungus) in Nepal’s Dolpa district, and has resulted in state violence against local residents. 

According to information received by the AHRC, the Local Committee,consisting mostly of local Dolpo community members, had no problem with the dual collection of royalties. Since 2010, both the Local Committee and the government Buffer Zone Committee, which operates under the BZMC, had been collecting royalties. However, the Yarsagumba pickers began to oppose this arrangement only in the current season when a drastic hike in royalties was brought into effect. Royalties were hiked by the BZMC from NRs. 1000, NRs. 600, and NRs. 150 for non-district, district, and local residents respectively last year, to as much as NRs. 3000, NRs. 2000,and NRs. 500 for the same groups in 2014. The Local Committee found the hike unjustified. Apart from Yarsagumba harvesters having to walk 3 to 4 days from the meadows down to the district headquarters in Dunai just to pay the royalties to the government Buffer Zone Committee, no portion of these royalties collected by the government has been ploughed back into sustainable management of the resource. What is worse for the local harvesters and for sustenance of the precious resource, the BZMC has been threatening to open up the ‘Lang’ meadows, i.e. the highland winter pasture where Yarsagumba is harvested, to outsiders. Thus, the royalties and management of Yarsagumba fueled the tensions that led to conflict.  

According to information received by the AHRC, on 2nd June, members of the Buffer Zone Committee confiscated the receipt books and NRs. 8 lakh rupees collected by the Local Committee. On 3rd June 2014, at a village meeting,villagers laid out demands to the BZMC and District administration. The villagers demanded that the officials honor the provisions of the ILO Convention 169, which safeguards the interests of indigenous peoples and has been ratified by Nepal in 2007. The villagers demanded the preservation of a highland winter pasture called the ‘Lang’ for the Dolpo community and their right to collect NRs. 1,500 per person as royalty for nature conservation efforts. According to the villagers, royalties being collected from every Yarsa picker at the district headquarters in Dunai, to pay which the pickers have to walk three to four days from the meadows, has been a burden and has never benefitted the locals. These demands, the actions of 2nd June, and the lack of a satisfactory response from the officials led to an escalation of tensions on the afternoon of 3rd June. Villagers gathered to demand the return of their receipt books and the royalties worth NRs. 800,000, which had been seized by the Buffer Zone Committee members on 2nd June. However, the police that arrived at the scene that afternoon turned hostile and violent. 

Police brutality resulted in the death of both Mr. Tsering Phurwa, aged 30, and Mr. Dhondup Lama, aged 47. According to reports, around 50 others have beencritically injured. AHRC received information that Mr. Tsering Phurwa, father to three children, was found critically injured on the morning on 4th June, two hours walking distance from the site of the clash in Dho village. However, Mr. Phurwa died. There is a likelihood that Mr. Phurwa succumbed to his injuries. However, the actual cause of death cannot be confirmed at this point. The Police and the Chief District Officer, for their part, have maintained that Mr. Phurwa died by ‘falling off a cliff’. The police have, in fact, forced local villagers to sign documents supporting this claim. Another villager, Mr. Dhondup, who had also been seriously injured during the incident, was airlifted to Kathmandu for further medical treatment. However, he succumbed to his injuries at the Om Hospital in Kathmandu on 9th June. The villagers funded the helicopter expenses and all the medical expenses of the injured by themselves. 

The AHRC has also learnt that, during the clash, the police fired around three-dozen rounds of rubber bullets both into the air and directly at the villagers. Following the barrage of bullets, the police launched a baton charge and indiscriminately beat and assaulted the villagers. According to reports, the villagers reacted by hurling stones at the police, which instigated more violence from the police. The police then conducted a house search, in order to round up every male member of the community. Key villagers who raised community demands with courage and who raised their voices against this police atrocity have been taken into custody. 

According to reports, police literally broken down around 30 houses in the process of their attack on the community. The villagers found inside the houses were dragged out onto the streets, beaten, and taken into custody. It has been learnt that the police have continued beating them during custody, and this includes women and the elderly. It has been learned by the AHRC that people from the neighboring village of Tsarka have also been beaten, with 3 of them being taken into police custody. 

On 4th June, a mediation effort was launched, following the arrival of Mr. Dhan Bahadur Budha, a Constituent Assembly (CA) member, who flew in from Kathmandu following news of the violence. As a result, twelve villagers have been released from custody at 11 a.m. on 5th June, though not before the police forced them to sign a piece of paper, which states that Mr. Tsering Phurwa died a natural death, not as a result of police violence. The network of officials in Dunai and the police had threatened to file a murder case against the 12 innocent villagers in custody if the villagers refused to sign the paper. Most of these detainees happen to be teachers, ex-students, and staff from the local school and health clinic. 

Later, it was agreed that the Local Committee and the BZMC would pay the family of the deceased a compensation of NRs. 5 lakhs each. 

The people of Dolpo have put forward the following demands:

•    Immediate return of NRs. 8 lakhs and receipt booksconfiscated by the Buffer Zone Management Committee to the Local Committee.

•    Immediate investigation into the murder and action against the guilty.

•    The right to collect royalty by the local committee should stand as it has always been and the winter pasture ‘Lang’ should be declared a no harvest zone for outsiders.

•    Implementation of International convention ILO 169 for the management and conservation of highland pastures and meadows concerning Dolpo region.

•    Immediate inquiry into the brutal police crackdown, especially the actions of Chief District Officer Krishna Prasad Khanal and the DSP in Dunai.

The AHRC urges the government of Nepal to immediately intervene and spare no time in conducting an impartial investigation into the allegation of police violence and acts of murder. The armed police force officers who were involved in this incident should face immediate departmental action, and should be suspended from their duty. There is a real fear that they will tamper with the investigation process. Officers who used excessive force should be subject to punishment.

The AHRC urges the government to take steps to ensure the safety and security of Mr. Phurwa Dhondup who brought this issue to public attention. His life and liberty are under threat. There is clear violation of ILO 169, to which the government of Nepal is a signatory. Lastly, the government should provide free medical treatment to the injured and compensation to the families of those killed in the violence. 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

The local people are the managers, protectors, and beneficiaries of the local resources in Dolpa district. The Dolpo people, who have inherited their indigenous knowledge over ages, are capable, and have been successful in conserving and regulating their resources, peacefully and sustainably. The local people and their livelihood, resources, and their conservation are closely interlinked. 

The BZMC has wanted the Local Committee to stop collecting royalty and stop declaring the winter grassland Lang as a no harvest zone. It appears this is in order to let thousands of Yarsa pickers from distant places descend on the region. But the local committee has asserted its right to collect nominal royalty to promote nature conservation efforts and declare the winter grassland Lang as a no harvest zone for livestock grazing in the difficult winter when all grasslands remain inundated with snow except Lang. 

This incident is related to resource exploitation. It is the time for the government of Nepal to implement the ILO convention 169 to achieve a level of stability and conservation success similar to that of Nepal’s Community Forestry Programs.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please send a letters to the authorities listed below expressing your concern about this issue and request their immediate intervention. The officers who were involved must be subject to investigations and brought before courts of law. The government should ensure safety to the families affected, and Mr. Phurwa Dhondup who has helped bring this dispute public attention.

The AHRC has written a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples on this regard.

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear ...................., NEPAL: Police brutality results in Dolpo deaths in Dolpa district Name of victims: Tsering Phurwa, Dhondup Lama and people of Dho village of Dolpa district Names of alleged perpetrators: 35 Armed Police Force Officers, 15 Police Officers, &Members of the Buffer Zone Management Committee Date of incident: 3 June 2014 Place of incident: Dho village of Dolpa district, Nepal I am writing to voice my serious concern about the incident that took place at around 4 p.m. in the afternoon on the 3rd of June 2014, between two groups of local residents from the Dho village and the Buffer Zone Management Committee (BZMC) officials from the district headquarters in Dunai - who had been accompanied by 35 Armed Police Force (APF) personnel and 15 local police personnel. The dispute had arisen due to a disagreement on the amounts of royalties received for the much lucrative business of harvesting Yarsagumba, or the caterpillar fungus in this region.  According to information received I know that the Local Committee, consisting mostly of local Dolpo community members, had no problem with the dual collection of royalties. Since 2010, both the Local Committee and the government Buffer Zone Committee, which operates under the BZMC, had been collecting royalties. However, the Yarsagumba pickers began to oppose this arrangement only in the current season when a drastic hike in royalties was brought into effect. Royalties were hiked by the BZMC from NRs. 1000, NRs. 600, and NRs. 150 for non-district, district, and local residents respectively last year, to as much as NRs. 3000, NRs. 2000,and NRs. 500 for the same groups in 2014. The Local Committee found the hike unjustified. Apart from Yarsagumba harvesters having to walk 3 to 4 days from the meadows down to the district headquarters in Dunai just to pay the royalties to the government Buffer Zone Committee, no portion of these royalties collected by the government has been ploughed back into sustainable management of the resource. What is worse for the local harvesters and for sustenance of the precious resource, the BZMC has been threatening to open up the ‘Lang’ meadows, i.e. the highland winter pasture where Yarsagumba is harvested, to outsiders. Thus, the royalties and management of Yarsagumba fueled the tensions that led to conflict.   I know that, on 2nd June, members of the Buffer Zone Committee confiscated the receipt books and NRs. 8 lakh rupees collected by the Local Committee. On 3rd June 2014, at a village meeting, villagers laid out demands to the BZMC and District administration. The villagers demanded that the officials honor the provisions of the ILO Convention 169, which safeguards the interests of indigenous peoples and has been ratified by Nepal in 2007. The villagers demanded the preservation of a highland winter pasture called the ‘Lang’ for the Dolpo community and their right to collect NRs. 1,500 per person as royalty for nature conservation efforts. According to the villagers, royalties being collected from every Yarsa picker at the district headquarters in Dunai, to pay which the pickers have to walk three to four days from the meadows, has been a burden and has never benefitted the locals. These demands, the actions of 2nd June, and the lack of a satisfactory response from the officials led to an escalation of tensions on the afternoon of 3rd June. Villagers gathered to demand the return of their receipt books and the royalties worth NRs. 800,000, which had been seized by the Buffer Zone Committee members on 2nd June. However, the police that arrived at the scene that afternoon turned hostile and violent.  I am dismayed to hear that police brutality resulted in the death of both Mr. Tsering Phurwa, aged 30, and Mr. Dhondup Lama, aged 47. According to reports, around 50 others have beencritically injured. AHRC received information that Mr. Tsering Phurwa, father to three children, was found critically injured on the morning on 4th June, two hours walking distance from the site of the clash in Dho village. However, Mr. Phurwa died. There is a likelihood that Mr. Phurwa succumbed to his injuries. However, the actual cause of death cannot be confirmed at this point. The Police and the Chief District Officer, for their part, have maintained that Mr. Phurwa died by ‘falling off a cliff’. The police have, in fact, forced local villagers to sign documents supporting this claim. Another villager, Mr. Dhondup, who had also been seriously injured during the incident, was airlifted to Kathmandu for further medical treatment. However, he succumbed to his injuries at the Om Hospital in Kathmandu on 9th June. The villagers funded the helicopter expenses and all the medical expenses of the injured by themselves.  It is outrageous to learn that during the clash, the police fired around three-dozen rounds of rubber bullets both into the air and directly at the villagers. Following the barrage of bullets, the police launched a baton charge and indiscriminately beat and assaulted the villagers. According to reports, the villagers reacted by hurling stones at the police, which instigated more violence from the police. The police then conducted a house search, in order to round up every male member of the community. Key villagers who raised community demands with courage and who raised their voices against this police atrocity have been taken into custody.  I have been informed that police literally broken down around 30 houses in the process of their attack on the community. The villagers found inside the houses were dragged out onto the streets, beaten, and taken into custody. It has been learnt that the police have continued beating them during custody, and this includes women and the elderly. It has been learned by the AHRC that people from the neighboring village of Tsarka have also been beaten, with 3 of them being taken into police custody.  On 4th June, a mediation effort was launched, following the arrival of Mr. Dhan Bahadur Budha, a Constituent Assembly (CA) member, who flew in from Kathmandu following news of the violence. As a result, twelve villagers have been released from custody at 11 a.m. on 5th June, though not before the police forced them to sign a piece of paper, which states that Mr. Tsering Phurba died a natural death, not as a result of police violence. The network of officials in Dunai and the police had threatened to file a murder case against the 12 innocent villagers in custody if the villagers refused to sign the paper. Most of these detainees happen to be teachers, ex-students, and staff from the local school and health clinic.  Later, it was agreed that the Local Committee and the BZMC would pay the family of the deceased a compensation of NRs. 5 lakhs each.  I call upon the Government of Nepal to accede to the demands put forth by the people of Dolpo, which are set out as follows: 1. Immediate return of NRs. 8 lakhs and receipt booksconfiscated by the Buffer Zone Management Committee to the Local Committee; 2. Immediate investigation into the murder and action against the guilty; 3. The right to collect royalty by the local committee should stand as it has always been and the winter pasture ‘Lang’ should be declared a no harvest zone for outsiders; 4. Implementation of International convention ILO 169 for the management and conservation of highland pastures and meadows concerning Dolpo region; 5. Immediate inquiry into the brutal police crackdown, especially the actions of Chief District Officer Krishna Prasad Khanal and the DSP in Dunai. I call upon you to immediately intervene and spare no time to conduct an impartial investigation into the allegation of police violence and act of murder. The police officers involved in this incident should be suspended from their duties and face action. I again urge you to take appropriate steps to ensure safety and security of Phurwa Dhondup who brought this issue public attention is under serious threat. His life and liberty is under threat. There is clear violation of ILO 169, to which the government of Nepal is a signatory to. Lastly, the government should provide free medical treatment to the injured and compensation to the families of those killed in the violence.  I look forward to your immediate attention in this matter. Yours Sincerely, --------------------------------------- PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO: 1. Mr. Sushil Koirala Prime Minister Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers of Nepal Singh Darbar, Kathmandu P.O. Box: 23312 NEPAL Tel: +977 1 4211000 Fax: +977 1 4211086 Email: info@opmcm.gov.np 2. Mr. Bamdev Gautam Home Minister of Nepal Home Ministry Singh Darbar, Kathmandu  NEPAL Fax: +977 1 42 11 232 3. Mr. Bed Prasad Bhattarai Acting Secretary National Human Rights Commission Pulchowk, Lalitpur NEPAL Fax: +977 1 55 47973 Tel: +977 1 5010015 E-mail: complaints@nhrcnepal.orgor nhrc@nhrcnepal.org 4. Mr. Baburam Kunwar Office of Attorney General  Ramshah Path, Kathmandu NEPAL  Tel: +977 1 4240210, +977 1 4262548, +977 1 4262394 Fax: +977 1 4262582 / 4218051 Email: info@attorneygeneral.gov.np 5. Mr. Upendra Kant Aryal Inspector General of Police Police Head Quarters  Naxal, Kathmandu NEPAL Fax: +977 1 4415593 Tel: +977 1 4412432 Email: phqigs@nepalpolice.gov.np Thank you. Urgent Appeals Programme  Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)
Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : AHRC-UAC-087-2014
Countries : Nepal,
Issues : Environmental protection, Indigenous people, Police violence, Right to life, Rule of law,