Ending human rights crisis vital to resolving conflict in Nepal

The ICJ said today that the Government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) must take urgent steps now to end the human rights crisis if any future political process and negotiations are to be successful.

“We are deeply concerned about the escalating and gross human rights abuses being carried out by both sides to the conflict in Nepal,” said Nicholas Howen, ICJ Secretary-General towards the end of the ICJ’s nine-day mission to the country.

“Addressing the breakdown of the rule of law cannot wait for a peace settlement. On the contrary, urgent steps can and must be taken to protect non-combatants, halt the spiralling descent into lawlessness and build the confidence for a political process,” he said.

“It is time for the Government and the Maoists, as an important confidence building measure, to sign the Human Rights Accord.”

The Accord, proposed in 2003 by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), puts clear obligations on both sides and provides that the NHRC will monitor compliance throughout the country, with the help of United Nations advice.

During its mission the ICJ delegation heard disturbing reports that the Maoists continue to violate international humanitarian law by committing unlawful killings, using children in their operations and abducting civilians. It received reliable information that secret, unlawful and arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture by the security forces are widespread.

“It is tragic that so many of the abuses and the failure to obey the Nepali Constitution and laws, which the ICJ observed when it visited in 2003, persist or have worsened” he added.

The ICJ delegation drew particular attention to the culture of impunity in the armed forces – the systematic failure to prosecute and punish those responsible at whatever level for deliberate and serious abuses.

“It saddens us that the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA), which has a reputation for professionalism and discipline in United Nations peacekeeping operations, must now face up to daily reports of unprofessional and undisciplined behaviour of soldiers in their own country. The army leadership must act to restore the confidence of the people in the military – starting with the documented killings in Doramba in August 2003.”

Senior judges and judicial officers that the ICJ delegation met expressed their concern about the threat to the rule of law and the fact the government and security forces repeatedly flout habeas corpus and other court orders issued to protect detainees.

“When there is no parliament or stable executive the courts become even more important as protectors of the rights of people,” said Nicholas Howen. “It is time for the judiciary to hold the government and security forces to account and for the state scrupulously to obey all orders of the court.”

Nepal will again be under the international spotlight when the fifty-three member states of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights meet in Geneva from 14 March to 22 April 2005. The Commission will examine the actions of the Maoists and ask whether the Government has implemented the human rights commitments made on behalf of the state on 26 March 2004 and in the Chairperson’s statement adopted at the 2004 Commission session.

The ICJ is calling on the Government of Nepal and the RNA to take urgent steps to fulfil Nepal’s national and international obligations, including to:

  • End secret and illegal detentions by the RNA and other security forces, make public a full list of all persons in custody, keep a public register of detainees and put in place special measures to protect women who are detained;
  • Allow access to all detainees by lawyers, family members, doctors and the NHRC;
  • Comply fully and faithfully with all judicial orders, including writs of habeas corpus, and end the practice of re-arresting those who are released following a court order;
  • Investigate and adequately punish those responsible for grave violations, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances and torture, in transparent and open proceedings;
  • Repeal or amend the Terroist and Disruptive Activities Ordinance (TADO) so that it conforms with the Constitution of Nepal and international standards;
  • Cooperate fully with the NHRC, including by acting immediately on cases of alleged human rights violations it presents and allowing the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide all the advice and support the NHRC needs to do effective protection work throughout the country;
  • Permit human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists freely to carry out their work.

The ICJ is calling on the Maoists to:

  • End the practice of unlawful killing of civilians or captured, wounded or surrendered combatants;
  • End the abductions and forced recruitment of civilians;
  • Desist from using children (under 18) in any combat or support operations;
  • End the extortion of money from people;
  • Permit human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists freely to carry out their work.

The ICJ delegation consists of Secretary-General Nicholas Howen, human rights jurist and journalist Periathamby Rajanayagam and ICJ Legal Adviser Ian Seiderman. The delegation heard the testimony of victims, listened to government ministers and law officers as well as Supreme Court and other senior judges and lawyers, met with human rights defenders from several districts and travelled itself to the districts of Sindu Palchok and Kavre.

The ICJ will continue to closely monitor developments and will advocate actively for the protection of human rights and restoration of the rule of the law in Nepal.

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