At the end of a four-day mission to Nepal, the ICJ today expressed deep concern that human rights violations will escalate if the political turmoil in the country increases.
“We found a sense of foreboding in civil society that an intensifying political conflict between the King who assumed direct power on 1 February on one side, and the political parties and civil society on the other, may lead to a new crackdown by the Government,” said Nicholas Howen, Secretary-General of the ICJ who led the mission.
“The international community should make clear to the Government that the only path is to return to respect for the constitution and human rights and not to step up suppression of legitimate political dissent and human rights activity”, he added.
Over the last few months political party and student activists, journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders have pushed back the restrictive boundaries imposed by the Government on their legitimate rights.
Journalists have not accepted political censorship. Lawyers have used the courts to challenge violations by the security forces. Political parties have demonstrated in support of multi-party democracy and human rights defenders in support of rights and freedoms, despite increasing restrictions on gatherings and the use of excessive force to break up protests.
“These groups were targeted during the state of emergency with more than 1000 arrested, they are still being intimidated and harassed, and are now again at greater risk as the political atmosphere intensifies,” warned Nicholas Howen.
The ICJ also received reports of how civilians in the districts continue to be caught between brutal violence and extortion carried out by the Maoists and gross violations such as extrajudicial executions and torture carried out by the security forces.
The government should now respond to the three-month unilateral ceasefire declared by the Maoists.
“If the two sides really desire peace, they now should not only both declare indefinite ceasefires, but also commit themselves to a human rights code of conduct, which could be monitored by the newly-established UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) field operation.
“Monitoring of respect for such a human rights code of conduct, and other confidence-building measures, could significantly reduce violence and create an environment in which peace talks are much more likely,” said Nicholas Howen.
The ICJ welcomed the positive step taken by the Government in accepting and cooperating with the OHCHR field operation.
During the mission the ICJ particularly explored the state of the justice system in meetings with the Attorney-General, the ministers for Home Affairs and for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, the Chief Justice, the Nepal Bar Association and other practising lawyers, the National Human Rights Commission and non-governmental organizations.
“The culture of impunity is probably the single most important factor allowing violations such as unlawful killings and torture by both the Maoists and the Government security forces to continue,” said Nicholas Howen.
“We urged Government ministers and the Attorney General to ensure that those in the security forces who carry out, order or acquiesce in gross violations are prosecuted in public trials before civilian courts and given punishments commensurate with their crimes,” he said.
The ICJ noted that this has not been the case with three army officers reportedly given six-month terms for failing to follow post-mortem and other procedures following the torture and death of 15 year-old Maina Sunawar in Kavre District in February 2004.
The ICJ welcomed signs of increasing independence and courage of the Supreme Court in considering habeas corpus writs and ordering the release of detainees held illegally by the security forces.
“Especially in the absence of parliament or a democratically elected government the Supreme Court plays a vital role as a protector of people’s rights,” said Nicholas Howen.
The ICJ was deeply disturbed by the fact that the Government still repeatedly flouts court orders to release detainees. In Kanchanpur District, on three occasions between May 2005 and September 2005, the Appellate Court and then the Supreme Court ordered the security forces to release a group of eleven detainees from Dadeldhura District. Each time the detainees were immediately rearrested and their whereabouts are now unknown.
“These court orders are matters of life and death. Those who disobey such orders must be prosecuted for being in contempt of the court,” said Nicholas Howen.
During the mission lawyers described to the ICJ how the justice system is being undermined. Lawyers in Kathmandu and in the districts who handle human rights cases face threats, intimidation, harassment, house searches without warrant and surveillance. In Maoist areas of control the state justice system cannot operate and has been replaced by illegitimate parallel structures.
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