Always around

  • Hopefully India’s recent concerns regarding Nepal’s human rights situation is not just a political gimmick
- RAM BHANDARI

Dec 25, 2015-

In 2005, the seven-party alliance (SPA) led by the Nepali Congress and the CPN (Maoist) agreed to end the decade long conflict and join forces against the absolute monarchy in a 12-point agreement brokered in New Delhi. During the conflict, Maoist leader Prachanda and other senior leaders spent much time in India while Mohan Baidya spent years in an Indian prison. Meanwhile, India itself has been facing threats from Indian Maoists in various states. And due to the perceived implications, security and foreign policy goals, the southern neighbour wished to play a major role in the transformation of the Nepali Maoist party through disarmament, and so continued to serve as a mediator to influence

Nepali politics.

The Indian establishment influenced the 12-point pact and also the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that was subsequently signed in 2006. In the years that followed, India has been a dominant influence over Nepali politics on a broad range of issues ranging from the Interim Constitution; Constituent Assembly (CA) elections; the infamous Katuwal scandal and then Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s resignation which followed; disputes with the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) and exit of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); the dissolution of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cantonments to the first CA; appointment of then Supreme Court Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi; second CA election; disputes over the constitutional process and the recent promulgation of the controversial document and the formation of a post-constitution government.  

Indian meddling

India has played a significant and influential role in Nepali politics and society during all the major events of the post-conflict era. Besides intervention in Nepal’s internal issues and attempts to micromanage and control Nepali political parties, India has never respected its landlocked neighbour’s rights or the dignity of the citizens in the border regions throughout history.  During the conflict era, the Indian Army provided modern arms and equipment to the then Royal Nepal Army to fight the Maoist rebellion. Even Indian human rights activists raised concerns and condemned the arms supply. India has never respected human rights or believed in providing humanitarian support to the oppressed and marginalised.

After the end of the conflict, India facilitated discussions between the state and the Maoists, forgetting the historic violence and without raising issues of accountability over human rights violations by both the Nepali state and the PLA. Rather than respecting human rights principles and the right to justice, India welcomed the Maoist supreme commander in Delhi and provided technical support. India never raised its voice in favour of the victims of human rights violations, but opposed the role of UNMIN, lobbied for the exit of the OHCHR whose 2012 conflict report they opposed, and supported alleged perpetrators in both the state and Maoist forces.

Human rights violations continued and citizens and rights activists have been killed during the peace process from the first Madhes Movement to the infamous Gaur incident where 28 Maoist activists were killed during the first CA election campaign. Most recently, more than 50 people have been killed, mostly by the security forces, during protests against the constitution, and violations continue. The Nepal government has withdrawn hundreds of criminal cases from the courts, refusing to implement the Supreme Court rulings, the National Human Rights Commissions’ recommendations and the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee.

India has never questioned why the issue of accountability was ignored by the Nepal government during the peace process. Whether at regional forums like Saarc or at global forums, India has never mentioned the rights of

citizens to truth, justice and reparation. Instead, Nepal’s development partners such as Germany, Denmark, the UK, Switzerland, Finland and France have recommended a human rights-based approach to peace and reconstruction as part of their support to the peace process.

New concerns

Surprisingly, India made a strong statement during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session in Geneva in November making a number of recommendations to Nepal: consolidate the constitution building and democratisation process by accommodating all sections of Nepali society to enable broad-based ownership and participation; ensure the independence and financial autonomy of the National Human Rights Commission; and ensure the effective functioning of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and full implementation of its recommendations, including prosecution of those responsible for violations.

India’s recommendations have arisen at a time when the Madhes is in revolt, India-Nepal diplomacy is in crisis, and the Nepali people are undergoing much hardship due to a trade embargo. India has specifically questioned the new constitution, targeting alleged perpetrators to make them accountable through the TRC process. If India is really serious about supporting the thousands of victims of human rights abuse through an independent national human rights commission and a strong TRC, this would be a welcome step in promoting human rights in Nepal and the region. If India really wishes to make a global commitment to human rights, such steps can help promote the rule of law, democratic process, constitutional rights, social justice and sustainable peace in the region. But the Indian authorities could, of course, start at home.

Change in tune

India neglected to raise the issue of the disappeared and the disappearance law in Nepal in its recommendations during the UPR. Thousands of citizens have been forcibly disappeared in both Nepal and India where there is no law on missing persons or a credible search mechanism. A majority of disappearance cases in Nepal were caused by the security forces to which India has supplied weapons and training, and the Nepali government to which it has provided political support. India’s statement is discriminatory and did not mention the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons and the prosecution of those responsible, a serious humanitarian issue both in Nepal and India.

Can India now change its tune, after decades of complicity in such crimes, and finally play a role in criminalising enforced disappearance, labelling it a crime against humanity? Can Nepal promise to punish the criminals and ratify the convention on enforced disappearance? If India’s recent engagement with the issue of justice for war time violations in Nepal is sincere and not just a political gimmick, our powerful neighbour can play an important role in promoting human rights and democracy, and strengthening accountability, responsibility and democratic values throughout the region.

Bhandari is the general secretary of Conflict Victims Common Platform

Published: 25-12-2015 10:06

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