Kabul incident

  • It is not only the Nepali state but a host of stakeholders that are responsible for the tragedy
- JAGANANTH ADHIKARI, Kathmandu

Jun 24, 2016-

The news of the death of 12 Nepalis has shocked many of us. This kind of heinous act against innocent people deserves the strongest condemnation. Moreover, as Nepalis, we are naturally more concerned about this incident.  

A bigger question has also been asked about the role of the Nepali state, which has also been blamed for throwing its citizens out into the global economy and to fend for themselves. This is a complex question. Answering this question requires some insights into how international migration takes place, what attracts migrants, and what provisions on human migration there are in international law or relations. In addition, one has to understand how this particular migration to Kabul took place and who the people involved in this were. 

No internal matter

A simple answer to the question above is that the Nepali state is primarily responsible for the protection of its citizens. However, in such cases, there are many more stakeholders who are also responsible. In this particular case of the Kabul incident, the Canadian government (embassy) is much more responsible as it is the one that was in direct contact with these people and that was taking direct service from them. 

The international law on migrant labour requires that migrant labourers be provided with ‘decent employment’, which means that they should be provided with the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as are the citizens of a country doing the same work. From published reports, it is clear that the Nepali security guards were exposed to security risks when they were off duty. They were transported every day to and from office in a normal bus without any protection. Was it not the responsibility of the employer who directly got the service of these guards to provide them with adequate security? We certainly do not know what was in the contract between the employer and employees. But as moral beings, we always think of the safety of the people who are in direct contact with us. On top of that, these were the people who provided security to the employer. As such, I feel that the Canadian government failed in its moral and legal responsibility. 

It is not the first time that Nepalis were killed while working overseas. The killing of 12 Nepalis in Iraq in August 2004 was another incident of this kind. In a way, the Kabul incident resembles the Iraq incident in many respects. Initially, the employer, an American company, did not take any responsibility for the deaths of the Nepalis in Iraq. But when some American lawyers took this case to court in their country, the employers were found morally and legally responsible, and they were asked to pay compensation to the victims. I am familiar with this because some of my colleagues were deeply involved in supporting the legal process from Nepal, and I had contributed to it by providing information and opinion. 

International labour migration has gone up because of the increased intensity of the globalisation process. There is now a greater integration of the national and global spheres. Therefore, a migrant labourer is subject to both national and international laws, and is influenced by various institutions located at the local, national, and global levels. Similarly, a migrant, as an individual human being, needs to be provided with all human and labour rights irrespective of his or her citizenship. Even illegal migrants are to be provided with basic human rights. In the case of Kabul, all the workers were legal migrants. 

Clearly, Kabul’s case should be the concern of international agencies, developed countries, human-rights organisations, and, above all, UN agencies. In an age of globalisation, if these matters are not tackled by global organisations, then the new global village will not be harmonious. It now appears that all these concerned agencies have left the Kabul incident to Nepal itself as if it were Nepal’s internal matter. 

Social pressure

That said, I am also blaming the Nepali state. However, what makes me concerned is that some influential Nepali scholars write that it is only the Nepali state that has failed to protect its citizens working in foreign countries. I am not in a position to accept this argument. Migrant labourers are also the responsibility of many other international agencies and countries that get their services or are involved in taking them to the place of their employment. 

The Nepali state has a lot to do to protect its citizens within and outside the country. But it has not been able to deliver. Instead, it has been made weaker and weaker due to political and moral corruption. The bureaucracy, which is mainly responsible for day-to-day activities and for improving the safety of Nepali migrant workers, has been made incapable. On the other hand, we expect the state to be solely responsible for delivering all the services. For this, we should also work to make the state strong so that it can function properly and provide necessary services to people. 

Let us also face the fact that poverty alone has not driven Nepalis to go abroad for work. There is an implicit assumption that if the state had provided jobs, people would not have migrated for work and that incidents like the ones in Kabul and Iraq would not have happenned. But looking at the victims in Kabul, it is clear that they were not in a desperate situation to migrate. Social pressure was primarily responsible for them to undertake such a risky journey. We all are responsible in creating such pressure. 

Adhikari is a human geographer with an interest in development planning

Published: 24-06-2016 09:00

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