Human Rights Situation in Nepal: Challenge and Dilemma

Human rights and arbitrary killing in Nepal is becoming a burning issue not only at the national level but also in related forum at the international level. Abuse and violation of human rights have been reported ever since the Maoists insurgency started but this issue is raised more prominently, especially following the enforcement of the state of emergency in 2001 and particularly after the employment of the Nepalese Army (NA) to fight against Maoists insurgency. Human rights have become the centre of attention and its impact on the nation’s war against the Maoists.

Until the cease fire was announced last April, the NA was taking the lead role in the war against rebel forces in accordance with the Constitution of Nepal. The Constitution of Nepal-1991 defined Human rights as one of the core norms and is given utmost importance as any other key democratic norms and values. Commitments to the respect of human rights have come time and again from the highest level of the state to the chiefs of the respective security forces. This issue is becoming a matter of great concern to policy makers as well as junior commanders at all levels.

The Maoists were launching their operations ranging from various kinds of terrorist acts to guerilla operations. In a war where civilians are involved directly or indirectly, violation of human rights cannot be ruled out. What is important to note is: whether such violations are perpetrated knowingly or unknowingly; motives and circumstances behind it; whether any actions taken to curb or prevent; and those found guilty are penalized or not.

Fighting a war with your own people on your own soil is a most difficult job to perform. Identifying a bunch of terrorists from among innocent people is very difficult. We can take the example of Iraq, where a highly sophisticated military force like the US Army is also facing a similar dilemma. Abuse of human rights is also reported there but such pressure is not affecting the security operations of the US and coalition forces. In Nepal, security forces faced unconventional opponents probably for the first time in our history. Overall, security forces seemed very serious about human rights issues. Despite all efforts, the amount of pressure put on security forces by both internal and external elements has created a situation due to which security forces seemed in a state of total confusion and uncertainty which has affected accomplishing their primary objectives.

Let us analyze honestly – is the human rights situation in Nepal is as alarming and is the level of abuse from government forces as severe as it is portrayed? Who are the real victims of human rights abuse? Most of the abuses are perpetrated by whom – rebels or government side? Definition of “insurgents” covers not only rebels but their active or inactive supporters as well. In most cases, those who are caught in the cross fire are associated with the insurgency in one way or the other. What is more important to know is in what circumstances are they associated. Not all are involved ideologically but some might have been involved forcefully. Indeed, it was a daunting task for the security forces to differentiate innocent people from real terrorists.

In reality, what we have seen on the government side is that right from the policy making level to execution level everyone was seen as very cautious and serious on respecting human rights issues and it was given the highest priority while planning and conducting any operations. Efforts were made to minimize collateral damage and protect the lives of innocent people. There were some allegations of abuse against members of the security forces, which were investigated properly and those found guilty have been penalized accordingly. There are some caveats that most of the alleged victims were either used as human shield by rebels or caught in the cross fire. It is the exaggeration and biased reports, which are misleading and damaging the nation’s credibility. In fact, the biggest victims are the off-duty security forces and members of their family, but it has been so unfortunate that no strong voices are heard on the issue of the rights of these groups.

It is worth mentioning here about the motives and attitude of some national and international human right activists and agencies. The degree and level of human rights violations and abuse perpetrated by the Maoists is many times more severe than that from government side. They violate intentionally and knowingly whereas violations by the security forces are unknowingly or unintentionally with some exceptions. Once reported such cases are investigated thoroughly and those found guilty are punished.

On the other hand very much less pressure is put on the Maoists for their widespread violations and abuse and there is hardly any evidence that any punitive actions are taken against any culprits. It is really interesting that the so-called human rights organizations and activists intentionally portray a negative image of security forces in various international forums while they are silent towards more brutal abuses of the Maoist side. Their motive behind such discrimination is always questionable. Are they doing so just to safeguard their bread and butter or have they any obligations towards Maoist organizations?

Nepal at present is moving forward in the peace process to resolve the decade long crisis between the existing regime and the rebel Maoists. Most of the human rights organizations pressurizing the security forces, primarily the army, but no attempt is ever made towards the Maoist side. After the cease fire announced by the government and the Maoists, all the Maoists were released from detention centers and jails, with the great hope to resolve the crisis. The Maoists directly involved in acts of terrorism and were found guilty were also released. But at the same time, the army is under utmost pressure for some human right allegations. There is no doubt that if any elements violate human rights, they must be punished. However, only one side is facing the charge and the other side is free of abuse and allegations which can not be justified at all.

It is an open secret that after every operation, Maoists bury their wounded or killed comrades, but human rights activists search them to find in security forces detention center. It gives the notion that either these activists do not understand Maoists tactics to cover their crimes or they are supporting Maoists knowingly or unknowingly. One thing is sure that they are scared and not willing to take the risk to point their fingers towards Maoists whereas it is easy for them to point out security forces. There are even allegations that most of the human rights activists are working with vested interests, some are even said to be Maoist supporters or party members.

Security forces have revealed that many hard-core rebels are operating under the cover and umbrella of human rights organizations. Isn’t this sufficient to get the true picture of the human rights situation in Nepal?