An appalling situation: Human Rights Defenders increasingly victims of the armed internal conflict

23/02/2005
Report

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of their joint programme, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, published a report today on an international mission of investigation on the situation of human rights defenders within the context of the armed conflict in Nepal, which was carried out in March 2004. This report highlights an already dire situation for human rights defenders in the country, even before King Gyandendra and the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) seized effective control of all level of powers, declaring a sate of emergency and suspending fundamental constitutional rights on February 1, 2005.

In its report, the Observatory expresses its grave concern over the dramatic increase in the scale of human rights abuses since the breakdown of the ceasefire in August 2003. During its mission, the Observatory noted a very worrying and precarious situation for human rights defenders who highlight the abuses and violations committed by government forces and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), and who are regularly subjected to arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and torture, threats, harassment, disappearance and even summary executions. Moreover, the Observatory is also gravely concerned over the further breakdown of democracy and the rule of law in Nepal since February 1, 2005.

The situation of human rights defenders in Nepal has turned from bad to worse. Lawyers, human rights defenders, political and student leaders, as well as journalists and trade unionists were arbitrarily arrested and most of them remain currently in detention, more than two weeks after the declaration of the state of emergency. Besides, some leading human rights activists, journalists and trade union leaders are currently in hiding or have fled the country. In particular, defenders are facing an acute situation of insecurity due to the suspension of press freedom, the takeover of all media by the military, and the close surveillance of all activists.

The royal dismissal of the government has been accompanied by the suspension of civil liberties. Political parties were targeted, but also trade unions, with the temporary closure of public sector trade unions and the detention of senior trade union leaders across the country. According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), several leaders of the Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUC) were amongst the detained, including Mr. Puskar Acharya, NTUC Senior Vice-President, Mr. Laxman Bahadur Basnet, NTUC Chairperson, and Ms. Manju Bhattarai, Central Committee member, both arrested on February 1, 2005, respectively in Morang and Kathmandu districts. In poor health, without access to proper medical care and stripped of basic hygiene requirements, Ms. Manju is also being deprived of sufficient food at her place of detention.

Journalists have also been targeted. Arjun Upreti, correspondent at Saptakoshi FM, was arrested on February 1 and released two hours later in Sunsari district. On February 4, 2005, Nava Raj Pahadi, editor at Antaranga Weekly, was arrested in Lamjung district. On February 9, 2005, Rajesh Sharma, District Chairperson of the Human Rights Education Radio Listeners Club (HRERLC), was arrested in Kaski district, before being released on the following day. On February 13, 2005, Narayan Adhikari, correspondent at the national news agency RSS (Rastriya Samachar Samitte), and Basant Parajuli, correspondent at Gorakhapatra Daily, were arrested in the district of Chitwan. Two days later, D.R. Pant, correspondent at Kantipur Daily, was also arrested. He is said to be detained at the District Police Office in Dadeldhura.

According to the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), as of February 21, 2005, 35 human rights defenders were arrested and detained since February 1, 2005 and 17 were subsequently released (without including leaders from trade unions and political parties).

On February 1, 2005, among others, the following human rights defenders were arrested: Mr. Nanda Bhandari, lawyer and member of the Centre for Victims of Torture (CVICT), is said to be detained at the police office of Surkhet district, and was given detention order under preventive detention under the Public Security Act (PSA). Mr. Lok Prasad Pant, lawyer and Chairman of the Civil Society Network, is detained at the Birendranagar jail, Surkhet district. Mr. Sindhu Nath Pyakurel, former Chairperson of the Nepal Bar Association (NBA), a national association of lawyers that works on human rights issues, was arrested by security forces personnel at his office in Kathmandu. He publicly criticised human rights violations by security forces. He was reportedly held incommunicado for nine days at the Kakani army barracks in Nuwakot District, close to Kathmandu, before being moved to the Armed Police Force camp in Duwakot in neighbouring Bhaktapur District, and then to the Bhaktapur police station. On February 9, after a habeas corpus petition (requiring him to be brought before a court or judge) was filed on his behalf, the Supreme Court ordered the security forces to bring Sindhunath Pyakurel before the Court within three days. Mr. Pyakurel was released on February 14, 2005.

According to INSEC, Bal Krishna Poudel, Secretary of HURON in Chitwan district, and Prakash Khatiwada, HRYB (Human Rights Yearbook) District Representative of INSEC, Saptari district, were also arrested on the same day. The latter was released a few hours later.

On February 2, 2005, plain-clothes security persons paid a visit to the home of Dr. Bhogendra Sharma, Chairperson of CVICT, who was out. He is reported to be hiding elsewhere. Likewise, two days later, plain-clothes security members visited the residence of Dr. Gopal Krishna Shivakoti, Chairperson of Inhured International (International Institute for Human Rights, Environment and Development). Dr. Shivakoti and his wife were not at home. Since then, they are reported to be in hiding.

On February 4, 2005, Mr. Bishnu Nisthuri, Secretary General of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), was arrested at his residence in Kathmandu and has since then been kept in detention under PSA. On that same day, the security forces raided the Federation’s offices and the residence of its President, Mr. Tara Nath Dahal, who had gone into hiding following his issuing of press releases throughout the country and abroad. His statements condemned the King’s declaration of state of emergency, dismissal of parliament, suspension of press freedom and cutting of all communication lines into and within Nepal. According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Mr. Tara Nath’s family members have been allegedly harassed by the security forces, and their residence as well as FNJ’s offices remain under surveillance by the army.

Bam Dev Adhikari, Vice-Person of the Society for Protection of Human Rights and Rural Environment (SOPHRE), was also arrested on February 4, 2005, in Lamjung district.

On February 9, 2005, Mr. Sukharam Maharjan, Vice Chairperson of the Kirtipur Branch of the Human Rights Organization of Nepal (HURON), was taken away from his residence, Kathmandu district, by five security members. His place of detention remains unknown.

On the same day, Mr. Krishna Pahadi, former President of the Human Rights and Peace Society (HURPES) and former chairman of the Nepal section of Amnesty International, was arrested at HURPES offices in Kathmandu. He is detained under PSA, at the Nepal police headquarters.

On February 10, 2005, security forces arrested eleven defenders at a peaceful demonstration in Kathmandu. They were protesting against the King’s takeover of power in Nepal. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), among those arrested were ten human rights activists from HURPES: Suresh Chandra Pokhrel, Vice President, Bal Ram Aryal, Treasurer, Narayan Datta Kandel, Jay Ram Basnet, Laxmi Pariyar, members, Suman Shrestha, Secretary of Kathmandu District Committee, Jiba Lal Kharel, Laxman Acharya, members, Bal Ram Neupane and Hira Lal Acharya, activists. Mr. Basu Devkota, General Secretary of the Human Development and Peace Campaign (HUDEP), was also arrested at the demonstration. They were all released on February 14, 2005.

On February 17, 2005, Mr. Gauri Pradhan, founding president of the Child Workers in Nepal Concern Centre (CWIN), was arrested by the police at Kathmandu Airport, following his return from Geneva, Switzerland, where he was attending a working group meeting of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. He is reportedly being held at the police headquarters in Naxal, Kathmandu. CWIN is a leading child rights organisation in Nepal that raises controversial issues including child labour, trafficking, and the impact of conflict on children.

The Observatory is deeply concerned by the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in the country, and strongly calls upons the Nepales authorities:

- to take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of human rights defenders;

- to free immediately and unconditionally all human rights defenders and prisoners of opinion who are arbitrarily detained;

- to lift the state of emergency and to reinstate the rule of law;

- more generally, to end all forms of harassment and ill-treatment of human rights defenders in Nepal, and guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders and organisations are able to carry out their work without any hindrance;

- to publicly affirm the important role human rights defenders play in the construction of the rule of law and democracy;

- to comply with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or collectively, to promote the protection and fulfilment of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, article 6 on the right “to know, seek, obtain, receive and hold information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms”, “to freely publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms” and “to study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”, as well as article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

- to guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments ratified by Nepal;

- to invite the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on the situation of human rights defenders and, more generally, address a standing invitation to all thematic procedures of the UN Commission on Human Rights;

Furthermore, the Observatory, along with other international human rights NGOs, calls upon the international community to suspend military aid to the Government of Nepal as a means of pressure to change its human rights policies, and upon the UN Commission on Human Rights to adopt at its forthcoming session a resolution on the human rights situation in Nepal creating a specific monitoring mechanism on that situation.

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