Tuesday, April 25, 2006

UPDATES


NEW POLITICAL UPRISINGS:
Several weeks of defiant demonstrations by pro-democracy protesters have led to several deadly clashes between the Royal Nepalese Army and thousands of demonstrators calling for the restoration of the ousted Parliament and the relinquishing of control of the government by King Gyanendra. In addition to several deaths and many injuries to protesters, human rights abuses by the Royal Nepales Army have become even more rampant. Activists, journalists, and other members of society that pose a threat to the King's power were arrested and jailed during the demonstrations. After weeks of protests, King Gyanendra conceded to some of the demands of the pro-democracy groups on April 24, 2006. He gave into demands to reinstate parliament, which was enough for Nepal's opposition alliance to call off the protests. However, the concession was not enough to be supported by the Maoist insurgents who had consistently supported the demonstrators and they rejected the king's offer.
More information on the recent events can be found at these sites:

NY Times-Nepal:
http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/nepal.index.html?8qa

Human Rights Watch-Nepal:
http://hrw.org/doc/?t=asia&c=nepal

Sunday, April 09, 2006

INTRODUCTION

Please read the posts bottom up. That is, please read the introduction to Nepal first, the section on Women's Rights, and finally the section on international human rights law. The film "Sari Soldiers: Women on the Frontline in Nepal" is being presented by the Duke Human Rights Initiative at Duke University on Monday, April 10, 2006 in the Richard White Lecture hall on East Campus. This blog will provide background information for the issues covered in Julie Bridgham's film.

Nepal: International Human Rights Law


Current Human Rights Situation in Nepal
On February 1, 2005, Nepal's human rights situation deteriorated as King Gyanendra initiated the greatest threat to Nepal's fledgling democracy by assuming all executive control and suspending most civil rights. During this time, he claimed that he was destroying democracy in order to save it, saying that the civilian government was unable to resolve the conflict with the Maoists. Some of the worst human rights violations were committed when the King ordered the detention of thousands of political activists, journalists, human rights monitors, and when he imposed severe restrictions on civil liberties. The King's coup provoked strong international condemnation, especially since Nepal is a legal signee of several different United Nations Human Rights documents.

BACKGROUND: International Human rights Law
The International Bill of Human Rights consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols (UNHCHR). During the creation of the bill of rights, the UN Drafting Committee prepared two documents: one in the form of a declaration, which set forth "general principles or standards of human rights" and one in the form of a convention (now called a covenant), which defined specific rights and their limitations. When the UN General Assembly ratified the declaration, it was setting forth a document that outlines the "human rights and fundamental freedoms to which all men and women, everywhere in the world, are entitled, without any discrimination". The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become a measure for the degree of respect for, and compliance with, international human rights standards. It is one of the most important international documents that has helped prevent human rights abuses and improve human rights situations in many countries.

The first article of the Declaration outlines the basic assumptions of the Declaration: that the right to liberty and equality is a birthright and cannot be alienated and that man is different from other creatures on earth and entitled to certain special rights and freedoms. Article 1 says, "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood" (UNHCHR).

Article 2 defines the basic principles of equality and non discrimination and it forbids "distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status". It also states that there are "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war,...", thus making it virtually impossible for any defense of these actions to take place.

Article 3 is a cornerstone of the Declaration because it proclaims the right to life, liberty, and security of person, which are essential rights needed for the enjoyment of all other rights. Article 3 also introduces Articles 4-21, which cover other political and civil rights, such as freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and freedom of opinion and expression, all of which have been broken at some point in Nepal's conflict.

Nepal's participation in almost all aspects of the Declaration of Human Rights would lead one to believe that the country is committed to preventing and punishing actions that threaten the rights of the citizens. Yet, both the Maoist rebels and government forces (and the Royal Party itself) have participated in a variety of activities such as arbitrary arrests, "disappearances", intimidation of the press, and judicidial interference, all of which are not compliant with the standards set forth by the Declaration.

Nepal's Conflict and the Declaration of Human Rights
Human rights abuses have been documented since the beginning of the conflict, yet with the King's seizure of power and his subsequent declaration of a state of emergency, a human rights catastrophe could be looming because of the heightened militarization and lack of democratic institutions. During this time, it is essential for the international community to monitor and work with Nepal so that the Declaration is upheld as thoroughly as possible. While the takeover of the government and the state of emergency have helped attract international attention, it is the daily violence and terror on ordinary communities that should be the most serious human rights concern. The conflict had already eroded the security and human rights of the rural population and now the actions of the King have undermined the freedom of the urban population, who were often untouched by the violent abuses taking place in the countryside. Under the state of emergency, a large number of fundamental rights, all of which are protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, have been suspended.

These include:
-Freedom of expression and opinion
-Freedom of assembly
-Freedom to form unions and associations
-Press and Publication rights
-Right against preventative detention
-Right to information
-Right to privacy
-Right to constitutional remedy
(Amnesty International)

The state of emergency is further eroding any institutional safeguards that had once protected against human rights abuses, which means that the Articles outlined in the Universal Declaration are not being upheld. The judiciary have been reluctant to take a definitive stance to uphold human rights because they too have been threatened with violence and reparations by both sides. The other institution whose role it is to protect human rights is the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a group created to carry out investigations and report on human rights actitivities. Since the state of emergency, the NHBC's ability to effectively monitor human rights abuses has been limited by obstruction by security forces and the restrictions on freedom of expression.

Another casualty of the state of emergency and subsequent loss of freedom was the proposed Human Rights Accord, which would have committed both the Maoists and the government to clear human rights standards and human rights monitoring. The Accord was created by the NHRC and was promoted by both the international and human rights community. The Accord would have set a standard for future peace negotiations, but with the takeover of power by the King, a greater rift was formed between the two sides and the Accord was subsequently declined by both. At this point in the conflict, it has fallen on the shoulders of the international community to monitor and influence Nepal's human rights abuses.

Clearly, the government and the Maoist rebels are not interested in peaceful resolution and they continue to deny political rights and civil liberties to large portions of the population. In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community must hold Nepal responsible for its continual lack of regard for the rights of its citizens and its non-compliance with the standards of the Declaration. There are several actions that could be taken by members of the international community to punish and persuade Nepal into changing its human rights situation. India, the U.S., and the U.K. are Nepal's largest arms suppliers and they should continue to deny any military assistance to Nepal until the government complies with international human rights and humanitarian law. Interested states should also provide the necessary financial and political support to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner in Nepal so that the organization has better resources to tackle the human rights abuses being committed. The UN should also exclude all Nepali military units and individual military personnel implicated in human rights violations from participating in peacekeeping missions around the world. The international community also needs to call on and pressure the King to restore all fundamental human rights and the government in order to work towards a peaceful solution. Nepal's political situation has deteriorated even more in the last few years and it is essential that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be defended in order to keep Nepali citizens safe and free.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

NEPAL-- WOMEN'S RIGHTS


THE CONFLICT AND WOMEN'S RIGHTS

Julie Bridgham's film, "Sari Soldiers: Women on the Frontline in Nepal", examines the lives of six different women and their involvement in Nepal's civil war. The Nepali stories include a Royal Nepal Army soldier, a Maoist, a mother of a "disappeared" daughter, an anti-Maoist village activist, a human rights attorney, and a street protester. Her film shows the role of women on all sides of the conflict as well as the greater political and human rights issues in Nepal. Women's rights are human rights, and there have been many instances of human rights abuses during the civil war. Even before the conflict began, women held an inferior position in society. The conflict only exascerbated these inequalities and exposed the vulnerability of the female population in Nepal.

Women have all too often been the unrecognized victims in the conflict because they already had limited access to protection, justice, and equal human rights. The Maoist rebel-Government conflict has created more chaotic conditions for most women in Nepal, especially those living in rural areas. The economic impact of the war has been even worse for the female population because all too often they had little before the war and they have limited access to education and other resources. The overwhelming majority of women victimized by Maoists are suffering incredibly because of the lack of timely financial support. Many women are left to fend for themselves economically when their husbands and sons are forced to fight in the war. They are forced to continue their work as well as take over for their missing spouse, while still trying to support and raise their children. Even worse, when a woman's husband is killed, she has no secure source of income for herself or her family, except for a small pension from the army. Already living in impoverished conditions, the conflict in Nepal has only made the situation more unbearable for the thousands of women who must deal with the emotional trauma of losing a family member as well as more economic burdens. Nepali women are the majority of the poor who stand to lose access to critical social services, especially if they are in an area that is mostly under rebel control.

Women in Nepal are also directly affected by the conflict because they are heavily recruited to fight for either side and they are often targets of violence and coercion. Maoists constantly target women and try to recruit them with propaganda about changing the situation of the rural population. The recruitment of women into the activities of the Maoist cause inhibits many women from working and caring for their children. Especially in rural areas, human rights abuses targeted at girls in schools are driving many Nepali families to keep their girls out of school, thus perpetuating the system of inferiority that already exists. In areas of Nepal where the conflict is the worst (the west), many girls are already not attending school because women and girls are most often abducted outside of their homes.

Perhaps the most devastating factor in the fight for women's rights in Nepal is the effect the conflict has on the participatory role of women. Maintenance of national security and peace is an important factor for economic growth and development and the empowerment of women. Violence, political participation, and attacks on women are discouraging political participation and endangering any gains that had previously been made on women's rights in Nepal. Participation in local political groups and community groups becomes more of a burden during times of conflict and it can also become dangerous. Program's targeted at women and other marginalized populations are no longer a priority and are very hard to sustain in the midst of conflict and danger. Yet, if Nepalese women are to play an equal part in security and maintaining peace, they must be empowered politically and economically. Because of gender discrimination, the needs of women themselves have been the first to be sacrificed during times of conflict. Women have been excluded from political decision-making, jeapordizing even more their rights for the future.

"Sari Soldiers: Women on the Frontline in Nepal" examines the role of women in Nepali society from every angle. It also shows how the conflict has impacted women of all economic, political, and regional backgrounds. The film not only looks at the individual struggles of each of the six women, it frames these struggles against a backdrop of economic and political strife. In the next blog, I will discuss the legal framework of this conflict and the human rights abuses that have been documented.

NEPAL: BACKGROUND


GENERAL INFORMATION
The Kingdom of Nepal is a landlocked Himalayan country in South Asia, bordering the People’s Republic of China to the north and India to the south, east, and west. Nepal is the world’s only Hindu state and over 80% of the population follows this faith. For most of its history, Nepal has been ruled by a hereditary monarchy or ruling family, largely isolated from the rest of the world. This system of rule lasted for
centuries until King Birendra was pressured by opposition parties to implement sweeping political reforms in 1990. The political structure changed and a parliamentary monarchy was created with the king as head of state and a prime minister as head of government. Nepal’s longstanding history of continuity of rule and relative stability was challenged during this time, when the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (pro-democracy movement) was formally established on February 18, 1990. The goal of the pro-democracy movement was to establish a more representative democracy, but it was accompanied by violent demonstrations and political unrest. Since democratic politics were introduced in 1991, the system has been divided by many factions with frequent changes of government during the last decade.

NEPAL’S ECONOMY:
In addition to the political instability in Nepal, the economic situation is dire. Nepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world and roughly 1/3 of its population currently lives below the poverty line, especially in the rural areas. Agriculture is the foundation of the economy, accounting for 38% of GDP and providing livelihood for ¾ of the population. The internal conflict has also impacted tourism, a key source of income that centers mainly on visitors to Mt. Everest. Prospects for foreign investment are also low because of the small economy, poor development, and the civil war situation (CI
A World Factbook).



NEPAL’S INTERNAL CONFLICT:

For the past decade, Nepal has suffered from political, social, and economic hardships, which have been made worse by an ongoing and violent Maoist rebellion. Revolutionary communism has all but disappeared in the world, yet Nepal’s Maoist rebels continue to gain strength. The wavering constitutional democracy created following the 1990 People’s Movement is
on the verge of collapse due to continued success of the Maoist guerrilla insurgency, or the “People’s War”, that was launched in 1996 by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist). The CPN is a Maoist group heavily modeled on Peru's Sendero Luminoso, better known as the Shining Path. The CPN's goals are to end the Nepalese monarchy and replace it with a Maoist People’s Republic, and to put an end to capitalist exploitation, the caste system, and ethnic, religious, and linguistic exploitation. Beginning in 1996 as a small group of insurgents, the movement has continually gained momentum and it is now estimated that there are 10,000 to 15,000 fighters across the country. Many of the leaders of the rebel movement were also key figures in the democratic movement that overthrew the long-standing monarchy. Their frustration with the stagnant political situation and their anger over the neglect of the rural poor were the two motivating factors for the creation of the Maoist movement. The CPN tries to create a united front to gain local support but will use terror in areas where support comes more slowly. Such incidents of violence have increased as the CPN has expanded beyond its areas of traditional support. In some regions, especially in the Mid-West where the movement originated, the CPN has firm control of the area and government control is considerably limited. This conflict has become a revolt of people in the countryside who are mostly low-caste Hindus who realize that their essentially feudal way of life needs to be changed. The failure of mainstream politics to meet the basic needs of Nepal’s rural poor has fueled the conflict and drawn many of these people to the Maoist cause.




NEPAL’S HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES:

Both the government and the rebel forces have resorted to human rights abuses and have been accused of wide-ranging violent activities. It is estimated that more than 10,000 people have died in Nepal’s brutal civil war and that some 200,000 people have become internally displaced refugees. The conflict continues to rage between government forces and Maoist rebels, putting many civilians in the middle of the violence. Those most often caught between the two opposing sides are the most vulnerable: the “untouchables”, the rural poor, women, children, and the indigenous communities. In the western parts of the country, which are the most contested areas and the most saturated with rebel forces, civilians are often threatened by both sides. Maoist rebels force the villagers to provide them with shelter and refusal to do so often leads to violent reprisals. But, if the villagers protect the rebels, either willfully or by force, they will be vulnerable to violence by the Government police. Using extortion and coercion, the Maoists are imposing an authoritarian control throughout large parts of rural Nepal. State forces are engaged in well documented, systematic violations from extra-judicial executions to illegal detentions, "disappearances" and torture. When King Gyanendra seized direct power and dismissed the government in a royal coup on February 1, 2005, the state was guilty of suspending many fundamental rights and arresting thousands of political party leaders, students, journalists, and human rights activists.
“Sari Soldiers: Women on the Frontline in Nepal”, is a documentary film by Julie Bridgham that documents the perspective of women caught on both sides of the conflict. The human rights violations in Nepal have been widespread, but women in particular are often the unrecognized victims in this conflict. In the next blog entry I will discuss the situation for women in Nepal and give a background of how they have suffered from human rights abuses at the hands of the rebels and the Government forces.

USEFUL LINKS:
DUKE HUMAN RIGHTS INITIATIVE: http://www.duke.edu/web/rightsatduke/
UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NEPAL: http://www.ohchr.org/english/countries/np/index.htm