Double jeopardy

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has blamed both the Maoists and the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) for human rights violations. It has come down heavily on the rebels who killed civilians in Madi (Chitwan) and in Narke Bazaar (Kavrepalanchowk). The Maoists have been told to make a “distinction between civilians and military personnel’, at the same time welcoming their decision to investigate the cases and bring the guilty to book. On June 6, a passenger bus blew up in Madi as it hit a land mine laid by the Maoists, killing 39 passengers, including three armymen, and injuring 72, including four armymen. Four days later, at Narkebazar, a passenger bus and a truck, also carrying armymen, were ambushed, leading to the death of two civilians and two armymen.

According to the OHCHR, the RNA needs to keep a full register of its prisoners as “its lists of detainees are not complete”. It says the government has breached its “international humanitarian law responsibilities” by allowing the armymen to use public transport

“repeatedly and regularly”. Though under Nepali law, it may not be illegal for armymen to use public transport, allowing them to do so, particularly in army fatigue or while carrying arms, would expose civilian life to all kinds of danger. Attacks on civilian targets just because armymen or Maoists are present there cannot be justified. Arguably, Madi and Nagarkot happened because some armymen were travelling in civilian transport vehicles. Some argue that allowing armymen to commandeer and use public transport in full knowledge of the risks involved may be termed an indirect way of using human shields.

This was the first OHCHR report after its office was set up in May following an agreement between Nepal and the Geneva-based UN human rights organisation to that effect, as the government came under heavy fire at the international level for its unsatisfactory human rights records. The plausible justifications for use of public vehicles by armymen are that they were not in army uniform, were off-duty and were carrying arms hidden, and that it was not always possible to use army vehicles while on mission. But the OHCHR report tells a different story. Civilian life is sacrosanct. Not everything is fair in war.