Editorial: Protect Tibetans

Tibetan community in Nepal has raised serious concerns over the treaty that could be used to persecute them under Chinese pressure

One-and-a-half months after Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a two-day official visit to Nepal in the second week of October, US Congressmen James P McGovern and Christopher H Smith, co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and six other members of Congress released a letter to Nepali Ambassador to US, Arjun Kumar Karki, urging the Government of Nepal to ‘fully protect the human rights of Tibetans in Nepal’ and abide by Nepal’s international obligations and moral imperatives’. The letter was sent to Nepal expressing concern about the deportation of six Tibetans who crossed into Nepal from China in September in ‘apparent violation of Nepal’s obligation of non-refoulment’. The letter has raised the issue of crackdown on the Tibetan community at the time of Chinese President Xi’s visit to Nepal. It also raised the ‘worrying prospect of an extradition treaty between Nepal and China, the increasingly stringent restriction on freedom of assembly and expression suffered by Tibetans in Nepal and essentially stateless status of many Tibetans. During the Chinese President’s visit to Nepal on October 12-13, both the countries had reached a number of agreements and understandings, including the treaty between Nepal and China on ‘Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters’.

Shortly after Xi’s visit, the Tibetan community in Nepal has raised serious concerns over the treaty that could be used to persecute them under Chinese pressure. The US Congressmen have urged Nepal to halt deportation of Tibetans, refrain from use of preventive detention and register all Tibetans refugees living in Nepal. These steps, they said, would ensure that Tibetans’ human rights would be fully protected. They have also said Nepal’s stated determination not to allow any ‘anti-China activities on its soil’ cannot justify restrictions on fundamental civil and political rights, and many Tibetans who fled to Nepal after 1989 are essentially stateless. They have also reminded Nepal that this issue remains a priority interest for Congress, as it was in 2003 when a trade bill regarding the Nepali garment industry was withdrawn in the Senate after Nepal returned 18 Tibetan refugees to China. The Congressmen have said these actions appear to be a violation of the longstanding ‘Gentlemen Agreement’ between Nepal and UNHCR to protect Tibetan refugees in transit.

While Nepal is firmly committed not to allow anti-China activities on its soil, the country has also some international obligations, such as the agreement with UNHCR, to protect the human rights of Tibetan refugees in Nepal. The US Congressmen are particularly concerned that early conclusion of the Treaty on Extradition would be used to persecute Tibetans living in Nepal. The Tibetan issue is very sensitive to both Nepal and China, which must be handled with care. However, the Nepal government has not made its position clear about the letter to Nepal. At the same time, Nepal also cannot fail to see the concerns raised by US Congressmen as the US is one of the biggest donors in Nepal’s development endeavour – a US$ 500 million grant being the latest one. Given the friendly relations with US for over 70 years, Nepal should perform a diplomatic balancing act by addressing the genuine concerns of the US Congressmen, who can influence Nepal policy.

Cars hit speed bump

Nepal Rastra Bank’s squeeze on auto financing, especially of luxury vehicles, has had the desired impact, with loan disbursement in the automobile sector down by 85 per cent. According to NRB, banks disbursed loans worth Rs 665 million in the first quarter of this fiscal against Rs 4.75 billion the same period last year. This has happened after the government in September last year decided to lower the ratio of loan to value of vehicles to 50 per cent from the existing 65 per cent. A car is a luxury in Nepal, and making a 50 per cent down payment while purchasing a vehicle could drill a hole in one’s pocket.

Not only are vehicular loan disbursements down, the demand for new automobiles has also come down, hinting at a recession in the domestic automobile market. The government last year took a decision to curb imports of luxurious items in a bid to reduce the ballooning trade deficit. The money retained could be siphoned to more productive areas and also help ease the credit crunch to some degree. One has yet to see how the policy has affected imports in other sectors.