He’s got a point

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has admitted that the law and order situation has deteriorated, and has accepted his share of blame for this. Speaking at the Nepali Congress Parliamentary Party (NCPP) meeting on Tuesday, the PM said, referring to the Lahan incidents, “We are on the verge of success”, adding, rightly, that the matter would be sorted out keeping in view the country’s sovereignty and independence. Considering the fluid situation and the approaching constituent assembly (CA) polls, Koirala stressed the need to be vigilant against attempts by “reactionary” forces to defile the atmosphere.

It is good that Koirala realised his government’s weaknesses on the law and order front. He, however, in all fairness, did not dump the entire blame on home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula. This may also be interpreted as his support for Sitaula even as a section of his own party has been demanding Sitaula’s scalp, all the more so after the Nepalgunj riots and the Lahan violence. Given the circumstances, some untoward incidents may not be completely ruled out as the country marches to the CA polls, but the government is supposed to take all necessary measures to nip any trouble in the bud before it assumes horrific proportions. On this count, sadly, the Koirala government leaves much room for improvement. What is expected of Koirala, however, is that he should match his admission with corrective action. Governments in Nepal have often presented themselves as either too callous in dealing with trouble or too lax in taking required legal measures to keep the peace.

Human rights must be respected. But no law says that the government should stare helplessly while miscreants vandalise or set ablaze public or private property, kill people, disturb peace or communal harmony. What all human rights conventions prescribe is that the government should desist from committing excesses such as torture and extra-judicial killings, treating detainees inhumanely, denying them legal remedy, etc. In striking such a balance lies the key to being a government which is both a respecter of human rights and keeper of peace. A similar balance is called for when human rightists’ perception and the need for harmony and unity in the country may collide. Koirala told NCPP that he had told visiting UN high commissioner for human rights Louis Arbour, in reply to her concern over the situation in Nepal, that “the state’s sovereignty and independence cannot be compromised in the name of human rights”. Koirala has a point here. It has been seen that however large or great a democracy a country may claim to be, but when it comes to its vital interests, it has tended to trample on human rights. And a small and geopolitically constrained country, Nepal must treat its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence as top priority. At the same time, though, there is no less need to ensure that those in power do not invoke these national interests just to suit their convenience or serve narrow interests, as has been witnessed in the past in great abundance.