Middle path

The government has, finally, agreed to a middle path by signing a two-year agreement with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Under this the UN age-ncy is to set up an independent human rights monitoring mechanism in Nepal, with its main office in the capital, and regional offices as per the need. This development came just hours before Switzerland, backed by certain Western donor countries, was to move a resolution at the 61st session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva under Item 9 of the commission’s agenda. Various domestic and international human rights gro-ups, three major political parties, and others had favoured such a resolution. If tabled and passed, this would have meant a censure of Nepal and the appointment of a UN Special Rapporteur, among other things, to monitor human rights in the country. This would have meant a big loss of face for the government.

The agreed OHCHR presence in Nepal is likely to have a restraining influence on the warring parties. Nepal’s case will now move from Item 9 to Item 19, under which the international community will seek to achieve human rights goals in Nepal through less stronger measures. As Jorg Frieden, Switzerland’s country director in Nepal, said in Kathmandu on Monday, the compromise was reached because, otherwise, there would have been divided opinion for and against the original draft resolution. Nepal, adverse from the start to any kind of UN monitoring mechanism, had, obviously, not signed the present agreement out of choice. The presence of UN monitors is expected to help the functioning of domestic human rights defenders, too. However, its indirect political implications in the context of present curbs on many freedoms need to be observed closely.

But monitoring is not an end in itself. One may like it or not, the international community, through its tremendous political, economic and other kinds of clout, is in a strong position to help the Nepalis find a political settlement of the conflict. If the monitoring goes on even as the war continues for long, with serious human rights violations, the effectiveness of the new mechanism will come under doubt. The armed conflict has not come to an end partly because of the narrow interests of the political forces, and, arguably, partly because of the “strategic” interests of certain big powers, which have tended to override the aspirations of the Nepali people. The big powers are thinking less in terms of what the Nepalis want, but in terms of what they think is best for Nepal. After all, a broader political solution would depend largely on the role of these powers, as they can influence not only internal developments in the country but also the UN.