Nepal avoids censure resolution at Geneva

Gustavo Capdevila :

By signing a last-minute agreement with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Nepal avoided condemnation by the international community Monday for the abuses committed by government security forces.

In the end, Kathmandu agreed to allow the OHCHR to set up offices in Nepal to monitor human rights abuses by both the government security forces and the Maoist guerrillas. A similar office began to function in civil war-torn Colombia in 1996. The agreement between High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and Nepal was reached while several countries, under pressure from human rights groups, were preparing to file a motion censuring Nepal and the Maoist rebels who have been staging an armed rebellion since 1996.

Monday afternoon was the deadline for submitting motions on the human rights situations in individual countries, under item nine of the Commission’s agenda. But a few hours before the deadline expired, Arbour announced that she and Nepali Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey had signed an agreement.

Swiss officials who were “steering” the resolution against Nepal with other donor countries immediately stated that they would refrain from filing a censure motion.

The announcement that human rights monitors would be sent to Nepal satisfied Switzerland and the other nations that had been working hard to reach an agreement to avoid condemning Nepal, where King Gyanendra dismissed the government on Feb. 1, imposed a state of emergency, and banned activity by the country’s political parties.

Since then, at least 1,000 opposition politicians, journalists and activists have been arrested. Switzerland’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Blaise Godet, said the group of countries, which he described as “the critical friends of Nepal”, “tried hard to avoid what you may call a naming and shaming approach” for Nepal.

Nicholas Howen, secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), commented to IPS that the agreement between Arbour and Kathmandu establishes “what we were calling for.” He was referring to a joint statement issued late last week by his organisation, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. He called the agreement “a step forward”, and said it “will allow the UN to protect ordinary civilians from both brutal attacks by the guerrillas and systematic abuses by the security forces.” Last Friday, the ICJ, the London-based Amnesty International and the New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the Commission to take firm action against Nepal.

The case of Nepal will thus be addressed in the Commission with a resolution tabled under agenda item 19, which basically refers to technical cooperation that the UN offers countries in the field of human rights.

Godet said his delegation was getting ready to draft the resolution, which must be done within the next three days, before the Commission begins the last week of its six-week annual session, that ends Apr. 22. Howen said the Commission should recognise the abuses committed in Nepal, and should take on the role of “guarantor and witness” to the agreement between Kathmandu and the High Commissioner. The Swiss ambassador, meanwhile, announced that Berne would provide the OHCHR with technical and financial assistance to carry out its human rights monitoring mission in Nepal.

Arbour said in a statement that “Breaking the cycle of serious and systematic abuses will be the first essential step toward achieving peace and reconciliation in Nepal.” —IPS