Not enough

The United States has decided to release military assistance of US $1 million to Nepal for 2004 meant for military hardware, held over so far on the ground of allegations of human rights violations by the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA). The basis for the decision is the RNA’s “commitment to respect Supreme Court orders and to cooperate with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Chief of Army Staff Pyar Jung Thapa had expressed “commitment to international humanitarian laws and protection of rights” to US deputy assistant secretary of state Donald Camp in Kathmandu last October. The RNA had also submitted to the UN the whereabouts of ten people reported missing (some killed, some detained or released) while the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance had given the RNA a list of 217 missing people. This US assessment may be interpreted by many as somewhat liberal vis-a-vis assessments by domestic and international human rights watchdogs.

Though the Maoists’ dismal human rights records have not escaped sharp criticism at home and abroad, the State, supposed to be more responsible, is not seen to have improved its rights records. The US decision, therefore, perhaps reflects its willingness to put further pressure on the Maoists, who are unlikely to come for peace talks within the January 13 deadline set by the government without some assurances by the palace, for example, on the issue of international mediation. The US move also comes at a time when the rebels are intensifying their violent activities across the country, including blockades, and threatened action if the government does not “implement the agreement” of September 15, 2004. The American gesture comes also amid accusations that the RNA is targeting human rights activists, forcing a number of them to flee or go underground.

The US has always adopted double standards in human rights, one set being applied to friendly regimes or groups and another to those it regards as not favourable to its “vital” interests. Even the human rights riders the US Congress has recently passed with regard to military assistance can be waived if the US secretary of state determines and reports to the Congress committees on appropriations that to do so will be in American “national interests.” Given the American attitude to the Maoist insurgency and its support to the State, Nepal can expect to receive the $1.5 million set aside as assistance for military hardware during 2005. It is not enough for the government to provide a fig-leaf of its commitment to human rights only when under international pressure. As a matter of routine, it should follow the Constitution in letter and spirit and the international norms and conventions to which it has been a signatory.