Reckoning time

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR-Nepal) on Wednesday asked the CPN-Maoist to stop all parallel “law enforcement” activities, especially torture and ill-treatment, including beatings, as these acts violate human rights and usurp the function of the state. OHCHR-Nepal noted that, in October alone, it had confirmed abductions of 39 individuals in Bhaktapur, Lalitpur and Kathmandu. According to it, the Maoists have used several locations for holding individuals incommunicado as well as for interrogation. Meanwhile, Reporters Sans Frontieres has expressed concern over the “series of assaults, threats and coercive measures” taken by Maoist cadres against journalists in recent times, even though such incidents have considerably decreased compared to previous years. The post-Jana Andolan II ceasefire holds and both the Maoists and the government have expressed their commitment to respect human rights by signing a 25-point ceasefire code of conduct. But the continuance of abductions, extortions and torture gives cause for serious concern.

Maoist chieftain Prachanda had recently issued a statement calling a halt, for the time being, to the operation of the Maoist “people’s courts” in urban areas. But the release on Wednesday, at the initiative of the ceasefire code of conduct monitoring committee, of four individuals detained in Bhaktapur by the Maoists on charges of hooliganism, possession of illegal arms and raising of money by posing as Maoists constitutes one of the several examples which suggest that the Maoist courts in urban areas are still in operation, albeit on a reduced scale. In the initial period of the ceasefire, it appeared that an almost complete halt to the above-mentioned activities had been achieved. But as the peace process somewhat got drawn out, an increase in the frequency of such incidents has been noticed. At a time when it seems that the Maoists will be an important part of the interim government in the not-too-distant a future, public image would count much for them as they would have to go to the people to seek votes during the constituent assembly elections and afterward.

As the peace process is in progress, it is hard to find any justification for these extra-judicial acts of the Maoists. There is another aspect to the problem. If the government violates human rights, individuals can seek a legal redress. But with the Maoists, where would they go? Many people who may have sympathised with a number of issues the Maoists have brought to the fore are, at the same time, likely to have doubts about the soundness of their methods. Now is the opportune time for the Maoists to set about improving their public image on this count. Coming from a violent political background and given the fundamental nature of change they are seeking in the polity of the country, the Maoists need to realise the importance of becoming more responsible, in the present context more than anybody else. Even for the hugeness of the task they say they want to accomplish, they would have to win the hearts of the people. There is no two ways about it.