15 December, 2001

A state of Emergency does not mean a suspension of human rights

EkChhin : MS-Nepal Newsletter Oct-Dec 2001
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A state of Emergency does not mean a suspension of human rights

- Sushma Joshi

A state of Emergency usually leads to the suspension of certain constitutional rights. The Nepali government, by declaring a state of emergency, has suspended certain rights to freedom, including the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, the freedom to assemble peacefully and without arms, and the freedom to move throughout the country. News can be censored, and people can be detained if they are believed to be a danger to the country’s sovereignty.

Like the United States of America, which recently suffered a terrorist attack, Nepal has imposed these measures to stop political instability. In the United States, hundreds of people, mostly poor immigrants from Pakistan and other countries, have been detained in secret locations after the World Trade Centers attack. President Bush recently signed an executive order, without Congressional authorization, which allows the existence of military courts. These courts can hold secret trails against the suspected terrorists. These courts, which suspend citizens’ rights to information, are unprecedented, and go against the tradition of free information in the US. The attorney general John Ashcroft has defended this as a measure in a time of great danger, and as a deterrent against further terrorism.

Because the United States is a country with a long history of democracy, citizen groups have mobilized to express their dissent with the government’s decisions. Sixteen prominent civil rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch and others, sued the US government for disclosure of information about the detained people on December 5, 2001. John Ashcroft, the attorney general, was summoned before the Senate to explain why an executive order was made without Congressional authorization.

Other groups are writing petitions against the backlash against academics and foreign students that has happened since September 11. Thousands of small, grassroots organizations have mobilized to protest, express their views and lobby Congress on the measures that have been taken since September 11. The mechanism of democracy, which allows citizens rights to hold marches and express protest, and even to sue the government, is alive and well within the United States. Even the mainstream press, criticized for its one sided view of news, immediately reported when the lawsuit against the government was filed, and reported on the possible unconstitutional status of the Patriot’s Act. Citizens’ groups, which are an integral mechanism of America’s democratic tradition, would never allow the unconstitutional suspension of civil liberties, even in a time of great crisis. And human rights violations would never go unchallenged within the country, even if the government itself was involved in it.

Within Nepal, where democracy is still young, we should also make sure that the State of Emergency does not lead to a suspension of basic civil liberties. The police and the army, which maintaining law and order, are still accountable to the people of Nepal. There can be no violation of people’s human rights, no misuse of authority in the name of controlling terrorism. There has to be due process of law, which includes the free flow of information about what is happening, where and for what reason.

States of emergencies, and the mobilization of the military, have often been used for massive human rights violations, disappearances and genocides in countries like Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Peru and East Timor. The citizen groups of Nepal should make sure that the traditions of democracy, which uphold the free flow of information, and the due process of law, are being observed in our own country.

More information:

The American Civil Liberties Union:
www.aclu.org/congress/l112901a.html

More on the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit:
www.aclu.org/news/2001/n120501b.html

Human Right’s Watch on the military tribunals:
www.hrw.org/campaigns/september11/tribunals.htm