15 July, 2002

Editorial: War in Nepal

War in Nepal
By Sushma Joshi
This piece originally appeared in Samar 15: Summer/Fall, 2002

Nepal, since the start of the People's War in 1996, has seen an unprecedented deterioration of human rights in the civil conflict between the Maoists and the Army. King Birendra's "Zone of Peace" sobriquet for Nepal, while fanciful, had reflected the relative peace it enjoyed within its borders just a short decade ago in comparison to the communal, ethnic and national strife of its neighbours. This image, however, has quickly been washed away in the flood of arbitrary detentions, torture, disappearances, execution style killings and bodily mutilation practiced by both the Maoists and the Army as they fight a bloody civil war -- the Maoists for a idealistic one party state modeled on communist China, and the Army for a restoration of order and stability in a nation already wracked by economic recession, political corruption and massive poverty.

The worst backlash has been to the civil rights of ordinary citizens. More than 4000 people have died in the war since 1996. Hundreds of journalists, lawyers, students, teachers and even doctors have disappeared under suspicion of being sympathizers of the Maoist movement since the government's imposition of a nationwide Emergency of November 26, 1991. The Emergency suspends all rights to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and to constitutional remedy.

On April 10, 2002, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Control and Punishment) Act was passed into law. Under this Act, the government has the power to arrest people suspected of being involved in "terrorist" activities without warrant and to search their properties. The Act remains in force for two years. Even as a bomb blast tore through a college building in Kathmandu and injured five people on August 8th, reminding people in the capital that the People's War was still under way, nearly 100 journalists marched through the Nepalese capital two days later, defying a ban on street protests under emergency rule and demanding the restoration of press freedoms. The protest was sparked in part by the murder of Krishna Sen, the editor of the pro-Maoist newspaper Janadisha and former manager of the weekly Janadesh, who died under torture on July 26 in a detention center run by the Nepalese security forces.

The government of Nepal has been supported by both Bush's administration, which recently gave it $20 million in the "war against terror," and Tony Blair's government, which tried to sneak two Russian helicopters to His Majesty's government even though Nepal's dirty human rights records make it exempt from receiving this aid. The hushing up of the Army's terror against its own citizens and the lack of international reaction has given the government of Nepal leeway to get away with human rights abuses that are as shameful as any Latin American dictatorship. The image of "Shangri-La" continues to take center stage, even though blood flows through every single village. The only way to deal with the impasse now is to ask for accountability.

Sushma Joshi grew up in Kathmandu, Nepal, and has a BA in International Relations from Brown University. She also writes fiction and directs documentaries.