April 21st, 2007 06:07 EST
Nepal, Brutal killings Could Have Been Prevented
In findings released today, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that brutal killings of 27 people during clashes between political parties in Nepal last month could have been prevented by stronger law enforcement, and called on the Government to bolster systems to protect its citizens.
The agency’s report comes after the agency’s teams interviewed over 170 eyewitnesses, including human rights defenders, journalists, medical personnel, Government officials, security forces, representatives from the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Madheshi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) representatives and people detained by police.
On 21 March, 27 people, including four women and one 17-year-old girl, were killed and many more injured at the Rice Mill field in Gaur, central Nepal, when violence broke out at a rally between the MPRF and the Maoists. A dozen young men destroyed the Maoists’ stage, and in retaliation, their supporters charged the MPRF stage. After initially fleeing, MPRF supporters turned on the outnumbered Maoists.
Most of those killed were Maoists, and all but one were killed by weapons crafted from bamboo.
OHCHR’s findings show that MPRF supporters were prepared for a confrontation, as many – including young children – at the gathering were armed and knew the weapons could be lethal.
MPRF “leaders must unequivocally renounce any use of violence and take all steps in their power to prevent supporters, however loosely associated with the Forum, from carrying weapons and using violence,” the Office said in a press release.
OHCHR questioned the Maoists’ “provocative” decision to stage a rally at the same time and location as the MPRF. The Maoists also brought at least one weapon and socket bomb to the event, and the Office said that this is in violation of the respect for the right to life, freedom of expression and assembly. OHCHR called on the party to tell their supporters not to disrupt activities by other organizations with differing political opinions.
In contravention of international child rights standards, both parties exposed children under the age of 18 to harm by allowing them to attend their rallies, resulting in one girl’s death. OHCHR urged the groups to ensure that young people are not present at political rallies where violence could potentially break out.
“There can be no doubt that most, if not all, of the killings in Gaur could have been prevented,” the Office said. “The incidents highlighted once more the weaknesses of law enforcement agencies who, aware of the potential for clashes and other violence, were grossly ill-prepared to ensure effective crowd control.”
Authorities not only failed to prevent violence from happening in the first place by convincing organizers to postpone or change the date of the rallies, but being grossly ill-prepared to control crowds, they also did not stem the violence when it erupted, protect those under attack and carry out any arrests.
OHCHR said that this incident underscores the urgent need to strengthen and reform law enforcement in Nepal. Although the country’s Home Minister announced that local authorities and security forces had been given instructions to use all legal means to deal with armed groups and acts of violence, the Office believes that more immediate additional measures – including local and national-level law enforcement coordination – are necessary to protect the people.
In addition, OHCHR noted that reports that several or all of the females killed were raped or sexually mutilated have been unsubstantiated, and voiced concern that the spread of such uncorroborated information only serves to further anguish victims’ relatives.
Lastly, the Office called on the Government to provide a secure environment in which the rights of life, freedom of expression and assembly are protected.
“The Gaur incidents have demonstrated the fragility of respect for those rights and the capacity of the State to protect them,” OHCHR said.
Elections are scheduled for later this year in the impoverished country, where over 10 years of civil war killed around 15,000 people and displaced more than 100,000 others.
OHCHR stated that the all involved in consolidating the peace and the impending elections, especially the Government, must ensure that the events of 21 March are not repeated.
In a related development, a delegation from Nepal – comprising Government representatives, senior political leaders, members of the country’s Interim Legislature and civil society figures – will visit UN Headquarters in New York from 23 to 25 April.
“This is an important visit that affords the delegation and the United Nations to interact at a critical juncture of the peace process in Nepal and the United Nations’ support for it through UNMIN [the UN Political Mission in Nepal],” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson, Michele Montas.
The aim of the trip is to bolster the country’ relationship with the UN and other international organizations which are supporting the Comprehensive Peace Accord, which brought an end to the civil war.