A 102 page report by Human Rights Watch has painted a distressing picture of the human rights situation in Nepal, saying civilians are caught in the middle and neither side seems concerned about protecting innocents.
The report, called Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Civilians Struggle to Survive in Nepal's Civil War was launched on Thursday by Senior Emergency Researcher, Peter Bouckaert who has traveled to many parts of Nepal to document cases of abuse (Read interview).
The New York-based agency said that while both the government and the rebels have made repeated commitments to protect human rights, in practice both have ignored them. The government has rejected virtually all allegations of abuse by its forces, and the Maoists have responded to allegations of abuse by maligning their victims.
"Rampant abuses have created a climate of intense fear in Nepal's villages," said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch Asia division. "Because of Nepal's geography and poverty, Nepalis under attack or threat usually have nowhere to turn to for protection or redress,".
The report says the government's tacit policy to 'break the backbone' of the rebellion has led to many extra-judicial killings and disappearances, making Nepal among the world's prime locations for forced disappearances. The Maoists rarely commit forced disappearances, the report adds, usually declaring abductees 'class enemies', and then executing them in the name of their 'people's war'.
The Maoists infamously impose a \'tax\' on local villagers and travellers, while the government attempts to isolate the Maoists by trying to cut off their access to food and shelter in villages. Many soldiers use the license granted by their superiors in the army and police to engage in extortion and blackmail. Visiting hapless families, they often demand money to ensure the safe release of their relatives from custody.
The report contains detailed case studies of extra-judicial killings, disappearances and abductions by both the security forces and the Maoists. It also describes the forced Maoist indoctrination of school children, teachers and the recruitment of children.
The report ends with recommendations to the government to take steps to ensure that security forces comply with the requirements of international human rights and humanitarian laws. It asks the Maoists to stop the abduction, torture and killing of civilians, members of other political parties and those who disagree with them as well as to stop extortion and using schools for recruitment and training.
Human Rights Watch also wants the king to 'accept limitations placed on his role under the 1990 constitution to elect their representatives at the local and national levels'. It wants the international community to keep up the pressure on both sides to observe human rights, and Nepal's arms suppliers to monitor the use of the weapons they supply.
19 June, 2003
Around 10:30 PM a group of men who identified themselves as Maoists came to the village of Bhandariya and rounded up about 14 men. They were taken to a spot along the main dirt road and tied up 'chicken-style', in a squatting position with their arms looped under their knees and tied up behind their ears. Villagers, including family members and children, were gathered around, watching. The Maoists shouted at the men, claiming that they had passed information against the Maoists to the army. Among other things, the Maoists said: "Three of our comrades were killed. We are fighting for you and you dare betray us." The villagers believe that this was a reference to an army ambush near their village in which some Maoists, including a senior commander had been killed. Half an hour, later some of the men were released. The Maoists took away four men: Jahara Sheikh, Triveni Prasad Baniya, Shaijad Ali Sheik and Chet Prasad Sharma. Shortly thereafter, villagers heard the sound of gunfire from the fields. They formed a search group, and found the bodies. All four had been shot and their legs and arms had been broken. Villagers noticed what looked like burn marks on Baniya's body. His foot had been twisted around completely. Jahara Sheikh had bullet wounds in his forehead and his temple. His eye had come out of its socket with the force of the bullet. One of the four men survived the shooting, although he spent six months recovering in Bheri Zonal Hospital. He is still unable to walk properly. (HRW report)
4 Feburary, 2004
Devi Sunuwar of Kabhre was a witness to an extra-judicial execution by government forces and gave statements to journalists and human rights workers. Within days, her daughter, a 15-year-old Dalit school girl named Maina Sunuwar, was accused of providing food to Maoists and was taken away by security forces. Since Devi was not home at that time, the soldiers left a message with her husband, asking Devi to come to the barracks to secure the release of their child. But when she went to the army, she was told that her daughter was not in custody. When the Human Rights Watch asked the army about Maina's whereabouts, it insisted that an inquiry had been ordered and that the girl was not in army custody. It claimed that Devi Sunuwar was a liar who had lied about her niece's execution and was now lying about her daughter's disappearance. Yet in April 2004, Devi was finally told by an international agency that her daughter was killed by security forces on the very day that she was taken into custody, a fact later confirmed to Human Rights Watch by the local district administration. Not only had the army denied the arrest when questioned by the Human Rights Watch, soldiers have been visiting the family's house regularly since then. Frightened by these visits and fearing another arrest and murder, the Sunuwar family left their home and are now forced to earn a living as migrant labourers. Currently, soldiers are still turning up, questioning neighbors about the family. (HRW report)
15 Feburary, 2004
Ganesh Chiluwal, a 35-year-old father of two, was gunned down in broad daylight by the Maoists for his work advocating on behalf of the victims of Maoist abuses. Chiluwal was an active member of the Nepali Congress and in 1998 he had been attacked by Maoists in his home village for his party activities. He was cut all over his body, leading to three months of hospitalisation. After this experience, he founded the Maoist Victims Association, an NGO working to help civilians who had been victimized in different ways by the Maoists. As part of this work, Chiluwal spoke out openly against the abuses suffered by the people who sought his organisation's support.
The Maoists started threatening Chiluwal directly. He received threats to his life through letters, faxes and telephone calls. His family asked him to stop, they knew from his first experience that the Maoists could be very brutal in their assaults. On 15 February 2004, as Chiluwal was leaving his office in Kathmandu, two Maoists on motorbikes fired five rounds of bullets into him. He collapsed and died almost instantly. The Maoists have since claimed responsibility for Chiluwal's murder, even posting his murder as a success on their website, Krishna Sen Online. (HRW report)