Nepal: Civilians at risk as conflict resumes
World must curb abuses by army, Maoists
Increased international pressure is necessary to protect civilians caught in the armed conflict between Maoist rebels and government forces in Nepal and prevent the conflict from spiraling out of control, Human Rights Watch said in a report.
Human Rights Watch urged key international actors, such as India, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, China, and the United Nations to step up efforts to pressure both sides to observe the laws of war and international human rights standards. While many in the international community have been focused on political developments between King Gyanendra, political parties and the Maoists, too little attention has been focused on the conflict and its attendant human rights abuses.
“Renewed fighting has brought renewed abuses,” said Sam Zarifi, research director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division. “The failure of both sides to ensure the safety of civilians has left too many Nepalis living in fear that the conflict is going to burst through their doors.” Human Rights Watch's investigation found significant grounds for concern about the impact of the resumed conflict on civilians, chief among them:
- violations of the laws of war by both parties, including indiscriminate aerial bombardment by the army of civilian areas, and use by the Maoists of houses, schools, and public spaces without first moving the population to safety;
- the increased risk to civilians due to proliferation of government-sponsored and -armed vigilante groups who abuse the local population, and the Maoists' abduction and murder of alleged vigilante group members and their supporters;
- the Maoists' continued recruitment of children for military purposes, often by force; and
- the security forces' continued abuses, including the widespread use of torture, and their near total impunity from prosecution for human rights abuses, such as in hundreds of outstanding cases of “disappearances.
As one Nepali villager told Human Rights Watch a day after his village was caught in the middle of attacks and reprisals by vigilantes and Maoists: “What is the king doing to protect us? The Maoists and the vigilantes leave us no peace. I think I have to leave with my whole family for India if things continue this way.”
Human Rights Watch found that in some cases, international pressure had helped promote greater respect for human rights by both government forces and rebels. Both the Maoists and the security forces have taken appropriate action during some clashes to minimize the harm to civilians. The Nepali army seems to have taken steps to reduce the practice of extrajudicial executions and “disappearances” of suspected Maoists and now turns many detainees over to police custody within a month. Security forces also allowed the Nepal Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, established in 2005, access to military barracks and other places of detention. The Maoists decreased attacks on activists from different political parties after they agreed to a joint program of political change in November.
“One encouraging sign we found is that pressure from Nepali civil society and the international community has led the army to curb some of its worst abuses, such as 'disappearances' and extrajudicial killings,” said Zarifi. “This shows that the army can employ effective command and control over its forces. It also means that those in the international community who advise and arm the Nepali forces can do a lot more to help protect an already beleaguered population.” Human Rights Watch commended India, the U.S., and the U.K. for continuing to deny the transfer of weapons and ammunition to the government and called on other countries, such as China, Pakistan, and Israel, to join the arms embargo. Nepal's neighbors, in particular India, should also do more to stop the flow of arms to the Maoists.
Source: Human Rights Watch.