(New York) - Ten years of armed insurgency has subjected Nepalis to severe abuses by Maoist rebel and government forces and placed the country on the verge of a humanitarian disaster, Human Rights Watch said today. In particular, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists must immediately demonstrate that they will respect human rights standards and the laws of war and end abuses against civilians.
“Although recent news from Nepal has focused on the anniversary of the usurpation of power by King Gyanendra in February 2005, the Maoists must accept their share of blame for the country’s present crisis,” said Sam Zarifi, research director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.
The armed conflict has claimed an estimated 15,000 lives, many of them civilians targeted by government and rebel forces.
Maoist threats to aid and development workers, combined with strictly enforced prohibitions by the rebels against movement of vehicles, have greatly hampered delivery of humanitarian assistance to Nepal’s isolated countryside, further increasing the suffering of the most vulnerable segments of one of the poorest populations in the world. The Maoists’ constant threats and abuses have displaced thousands of Nepalis, who have fled to safer areas or across the border to neighboring India.
“It’s Nepalis living in rural areas who have suffered the most from the abuses carried out by the Maoists and the army over the past 10 years,” said Zarifi. “Should the fighting intensify, or even continue as before, there is a real risk of a breakdown in Nepal’s already strained healthcare, education system, and basic economy.”
Over the past ten years, Maoist forces have intentionally targeted civilians who have resisted Maoist demands. They have carried out public executions, often preceded by torture, thereby sending strong messages to entire communities: obey or face a similar fate. Maoist forces have targeted civilian transports and activists working for other political parties, as well as independent journalists. They have also attacked and killed the families of members of the security forces.
The Maoists carried out a number of attacks on civilians before the municipal elections of February 8, including the murders of two candidates. Directly after the elections, the Maoists’ commander, Prachanda, issued a series of public statements expressing his party’s willingness to follow the will of the people. In the past, Prachanda has apologized for “mistakes” after particularly egregious losses of civilian life, most notoriously in June 2005 after a Maoist roadside mine killed at least 39 civilians riding on a bus on which several soldiers were traveling.
“The repressive policies pursued by the king after February 1, 2005, are an affront to human rights principles, but don’t justify the Maoists’ abuses,” said Zarifi. “The Maoists no less than the government must demonstrate their adherence to international standards, and appropriately discipline or remove from their ranks those responsible for abuses.”
The Maoists have regularly pledged to respect human rights. However, their actions belie these commitments and they often claim that their party’s ideology justifies abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law standards and that these abuses are somehow different—and less blameworthy—than similar abuses by government security forces. Although the Maoists have promised to “correct mistakes,” they function with no accountability.
“The credibility of Prachanda and his party is on the line. Too often we have heard the Maoists say that they are a party of the people, and that they will abide by law,” said Zarifi. “In order for the country and the international community to take them seriously, the Maoists have to act, not just make empty statements.”