(New York) - Nepal’s government and party leaders should ensure the long-awaited constituent assembly elections on April 10 are free of violence, candidate intimidation, and efforts to suppress voter turnout, Human Rights Watch said today. The newly elected lawmakers will draft a new constitution, and are expected to ratify a pledge by the main political parties to turn Nepal into a federal republic.

During the election campaign, supporters of all major parties have clashed almost daily. On April 6, the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) reported that, “election-related violence and intimidation by party workers continues, with frequent and sometimes severe clashes between political parties in many districts.” UNMIN said that the Youth Communist League and other Maoist cadres were involved in the largest proportion of incidents. On April 7, 2008, even as campaigning drew to a close, 12 people were injured in bomb attacks. On April 8, unknown assailants shot dead Rishi Prasad Sharma, a candidate for the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist).

“The Nepali election campaign has been plagued by violence and intimidation by all the parties,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The elections have already been delayed twice, and it is important that the Nepali people, who campaigned so hard to secure their democratic rights, are now able to choose their leaders.”

Human Rights Watch expressed particular concern about the harassment of candidates and voters by members of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Youth Communist League, as well as armed groups in the Terai region of Nepal. Human Rights Watch is concerned that some party leaders, particularly from the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), have indicated that an unfavorable result for their party will be questioned because it could be due to undue pressure from opposition parties.

Human Rights Watch urged all the parties to abide by the Election Commission code of conduct. Political party leaders should be demonstrating their commitment to uphold the code of conduct by sanctioning their supporters who have threatened voters and other candidates, and they should act to ensure their local representatives take steps to prevent future violations of the code.

“The Nepali people have already endured years of violence, so it is up to the government, the parties, and the security forces to provide peaceful elections,” said Richardson. “Achieving this will be the first sign of hope for Nepal’s new constitution.”

Background

In February 2005, King Gyanendra dismissed Nepal’s elected government, declared a state of emergency, and announced his assumption of full executive authority. He justified the coup on the pretext of trying to curtail the 10-year-old Maoist insurgency that claimed more than 13,000 lives. The police, the army, and the Maoists were all responsible for numerous human rights abuses during the conflict. After the coup, Maoist leaders reached an agreement with the main political parties to join forces and oppose the king. They organized massive protests and in April 2006, after tens of thousands of people took to the streets, King Gyanendra was forced to return a civilian government.

In November 2006, Nepal’s coalition government and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) signed a comprehensive peace agreement to end the fighting. The Nepali Army and Maoists agreed to an arms management pact, under which each side would put away most of its weapons and restrict most of its troops to a few barracks, under the supervision of monitors from the United Nations. They also agreed to participate in elections to create a constituent assembly that would rewrite the country’s constitution, including whether it will remain a monarchy. Elections to the constituent assembly had been scheduled for November 2007, but were postponed because of differences between the Maoists and other political parties.