Human Rights Developments
Throughout Nepal in 1994, police continued to be the primary violators of human rights. Abuse occurred in connection with crowd control, during arrests, and in detention. Between May and August 1994, Nepal experienced its most serious period of political unrest since a popular movement led to the reestablishment of multiparty democracy in April 1990. Nationwide strikes and political protests accompanied the dissolution of the country's elected government. Reports followed of large-scale arbitrary arrests and detention and police abuse_including beatings and torture_of opposition supporters, journalists, and street children.
Demonstrations and political rallies continued in the days leading up to the November 15 elections. At least six people were killed in pre-election violence, including two who were shot when police opened fire on stone-throwing demonstrators at an opposition rally on November 3. More than twenty-five others were injured in the shooting.
The state's unwillingness to prosecute police officers guilty of wrongdoing has perpetuated routine custodial abuse and promoted corruption. Several disappearances from police custody were reported in 1994, and at least one prominent disappearance case from 1993 remained unresolved. Beatings and mistreatment in police lockups, attempts by police to extort money from detainees, and the almost systematic fleecing of Tibetan refugees attempting to enter Nepal have been widely reported. Like many Asian nations, Nepal has made little progress in eradicating contemporary forms of slavery such as the trafficking of women and girls for prostitution in India, the sale of children as factory workers, and the unchecked use of bonded labor. The trafficking industry has been sustained by bribes made to police officers and other officials, and by corrupt politicians who profit from the trade.
On May 4, the first of a series of nation-wide strikes and demonstrations was called by the United People's Front, an opposition party, to protest the government of Girija Prasad Koirala perceived subservience to India in the wake of an unauthorized raid on houses in Kathmandu by Indian police searching for a criminal. The strike and ensuing demonstrations, which were largely peaceful, led to the arrests of some four hundred people, many of whom were held for more than four days without charge. Among those arrested were more than eighty street children, who have frequently been found at the front of such demonstrations and sometimes throw rocks. According to Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), a local organization that monitors the rights of children, many of the children who were detained during the May demonstrations complained of beatings and torture by police, said they were not provided with food, blankets or bedding during the two to three days they were detained, and charged that some of them were forced to perform labor for the police.
In July, Nepal's first democratically elected prime minister in three decades, Girija Prasad Koirala, resigned after he failed to receive his party's support on a crucial parliamentary vote. On July 11, King Birendra dissolved Nepal's parliament, called mid-term elections for November, and appointed Koirala interim prime minister_a move that led to protests by opposition supporters throughout the country. Between July 20 and 24, human rights workers reported that some 500 people, mainly opposition party supporters, were arrested in connection with political protests. While some demonstrators reportedly engaged in rock throwing or vandalism, many people thought to be potential troublemakers were arrested before the demonstrations as a preventive measure.
The Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), a prominent Nepali human rights organization, reported that at least three people disappeared from police custody in the first half of 1994. Two were criminal detainees; the third, thirty-two-year-old Triloki Gaud, disappeared on May 17 from a local police post where he had gone to report the theft of a large amount of timber. His mother, who had gone with him, reported that she and her son were both badly beaten by police before she was forcibly ejected from the police station. Her son never returned home.
The well publicized disappearance of Prabhakar Subedi, a twenty-year-old engineering student who disappeared during a demonstration on June 25, 1993, remained unresolved in spite of a 1993 court order directing the police to investigate.
Local human rights organizations continued to raise concerns over unlawful use of force by Nepali police. In January 1994, for example, one person was killed and several injured when police in eastern Nepal opened fire on demonstrators protesting the actions of a police officer who poured boiling water under the skirt of a woman who ran a roadside restaurant. The police officer was suspended pending investigation.
Reports of police corruption and the involvement of politicians in the forcible trafficking of Nepali women and children for prostitution in India persisted in 1994. The Koirala government has made little effort to investigate or prosecute officials accused of links to the industry. Despite laws which provide for prison terms of up to twenty years for the trafficking of persons, the flow of young women and girls to Indian brothels continued unabated, with thousands estimated to be sold every year into conditions akin to slavery, where they are subjected to years of debt-bondage, repeated rapes, and physical assaults.
Human rights organizations in Nepal also raised concerns about the pervasive use of bonded labor in industry and agriculture. But in its March 1994 report to the U.N. on Nepal's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the government stated that "No slavery, slave trade or institutions or practices similar to slavery are found in Nepal."
The Right to Monitor
Although human rights organizations enjoyed much greater freedom to operate than before the democratic government took office, several apparent attempts to silence dissent were reported in 1994. In January, Gopal Siwakoti and Gopal Krishna Siwakoti of the human rights organization INHURED reported receiving a series of anonymous threatening telephone calls after they submitted a petition to the Supreme Court calling for public disclosure of information about the controversial World Bank-funded Arun III hydroelectric project. The petition also called for postponement of the project pending a parliamentary review. On July 22, the office of the Arun Public Commission, another organization critical of the project, was attacked by unknown assailants.
On April 27, the office of the Kathmandu chapter of Amnesty International (AI) was raided by armed men from the Ministry of Finance's revenue investigation department. A Finance Ministry official told the press a team had "visited" the office to investigate the human rights body's financial dealings for tax purposes. Local AI chair Krishna Pahadi said the gunmen had "terrorized" his staff. Eight human right groups in Nepal issued a joint statement on May 1 denouncing the raid.
On July 24 Subodh Pyakurel, a member of the executive committee of the Human Rights Yearbook, a project of INSEC, was among hundreds who were placed in preventive detention in connection with political protests. He was released the following day. Several journalists were also detained.
The Role of the
Nepal is greatly dependent on international aid and on three crucial industries, handmade carpets, tea and tourism. The carpet industry came under intense scrutiny from local human rights groups and the international community in 1994 for its reliance on child labor_including bonded child labor_and its links to the trafficking of girls and women into prostitution in India. A report by the U.S. Department of Labor, published in July 1994, on the use of child labor in American imports supported these findings, and noted that in 1992 Nepal exported approximately $17 million worth of carpets to the United States. The European Union stopped negotiations concerning possible E.U. aid to the carpet industry due to allegations about the use of bonded child labor.
A report by the United Nations special rapporteur on the sale of children, Vitit Muntabhorn, which was published in January 1994, commented on the trafficking and sale of Nepali children for labor and prostitution, concluding that Nepal's "[l]aw enforcement authorities are often weak, understaffed, undertrained and corrupt..." and that "[t]here is an expansive web of criminality which exploits children and which abuses the open border with India."
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Asia
In March, Human Rights Watch/Asia visited Nepal to renew ties with local human rights groups and to investigate reports of the forcible trafficking of Nepali girls and women to India for prostitution. Meetings and interviews were conducted with women who had been trafficked to India, human rights activists and relief workers who monitor the trade, police, and government officials. A companion mission to India was conducted in August.
In July, Human Rights Watch/Asia wrote to Nepali Home Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba expressing concern over reports of mass arrests, unacknowledged detentions, and torture of political activists. The letter also raised concerns about threats against nongovernmental organizations critical of the Arun dam project.