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II. Background

A devastating civil war between Maoist insurgents and government security forces has been ravaging Nepal for the past nine years. It has taken place in a climate of political instability and dire economic circumstances. The hostilities have already claimed over ten thousands lives, and the death toll continues to grow. The victims have for the most part been Nepali civilians. Since the beginning of the conflict, both the Maoists and the government security forces have been responsible for massive human rights abuses that continue unabated to date.3

The conflict broke out in February 1996, after leaders of the Maoist faction of the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-M)4 presented the government with a forty-point list of demands, including the call for a secular republican state and a constituent assembly.5 When the government failed to respond, a week later the Maoists resorted to violence, attacking police stations in five districts, seizing arms, and killing several officers.6

The attacks marked the beginning of CPN-M’s “people’s war,” for which the party had been preparing since its split from the alliance of communist parties, CPN (Unity Center), in 1994. The alliance broke apart when part of the group rejected the idea of an immediate armed uprising and chose instead to stay in mainstream politics through participation in parliamentary elections. The advocates of armed uprising, later named the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), chose to boycott the elections and went underground, preparing their cadres for armed struggle.7

The government initially responded to the Maoist attacks with regular police forces. The police, poorly equipped and untrained in counterinsurgency operations, proved unable to control the situation. Faced with steadily escalating fighting, in the beginning of 2001 the government reinforced the regular police with the paramilitary Armed Police Force (APF). Finally, after declaring a nationwide state of emergency on November 26, 2001, the government deployed the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) to combat the Maoist rebels. Although the state of emergency was repealed on August 27, 2002, the army remains the primary force in the counterinsurgency operation, with the police and the APF under its operational command.8

Even under the army command, the security forces have proven unable to quell the Maoist insurgency. Since 1996, the insurgency has spread throughout the country, and estimates suggest that the Maoists have established control over approximately forty percent of Nepal’s countryside, essentially assuming the functions of governance in the areas under their control.9

Several attempts at peace talks during periods of ceasefire in 2001 and 2003 failed, with both sides violating truce agreements.10 The most recent ceasefire, declared in January 2003, was renounced by the Maoists in August 2003, shortly after government forces summarily executed two civilians and seventeen Maoists in Doramba VDC, Ramechhaap district, on August 17, 2003.11 The Doramba massacre remains a notorious example of the egregious abuses that have become a characteristic feature of Nepal’s civil war. Immediately after withdrawing from the peace talks, the Maoists shot two RNA colonels, one fatally, in Kathmandu.12 The fighting between government forces and Maoists recommenced with increased intensity, leading to a further deterioration of the already dismal human rights situation in the country.13

During the 2003 ceasefire, the government and the Maoists agreed to the idea of a Human Rights Accord that would be binding on both sides. Most important, it would have provided for independent human rights monitoring the conduct of both sides. However, the accord was never signed. The government instead published in March 2004 a twenty-five-article “Commitment on the Implementation of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.” One motive for this commitment paper was to ward off a potentially critical resolution at the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights taking place in Geneva at that time.

In the course of their “people’s war,” the Maoists have deliberately killed scores of civilians whom they accuse of being “informers” or being engaged in other acts of defiance toward Maoist rule. They have specifically targeted local officials and civil servants, teachers, journalists, off-duty army and police personnel, and members of non-Maoist political parties, such as the Nepali Congress party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN [UML]).14

In order to achieve the maximum deterrent effect on the population, the Maoists often execute their victims in public, forcing the victim’s relatives and other villagers to observe the killing. The executions are often preceded by horrendous torture and may involve excruciating methods of killing, such as burning a victim alive or breaking the victim’s bones until the he or she finally dies.

Further, one of the weapons in the Maoist arsenal, homemade explosive devices, victimizes both security forces and civilians indiscriminately. Maoist cadres also regularly accost civilians and require them to contribute “donations” to the Maoist cause, and force the families of security personnel to leave their homes and flee the villages. The insurgents have also taken hostages for ransom and abducted villagers, including schoolchildren and their teachers, for forcible political indoctrination.

There have been credible allegations that Maoist rebels recruit and use children as soldiers or in other combat-related capacities, such as spies, cooks, or porters.15 In general, the Maoists establish a harsh and oppressive atmosphere in areas under their control.

Government security forces also present a serious threat to Nepalis. Since the beginning of the conflict, and especially after the deployment of the RNA in counterinsurgency operations, government forces have been responsible for numerous summary and extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and acts of torture, all perpetrated with almost complete impunity.

The suspension of important constitutional safeguards under the state of emergency and the enactment of sweeping security legislation, such as TADO, has further entrenched this vicious cycle of abuse and impunity. TADO enables the Nepali government to label the Maoists terrorists and gives sweeping powers to the security forces. Over protests from civil society and lawyers groups, it has been renewed several times since the revocation of the state of emergency and continues to govern the conduct of counterinsurgency operations today.16

The ongoing armed conflict and the deepening human rights crisis in Nepal have been aggravated by political instability in the country. One of the key destabilizing factors is the overwhelming power Nepal’s monarchy wields over democratic institutions. In 1990, a mass uprising forced the monarchy to institute democratic reforms and lift the ban on political parties that existed in the country during the Panchayat years.17 The constitution that was drafted in 1990 marked the beginning of a new political era. However, a stable democracy did not emerge. The constitution granted the king inordinate powers over the newly-formed parliament. At the same time, the major political parties, mired in internal rivalries and corruption, failed to promote much-needed change. These and other factors have led to a profound destabilization of the Nepali political system.18

Since the first parliamentary election in 1991, thirteen coalition governments have formed and dissolved. Largely based in Kathmandu’s urban elite, representatives in the two dominant parties, the Nepali Congress Party and the United Marxist-Leninists, have done little to address key governance issues, such as the caste and ethnic discrimination and economic inequities that are the source of much discontent in Nepali society.19 Widespread corruption has created further disillusionment and tension among the rural impoverished, who often do not see any benefits from development funds that have been allocated to their areas.20

The sense of instability deepened after the shocking 2001 massacre of King Birendra and other members of the royal family by Crown Prince Dipendra.21 The event resulted in King Gyanendra’s accession to the throne and prompted a crisis in Nepal’s precarious democracy.

In 2002, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba replaced local elected bodies with appointed officials (which is allowed under Nepal’s constitution). Shortly thereafter, the king dissolved the parliament. King Gyanendra postponed elections indefinitely, dismissed Deuba, and seized executive authority, appointing his own prime minister and cabinet.22 These actions were deemed illegal by many legal commentators.

The April 2004 “anti-regression” demonstrations by Nepal’s leading political parties eventually led to the resignation of the cabinet appointed by the king and the reappointment of Deuba. However, while the king is constitutionally obliged to call new elections to form a new parliament, to date he has failed to do so. Elections are currently planned for April 2005. However, leading opposition parties have already expressed serious doubts regarding the possibility of holding free and fair elections in the midst of the conflict with the Maoists, while the Maoists have repeatedly threatened major disruption at the polls. The government’s ultimatum to the Maoists to start talks by January 13, 2005, has so far remained unanswered.23

The instability in the central government has led to severe insecurity and a crisis of faith in the government’s ability to function effectively, thus creating a power vacuum that the Maoists seek to fill. In addition, with the suspension of the democratic system in October 2002, the parties were excluded from negotiations the king had initiated with the Maoists. The parties’ resentment about being barred from the political process and their abject failure to forge an effective policy for dealing with the CPN-M have created further gaps in governance that the Maoists have exploited to extend and consolidate their power.24

Economic factors also contribute significantly to Nepal’s ongoing crisis. With 42 percent of the population living below the poverty line and annual per capita income just U.S.$230, the World Bank rates Nepal the twelfth-poorest country in the world.25 The situation is worst in Nepal’s remote, mountainous countryside, where the economy is based on subsistence agriculture. Many believe reducing poverty in these rural areas would be a key factor in alleviating strife and conflict in the country.26 However, development projects planned for the regions were abandoned after the areas fell under Maoist control. Further, the government’s efforts to control the insurgency have deflected funds from development into the security sector, leaving the poverty of rural areas unaddressed.27 Unsurprisingly, the Maoists have been able to politicize Nepal’s dire economic situation, claiming that the failure to carry out reforms within the old “semi-feudal” system proves the urgent need to establish a “new democratic system.” As noted by some analysts, to a certain extent the Maoist movement is “a by-product of Nepal’s unsuccessful development endeavors.”28

While the CPN-M leaders have repeatedly demanded that the United Nations or another international body supervise peace negotiations, the Nepali government has so far objected to any international mediation of the conflict.29 For their part, intergovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations and the European Union, as well as individual governments have on a number of occasions called on both sides of the conflict to cease fighting and work toward a political solution of the conflict.30

[3] The human rights abuses by the Maoists and the governmental forces have been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch and other organizations. See, e.g., Human Rights Watch, Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Civilians Struggle to Survive Nepal’s Civil War (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2004); Amnesty International, “Nepal: a deepening human rights crisis,” December 19, 2002, ASA 31/072/2002; Amnesty International, “Nepal: Escalating Disappearances Amid a Culture of Impunity,” August 30, 2004; International Crisis Group, “Nepal: Obstacles for Peace,” June 17, 2003; International Crisis Group, “Nepal: Back to the Gun” Asia Briefing, October 22, 2003.

[4] Nepal has a number of discrete political bodies that operate under the name of Communist Party of Nepal, including CPN-Maoist, but also more mainstream parties such as the United Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-UML). These bodies operate as distinct political organizations and are often mutually antagonistic, each considering itself the only legitimate communist party in Nepal. The non-Maoist communist parties in Nepal have rejected the Maoist’s resort to armed rebellion against the government. CPN-UML is a significant mainstream political force in Nepal. For a detailed analysis, see Deepak Thapa, A Kingdom Under Siege: Nepal’s Maoist Insurgency 1996-2003 (Kathmandu: The Printhouse, 2003).

[5] Sudheer Sharma, “The Maoist Movement: An Evolutionary Perspective,” in Understanding the Maoist Movement of Nepal, Deepak Thapa, ed. (Kathmandu: Modern Printing Press, 2003), 361. The memorandum containing the forty-point list of demands was signed by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, chairman of the Maoists’ political wing, United People’s Front. The full text of the memorandum can be found in Understanding the Maoist Movement of Nepal, 391-395.

[6] Man Ranjan Josse, “From Birth to People’s War,” [online], (retrieved December 20, 2004).

[7] Communist Party of Nepal (Unity Center) was formed in 1990 by two Maoist parties, the CPN (Fourth Congress) and CPN (Mashal) under the leadership of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda, and later joined by a breakaway faction of CPN (Masal), led by Baburam Bhattarai. In 1991 the alliance decided that its political wing, the United People’s Front of Nepal (UPFN), would take part in the parliamentary elections, and managed to gain nine seats in the parliament. However, by the 1994 parliamentary elections the Unity Center and, accordingly, the UPFN, had split into two factions. Although initially both UPFN factions approached the Election Commission for recognition, the commission only recognized one of them. The other faction, led by Baburam Bhattarai, decided along with the Prachanda-led Unity Center to boycott the elections and give up their participation in the political process in favor of armed uprising. In 1995 the party, renamed CPN-Maoist, adopted the “Plan for Historical Initiation of the People’s War.” See Arjun Karki and David Seddon, “The People’s War in Historical Context,” in The People’s War in Nepal: Left Perspectives (Delhi: Adroit Publishers, 2003); Thapa, A Kingdom under Siege, 36-48.

[8] On November 4, 2003, the government announced the establishment of the so-called Unified Command, consisting of the army, APF, police, and National Investigation Department, under the operational command of the army. See “Statement by Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa at the press conference regarding Future Plan, Strategies and Programs of His Majesty’s Government” (unofficial translation), November 4, 2003 [online], (retrieved November 27, 2004).

[9] Nickerson, Heather “In the Spotlight: Communist Party of Nepal – Maoists,” Center for Defense Information, August 30, 2004 [online], (retrieved February 2, 2005).

[10] For a detailed analysis of the failed negotiations, see International Crisis Group, “Nepal Backgrounder: Ceasefire: Soft Landing or Strategic Pause?” Asia Report N°50, April 10, 2003; International Crisis Group, “Nepal: Obstacles for Peace,” Asia Report N° 57, June 17, 2003; Bhagirath Yogi, “The Elusive Peace: Nepal,” Peace and Conflict Monitor, November 16, 2004 [online], (retrieved December 20, 2004).

[11] For a detailed description of the Doramba massacre and the botched investigation, see Human Rights Watch, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Civilians Struggle to Survive in Nepal’s Civil War,” October 2004; as well as Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission, “On the Spot Inspection and Report of the Investigation Committee: Doramba, Ramechhap Incident,” National Human Rights Commission, 2060 BS (2003). While the government maintained that the Maoists had been preparing for a resumption of hostilities, and simply used the Doramba massacre as a pretext for returning to war, Maoist leaders Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai publicly pointed to Doramba as the incident provoking the withdrawal of the Maoists from the ceasefire; see Prachanda’s interview published in the Maoist Information Bulletin, No 4, September 14, 2003, cited in: Rita Manchada, “On the warpath again: The collapse of the ceasefire between the government forces and the Maoists once again leaves Nepal in a state of turmoil,” October 24, 2003 [online], (retrieved December 29, 2003).

[12] “Nepal Rebels Kill Colonel,” BBC World, August 28, 2003.

[13] For an analysis of the breakdown of the ceasefire and its consequences, see International Crisis Group, “Nepal: Back to the Gun,” Asia Briefing, October 22, 2003.

[14] These and other abuses committed by the Maoists are documented in Human Rights Watch, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, 53-63.

[15] See, e.g., Amnesty International, “Nepal: A Spiraling Human Rights Crisis;” “Nepal: A Deepening Human Rights Crisis;” Thapa, A Kingdom under Siege, 162-163.

[16] Section V of this report contains a detailed analysis of the current Nepali legislation and its human rights implications.

[17] The system of governance known as Panchayat was devised by Nepal’s King Mahendra in 1961. The country was governed by the king, while all political parties, with the exception of the royalist Rastriya Panchayat Party, were banned. In February 1990, several banned parties launched the so called Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, organizing nationwide strikes and protests. After the government failed to suppress the protests by force, King Birendra gave in to the demands, lifted the ban on political parties and appointed an interim government to oversee the drafting of the new constitution. See Thapa, A Kingdom under Siege, 18-36.

[18] Padmaja Murthy, “Understanding Nepali Maoists’ Demands: Revisiting Events of 1990,” Strategic Analysis: A Monthly Journal of the IDSA Vol. IIVII No. 1, January-March 2003.

[19] For a detailed analysis both of the disparities between urban and rural economies in Nepal, as well as a discussion of development funds, see S. Mansoob Murshed and Scott Gates, “Spatial Horizontal Inequality and the Maoist Insurgency in Nepal,” World Institute for Development and Economics Research, Research Paper No. 2004/43, July 2004.

[20] Chitra K. Tiwari, “Maoist Insurgency in Nepal: Internal Dimensions,” South Asia Analysis Group, Paper No. 187, January 20, 2001 [online], (retrieved December 15, 2004).

[21] See Jonathan Gregson, Massacre at the Palace: The Doomed Royal Dynasty of Nepal (New York: Miramax Books, 2002).

[22] International Crisis Group, “Nepal Backgrounder: Ceasefire: Soft Landing or Strategic Pause?” April 10, 2003.

[23] See, e.g., “Nepal sets deadline for Maoists to start talks,” The Hindustan Times, November 26, 2004.

[24] Ibid.

[25] World Bank, “Nepal Country Brief,” September 2004 [online],
(retrieved December 20, 2004).

[26] Murshed and Gates, “Spatial Horizontal Inequality and the Maoist Insurgency in Nepal.”

[27] Ken Ohashi, “Crisis Opens Doors: Restoring Faith in the Face of Maoist Insurgency,” World Bank [online],
(retrieved December 20, 2004).

[28] Thapa, A Kingdom under Siege, 55.

[29] “Nepal Urges Rebels for Talks, Silent on Key Demands,” Reuters, September 30, 2004.

[30] See e.g., “Secretary-General Deeply Troubled by Reported Escalation of Fighting in Nepal,” ReliefWeb, December 23, 2004 [online], (retrieved December 29, 2004); “EU urges Nepal rebels to end violence, begin talks,” Reuters, December 15, 2004; “US hopes Nepal, Maoist rebels forge peace pact,” Agence France Presse, October 5, 2004.

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