Harassments of Human Rights Defenders Continue

– Bipin Adhikari
National Human Rights Commission E-Bulletin
Vol. 2, No. 4, Lalitpur, P. 5-6 (20 February, 2004)

Advisor of National Human Rights Commission, Dr Bipin Adhikari was recently interviewed by the E-bulletin Editorial Team about the issue of the Human Tights Accord that has again come on debate in Nepal in recent days. Excerpts of the interview are as follows:

The head of an anti-Maoist organization in Nepal was shot dead two days after leading an anti-rebel march. Two men shot Ganesh Chiluwal, head of the Maoists Victims' Association (MVA), in his Kathmandu office. The assailants entered the office of the Maoist Victims' Association in Kathmandu around 5 pm on 15 February 2004 and opened fire on Chiluwal, who died of the bullet wounds. The Killing of the MVA leader has been linked to an anti-Maoist rally held by the organization on 13 February, the anniversary of the launch of the Maoist insurgency in 1996, during which effigies of CPN (Maoist) leaders, Dr Baburam Bhattarai and Chairman Prachanda were reportedly burnt. Ex-vice Chairman of the Dhamilakuwa Village Development Committee in Lamjung District, Mr Chiluwal had allegedly received a death threat on 21 December 2003 from the Maoists asking him to shut down his office or else face the death. The MVA is an organization working for the welfare of victims of Maoist abuses.

At least two-dozen reporters are said to be in the custody of the Royal Nepal Army in unidentified places. A couple of others are said to be killed in military operations. Their cases remain uninvestigated. At least four dozen journalists are displaced from their districts and are living in Kathmandu because of Maoist threats. The issue has not been effectively brought on board by the media.

A few lawyers have also been arrested or abducted in recent days from different places of the country. They are said to be taken by the security forces in civil dresses. The news comments in this matter have not been responded to by the concerned sectors.

All these instances show that the threats human rights defenders are being subjected to are on the rise. There is an immediate need to end harassment of human rights defenders, notably by investigating the murder and pattern of other physical assaults on them and bringing to justice the men who carried them out. Such assaults in public places by unidentified men are too common to be coincidental and have never resulted in the identification and punishment of the perpetrators.

The value of the contribution made by a human rights defender cannot be overestimated in a conflict ridden society like ours. Attacks on them are attacks on the work that they do. These murders, arrests and abductions are symbolic of the malaise that we are experiencing these days.

The Declaration on the rights of human rights defenders have been constantly reminded by the human rights organizations to both the parties to the conflict, but not being taken seriously. Whereas international law and domestic laws allow reasonable restrictions to be imposed on rights, no reasonable restriction can be imposed on the activity to monitor and advocate for human rights even within the limitations within which those rights are available. So, while there may be arguments that certian circumstances or situations allow the derogation of rights there can be no argument to say that the activity for the promotion or rights, the activity for strengthening the notion of rights and the concepts of rights can at any time be suspended.

It is the responsibility of the government to create strong enough mechanisms and policies for accountability of human rights abuse. Where government either violates human rights itself or does not hold others accountable for human rights violation, the government is responsible for that violation.

The Declaration not only states that it is the primary responsibility of the states to guarantee that human rights activity and human rights defenders can conduct that activity with safety, but it makes it the primary responsibility of states to create political, social and economic conditions in which it is realistically and practically possible for people to realize those rights and benefit from the enjoyment of those rights. A path to peace is there, given the will to make it work.

(Opinions in the interview are those of the interviewee in his personal capacity and not of the National Human Rights Commission - Eds.)

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