Human Rights and People's War in Nepal
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Sunday, November 15, 1998 
SECTION: International

Ills 'overtake' democracy in Nepal
Date: 15-11-1998 :: Pg: 07 :: Col: d

By Soma Basu


Ironically enough, in the land of the Buddha here, peace is often a casualty in the homes of innocent millions. If threat to life or human dignity exists on account of the unresolved Maoist problem in the State and other types of violence, insecurity about an adequate standard of living in the event of unemployment, poverty and diseases also looms large.

The neo-democracy here has unfortunately not been able to honour human rights in the spirit of its Constitution. But then Nepal is not an isolated case. The same can be said of the South and South East Asian region, which is reeling under the social impact of globalisation and its consequences regarding protection of human rights.

The problems of human rights violations in situations of mass poverty has a distinct Asian identity and, therefore, requires a suitable approach. Economic under-development in the region today is seeking to render political and civil rights irrelevant. And that is why an attempt is on to suffuse the concept of human rights with notions of social justice, poverty eradication through equitable distribution of resources and empowerment of people, especially women and disadvantaged communities.

Journalists and human rights activists from a dozen South and South-East Asian countries have assembled here for a four-day workshop to explore the obstacles in the relationship between media and human rights and perhaps work out a Kathmandu Document that will seek to network the role of media as a ``humanrights- friendly'' critique and agent in the entire Asia-Pacific region.

But sadly, a bit of the optimism in this new uplinking venture was taken away by the absence of the Nepalese Prime Minister, Mr. Girija Prasad Koirala, who was initially supposed to inaugurate the workshop.

Human rights always being sensitive and discomforting for the State to discuss it becomes a convenient issue for the Opposition to cash in on. And so, the former Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition, Mr. Manmohan Adhikari, substituted as the chief guest and minced no words to declare that ``human rights had not become a part of the political culture in Nepal, and therefore, its violation was very easy here.''

He blamed the ruling Congress Party for failing to humanely tackle the people's war started by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and thereby negating the democratic process. He appealed to the South Asian Governments and the Asia Forum on Human Rights and Development which is organising the workshop in collaboration with the Informal Sector Service Centre and the Federation of Nepali Journalists to help Nepal find a political solution to the Maoist problem and give fillip to the movement of restoration of human rights.

Stating that the Maoist problem was creating obstacles in the execution of a very good Constitution which was drafted eight years ago incorporating democratic aspirations of Nepali people, Mr. Adhikari was candid about the ills of democracy namely, dishonesty and corruption seeping into the country.

The valley indeed is a picture of contrasts. Glitzy shopping plazas and dilapidated houses, unexpanded and unrepaired roads that are filled with fleets of foreign cars, heaps of garbage accumulating on roads for days as citizens breathe in polluted air and live in conditions of squalor.

There are multiple aspects of human rights, said Mr. Adhikari, which need to be felt and understood in order to be protected. ``The concept of human rights cannot be tailormade to suit the power of governance,'' he said, emphasising on the need for a powerful media.

``Only the media can rise to great heights to expose all evils in society. Its frank and fearless expression will empower people to assert themselves,'' he added.

Referring to India, Mr. Adhikari said, he was disenchanted by the worlds largest and one of the oldest democracies. ``India is the land of the Mahatma known for peace, non-violence and tolerance. But why it is not being reflected in social and political life. Why is there a mafia raj which is being allowed to run a parallel economy while scores of its citizens are denied basic right to food, shelter and clothing,'' he asked.

The former Speaker of the Nepal House of Representatives, Mr. Daman Nath Dhungana, also highlighted the importance of a deep and strong relationship between good governance and human rights. He lamented that though the Nepali Constitution provided for the right to privacy, right to information, freedom of thought, speech and publication and against pre- censorship - which countries like India are still trying to incorporate - the Government had failed to guarantee the benefits of these rights to the citizens.

Inequal opportunities and lack of social security were defeating the purpose of the democratic process ushered in after the successful people's movement in 1990 with the objectives for protection of human rights.

Over the next two days, the workshop will look at the role of media in detail and to what extent it can exercise its influence to make people aware and act according to the real spirit of human rights - that is, allowing every individual to live a life of dignity live as a human being.

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