Double Standards!: Hira Bahadur Thapa
As the international community observes “World Human Rights Day” today, it is an opportune time for all of us to mull over how far governments around the world have been sincere to their obligations that emanate from their signing of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Records of human rights observance worldwide have been hardly encouraging, not only for the developing world but also for the countries in the first world, even though the latter consider themselves to be the self-declared champions of human rights.
During the period of insurgency, Nepal was vehemently criticised by the international community, i.e. the UN, which is the custodian of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for massive violations of human rights. Admittedly, the then government took that criticism seriously and approved the stationing of an office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal. It was hoped that the situation of human rights in the country would improve with a UN office that periodically investigates cases of alleged human rights violations and accordingly makes recommendations to the government for appropriate action.
The statistics on the subject do not support such an assumption, and in course of time, the Nepal office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner became so intrusive and interventionist that the government was forced to shut down the office. The case for Nepal to do was quite strong as its own National Human Rights Commission was in place to promote human rights in the country.
There are indications that the Government of Nepal has become more sensitive to the human rights of the people. One of the glaring examples of this is the decision of the government to initiate criminal prosecution against those who perpetrated the murder of journalist Dekendra Thapa. This week the concerned court in Western Nepal awarded the punishment to the culprits, though the Federation of Nepalese Journalists has expressed its dissatisfaction over the period of imprisonment imposed on the convicted persons.
In this regard, credit should go to the human rights forums in Nepal, which were lobbying hard to bring the murderers to justice. Our National Human Rights Commission too was involved in identifying whether the deceased journalist was murdered or not. Its intervention may have induced the government to respond by permitting the local police officials to initiate criminal action against the criminals.
About two years back when the skeleton of murdered Dekendra Thapa was excavated from the place where the criminals had buried his corpse many years ago during the Maoist insurgency, there was growing pressure on the government from human rights organisations and civil societies to provide justice to the bereaved family of the journalist. Then the government did not seem enthusiastic to prosecute the alleged murderers, and at times it was even interfering in the duties of the local police officials, who were obliged under the existing laws to proceed with criminal action by registering the case before the court.
Shamefully, then the concerned police inspector was transferred from his office to another district, supposedly to cover up the case. But finally the government succumbed to the increasing pressure built upon it from domestic and international human rights forums. The widow of Dekendra Thapa has now heaved a sigh of relief, which suggests that the government is moving slowly to handle criminal cases against the wrong-doers of the insurgency period.
The passage of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, which was invoked in the Dekendra Thapa murder case, is a welcome sign at a time when the Nepal government faces numerous allegations of human rights violations. At international forums like the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, Nepal is often criticised for lack of progress in punishing the violators of human rights.
Judged from the events of such violations of human rights domestically, the government has still to silence its critics, especially considering cases of some disappearances like that of Sanu Maiya Chhori, a resident of Kathmandu, whose whereabouts has remained a mystery for years. The family members and her relatives have been traumatised as they are unable to find out her status despite years of efforts and peaceful demonstrations, and the onus is on the government to provide security to its citizens, including them.
The global scenario of human rights has not been satisfactory, and for this phenomenon the powerful countries of the world are mainly responsible because of their double roles in the observance of human rights obligations. Even the U.S., the world’s only super power and a champion of freedom, has had cases which conflict with the universal norms of human rights.
The widely-publicised incidents of torture of those accused of terrorism by American troops in Iraq and elsewhere speak volumes about how weak the government is in enforcing the provisions of the human rights instruments, which it has signed.
Moreover, the behaviour of the British government in fulfilling the obligations of human rights agreements has been full of hypocrisy, looking at the events that took place during the insurgency and the detention of a serving Nepal Army Colonel on charges of torture. While Nepalese Colonel Kumar Lama languishes in a British jail, on account of violating the UN Convention Against Torture, when the army officer was serving in Nepal, the government of U.K. was found funneling financial resources to Nepal in conducting surveillance activities, which were basically intended to suppress the People’s Movement launched by the Maoists in the past.
As the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated in his 2014 Human Rights Day message that every day is equally important for abiding by the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all countries around the globe should be held accountable to their obligations. No country can be expected to be a true defender of human rights unless the more powerful ones eschew their long-held policy of double standards. Asking others to do which they themselves don’t do will seldom produce the desired results in the area of human rights, too.