AN INTERNATIONAL human rights observation mission to Nepal, led by Blake Dawson Waldron partner Dr Gordon Hughes, has found that the rule of law and human rights have been compromised under King Gyanendra’s rule.
The mission, with representatives from Australia, Malaysia and India, was made in response to an urgent request from the Nepal Bar Association (NBA), which contacted LAWASIA to express its concern about the deterioration of human rights and the rule of law in Nepal under the current regime.
King Gyanendra came to the throne after the heir Crown Prince Dipendra shot his parents King Birenda and Queen Aishwarya and seven other members of the royal family in June 2001. In February this year, the King sacked the government, seized power and suspended civil liberties on the grounds that the government had failed to quell the anti-monarchy Maoist revolt, which is said to have continued since 1996.
“Our objective on this mission was to verify the claims made by the NBA”, said Hughes, who returned from Nepal last week. Our concern was to observe for ourselves whether the deterioration in the rule of law, and human rights abuses directed against lawyers, was as pronounced as we had been told.”
Unfortunately, he said, the situation in Nepal was exactly as the local lawyers had reported. The mission found that King Gyanendra, assisted by the army, had done what he considered necessary to address the threat posed to the rule of law by the Maoist rebels. However, those actions had unduly compromised human rights and civil liberties in the country.
The report stated that greater efforts could and should be taken to suppress Maoist activity as a first step to restoring the rule of law. However, it was not acceptable to use the conflict with the Maoist rebels as an excuse for restrictions on civil liberties, unlawful or unnecessary arrests, oppression of government critics, media and radio censorship, travel restrictions on human rights activists, the suspension of parliament or the failure to hold fresh elections.
Hughes was the 2004 Australian Law Awards Lifetime Achievement winner and led the mission in his capacity as chairman of the LAWASIA Human Rights Committee. It met with key figures in the Nepalese political system, including Army Chief General Pyar Jung Thapa and former Prime Minister (and current vice chairman of the Council of Ministers) Dr Tulsi Giri.
Hughes said the mission had no political objective. “LAWASIA is a non-political organisation and its principle objective is to promote the rule of law in the Asia Pacific region.”
He said LAWASIA would continue to promote its concerns about the situation in Nepal. It was likely that peak legal bodies from the Asia Pacific region and international bodies including the International Bar Association and International Commission of Jurists would pressure the Nepalese authorities to restore democracy in the country, he added.