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IN OCTOBER 2008, a small chain of atolls in the Indian Ocean entered the world’s club of democracies. It had been a long time coming. The incoming government hailed a different kind of politics as its supporters lined up along the sea wall, celebrating the country’s new dawn.
But in recent months the Maldives’ fledgling democracy has proved to be self-incapacitating more than progressive. Fed up with an opposition-led parliament, which tends to block its every move, this week the archipelago’s entire cabinet resigned in protest. Political deadlock has ensued.
The president, Mohamed Nasheed, has stayed put, alongside his vice-president. He claims that an informal alliance of lawmakers is sabotaging his every proposal; an aide described it as “scorched-earth politics”. The opposition has already passed an amendment which allows it to veto every lending or leasing agreement made between the government and an overseas party. Thus in one fell swoop it was able to scupper Mr Nasheed’s planned privatisation of the capital’s airport and much else besides. Hopes for foreign investment—at the core of the new government’s ambitions and an essential part of its effort to plug the fiscal deficit—have been dashed. The parliamentary opposition had also threatened to kick out Mr Nasheed’s ministers one by one, through a series of no-confidence votes.
The way forward is unclear. Mr Nasheed does not have the power to dissolve parliament. Instead he is seeking to prosecute opposition MPs on charges of bribery, which smacks of the methods preferred by the ex-president he ousted, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Mr Nasheed, himself a former political prisoner who became all too familiar with life in detention under Mr Gayoom (you can see the future president getting the strong-arm treatment three minutes into this footage), should know better. His difficulty is that even the Supreme Court cannot be trusted to be impartial.
Whatever happens as the crisis rumbles on, preserving legitimacy will be crucial. Mr Nasheed came to power as a force for change: it would be dreadful to see him lead his wobbly new democracy of 350,000 citizens back to its darker days.
The fact that an army major charged with the murder of a 15-year old girl was working for the United Nations in Chad says it all. For Nepal, justice is only a word on a piece of paper.
It is only one sign that those in the army were never brought to justice for the atrocities they carried out during the decade-long war; neither were Maoist combatants who committed similar crimes. The army likes to claim it has taken action against up to 100 members and suspended or demoted them, but this is too few and too little. The RNA holds on to its culture of impunity which it has been accustomed to for years.
According to Amnesty International: “In 2008, Major Basnet was one of four soldiers charged by the Kavre District Court with Maina Sunuwar’s killing. All four remain at large.”
As a result of media reports, Major Basnet, who was serving in Chad for UN peace-keeping, was expelled from the force and returned to Nepal earlier this week.
Maina Sunawar, a 15-year old acccused of being a Maoist activist, was electrocuted and drowned in 2004 during interrogation. She died in custody.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) is also calling for Basnet’s arrest.
If action is taken, Basnet would be the first high-profile figure to appear in a civilian court accused of crimes during the war. It would be only one step, but an important one. The fate of thousands of disappeared is still unknown and their cases remain uninvestigated. More than 16,000 died during the decade-long insurgency.
When the Maoists go around chanting for civilian supremacy, they are being hypocritical. Their cadres often double as a young militia which extorts money, vandalises property and worse. Indeed, the Maoists have promoted two members in the Terai accused of killing a journalist in 2007 after he wrote about Maoist involvement in sandalwood smuggling.
But, at the same time of course, the former rebels have a point. The military, previously attached to the monarchy for centuries, has still not woken up to the fact that it now needs to be a democratic institution, where transparency and justice play a big role. The army is to protect the people, not the country’s ruling elite.
They are also facing international pressure over the proposed promotion of General Toran Ram Bahadur Singh, who lies accused of very serious human rights violations. Singh was in charge of the Bhairavnath barrack where 49 people disappeared between 2003-2004; if promoted, he will be second highest in the Nepal army.
Meanwhile, more bad news for the Nepal army comes from the the US. A Nepali army major has been accused of severely beating his wife, who was found with bruises and a ruptured spleen.
If Army Chief Chhatra Man Singh Gurung, who came into his position earlier this year and who hasn’t shown his colours yet, calls for the arrest of Major Basnet then there would be at least a very small signal that the country still respects rule of law.
Dec 10th 2009 | KATHMANDU
From The Economist print edition
NEPALI brides and grooms had extra blessings to count when they married on December 9th. The country’s Maoist party had called a nationwide strike on one of the year’s few auspicious nuptial dates. But fortune smiled. The Maoists postponed their blockade, and hundreds of weddings took place.
There was little else to celebrate. Stalemate between the government and the Maoist party, comprising former rebels, has grown violent. Tensions exploded on December 4th after thousands of landless labourers in the far west, backed by the Maoists, claimed tracts of government-owned forest for themselves. National security forces responded by opening fire and burning the squatters’ huts. Some of the settlers beat a police officer to death.
The Maoists and the government have been frozen in a stand-off for months, though public demonstrations had been mainly peaceful. The Maoists have been protesting since their leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, quit the government in May after his bid to sack the then army chief failed. The army had refused to enlist 19,000 of Mr Dahal’s former fighters, as it was supposed to do under a 2006 peace agreement that ended the ten-year civil war. Many thought the army’s intransigence had India’s backing.
Read full article here
Olivia Lang in Syangboche
Nepalese ministers held the highest ever cabinet meeting on Mount Everest yesterday in a last-minute bid to highlight the threat of climate change to the Himalayas ahead of Copenhagen.
Against a snowy backdrop of the world’s highest peak, the Nepalese prime Minister and 22 ministers, kitted out in padded jackets, hats and yellow oxygen masks, sat round a table 5300m high to endorse Nepal’s declaration for the UN summit next week.
“We are all very excited because we had a historic meeting at Kalapatthar,” Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal told The Daily Telegraph after his helicopter dropped him at a lower plateau at Syangboche.
“If we take measures to preserve the Himalayas then we can save mankind and the civilisation of this region,” he added.
The 20-minute meeting at Kalapatthar, a rocky plateau just above Everest base-camp, comes after a similar move by the low-lying archipelago of the Maldives, which staged an underwater cabinet meeting in October.
Ministers were flown to Lukla yesterday in order to acclimatise to the altitude before being taken by helicopters today to Kalapatthar after medical checks. All were provided with oxygen masks, with health a major concern at such high altitudes, while two ministers came back slightly early with breathing difficulties.
In the morning sun on Thursday, Mr Nepal read out his speech for Copenhagen and announced new conservation areas in Nepal. Arriving in Syangboche after the meeting, the pink-cheeked leader posed on a Tibetan yak as Nepalese monks and Sherpas chanted welcome songs and decorated him in traditional scarves.
The event aimed to raise awareness of glacial melting in the Himalayas, which scientists say is due to temperatures in the region increasing at a higher rate than the global average. They say this also increases the risk of glacial lakes bursting, threatening mountain communities.
“There is no snow when there should be, no rain when there should be,” said 66-year old Ngoegon Lama, whose village of Namche Bazaar narrowly missed flooding due to a burst glacial lake in 1985. “I’m sure it is because of global warming”.
Trekking and adventure companies, many of which sponsored the event, say the changes could pose a threat to their industry. Mountain guide Tika Ram Gurung said one of the reasons for the meeting was to bring the ministers to the mountains to help provoke government action on the environment. “We want the mountains to be the same as before. All the mountains which were white, now they are black,” he said.
Suman Pandey, one of the coordinators of the event, declared the event as a big achievement but said now was the time for “the world to respond to Nepalese voices”.
“This is not just Nepal’s problem. We melt; countries like Maldives drown.”
Source: the Daily Telegraph
The Guardian’s countdown to Copenhagen identifies the main players at the summit…which I’m pleased to see includes the Maldives, regarded as the little nation with the big voice.
Having reported in the Maldives at a time when people had never heard of the country unless they had been there for a honeymoon, I am constantly amazed at the huge amount of media that the country has generated since Nasheed became the country’s fourth President last November.
After it was announced last month by Forest ministry Deepak Bahara, there were doubts in Nepal that the proposed cabinet meet on Mount Everest would ever come to fruition.
But on Friday the prime minister’s office said the plan was set for 4 December.
The meet, just ahead of the UN summit in Copenhagen, will be held to raise awareness of the threat of Climate Change to the Himalayan region, including the melting of glaciers.
As one of the poorest countries in the world and with low levels of infrastructure and irrigation, Nepal’s poor will likely be some of the worst-hit by climate change.
The first international fast-food chains have arrived in Nepal, with Pizza Hut and KFC setting up shop bang in the middle of Durbar Marg.
Nepali Times’ take: “In Kathmandu today: crazy long lines at the new KFC. Apparently people waited 30 mins for the colonel’s drumsticks”.