Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Watchdog’s Growl Of Good Sense

The sanest voice on the latest developments in Nepal has emerged from the Asian Center for Human Rights (ACHR). Condemning the arrests of five ministers in King Gyanendra’s cabinet, the New Delhi-based watchdog has urged Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's government to uphold the rule of law and not abuse preventive detention laws.
To the newly empowered Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and its supporters, the five ex-ministers -- Kamal Thapa, Ramesh Nath Pandey, Tanka Dhakal, Shrish Shumsher Rana and Nikshe Shumsher Rana – collectively represented the worst face of the royal regime.
Therefore, in the eye-for-an-eye… exuberance gripping the kingdom, it must be gratifying to the SPA that such prompt and decisive action has been taken against their former tormenters. The failure to act against the Panchayat leadership after the political change of 1990, we are told, allowed the “cancer of regression” to return to the body politic.
Countless SPA supporters, however, must be disappointed by the purported leniency shown by the government to the former ministers, security chiefs and bureaucrats. No justice is swifter than a lynch mob's.
The detainees themselves probably were not surprised by the Koirala government’s harshness. Having signed off on the incarceration of almost the entire SPA leadership more than once, the ex-ministers must have pondered the consequences of a reversal of roles amid the volatility of the country. Former home minister Kamal Thapa, for his part, had defied the SPA government to prove he had done anything unlawful in ordering the crackdown on the April protests, adding his readiness to face any consequence based on due process.
It is becomes easy to dismiss criticism of the SPA government’s purported gallantry as despicable defense of the indefensible. But here’s the news. During King Gyanendra’s direct rule, the ACHR was perhaps the most consistently ferocious critic. It was among the first organizations that had called for sanctions on the monarch and his ministers.
In his latest statement, ACHR Director Suhas Chakma is still unforgiving. He pointed out: “[A]ll illegal acts and human rights violations have been done under the leadership of King Gyanendra as the chairman of the council of ministers. Therefore, the commission must investigate the chain of command accordingly.”
The operative reality here is that the ACHR and, oddly enough, Kamal Thapa are on the same side as advocates of due process. The organization made a distinction between the detention of the former ministers and the suspension of nine security officials. It said the suspension of the chiefs of Nepal Police, Shyam Bhakta Thapa, Armed Police Force, Shahabir Thapa, National Investigation Department, Devi Ram Sharma and six other security officials was indispensable to prevent destruction, tampering of evidence and misuse of official powers. Chakma also urged the government to suspend Royal Nepalese Army chief, General Pyar Jung Thapa, in the interest of a “fair inquiry”.
The ACHR, however, considered the arrest of the ministers under the Public Safety Act as unwarranted. “The government should have waited for the conclusion of the Justice Krishna Jung Rayamajhi commission of inquiry before making any arrests for alleged violations of human rights,” Chakma said.
Recalling that the Public Safety Act or the Public Offences Act were dreaded instruments used by previous kings to suppress pro-democracy uprisings, Chakma urged Prime Minister Koirala government to repeal the two draconian laws.
The ACHR is entitled to its own interpretations of the intentions and actions of the royal regime and it is difficult to agree with all of them, considering the wider malaise gripping the nation. What’s less difficult, though, is to commend the organization’s ability to zero in on the finer points to uphold the cause of due process. And more so at a time when Nepalese politics has lost even that fragile base of constitutionalism the royal regime stood upon.