This morning I conducted a filmed interview with Deputy Prime Minister Bam Dev Gautam at the Ministerial Residence Compound in Pulchok. Gautam serves as Deputy Prime Minister, the number-two man in Nepal’s new government. He has also been appointed Home Minister, a position that oversees all matters of security in Nepal. Known as a long-time advocate of a multi-party democracy in Nepal, Gautam played an integral role in 2004 when he helped orchestrate meetings between the rebel Maoists and the Seven Party Alliance –a political merging that eventually led to the demise of the 260-year-old monarchy. This morning, Gautam and I spoke on a variety of issues including corruption, gang violence, rule of law in Madesh, sex trafficking, intra-party strife and the question of Tibetan deportation. As far as I am aware, it was during my interview that Gautam said for the first time, unequivocally, that Tibetans would not be in danger of being deported to China – not now nor in the future.
DUNHAM: I believe that improving the infrastructure in Nepal -- and as soon as possible -- should be a priority in the new government. But it is also my opinion that, before you can build infrastructure, the government must establish rule of law and nation-wide security. Do you agree with this?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: What you say is right, to some extent, but the development of infrastructure is not the only important work. Right now, the most important work is to achieve
To do all this, it is very important to establish rule of law as well as establishing peace and security for the people—these are the main conditions that must first be achieved.
LAW AND ORDER IN MADESH
DUNHAM: There is already evidence that security has improved in the Kathmandu Valley. But what about law and order in Madesh [southern districts of Nepal that bordering India]? Isn’t this a more challenging goal for the Home Ministry? How can we expect the Ministry to deal with future Madeshi unrest?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: I would like to thank you for your assessment that the security condition in the Kathmandu Valley has improved. But I don’t consider it as improved. It is only on the way to being improved. When we implement the process strictly, the situation in Kathmandu will gradually improve.
As far as the security situation in Terai [Madesh] is concerned, it is weak. There are lots of problems because the past government’s policies on security did not work properly.
Especially when you talk about the Madesh movement, which was started as a movement for the identification of the whole Terai region, that movement –along with other problems --is interconnected with the inaction of the previous government.
But now we have seen two different kinds of activities in Terai. One: activities that are politically motivated. Two: purely criminally motivated activities.
We have clearly understood both kinds of problems and defined them. We will begin the peace negotiation process to solve the political problem. A few days before, the Prime Minister has already called upon those who will sit in on the negotiations. When the Prime Minister returns from India, we will form a negotiation committee and get to work.
On the other hand, using force will control those groups that were formed with criminal intentions. Some progress has already started in that direction.
The most important thing to remember is that the people of Nepal want peace, progress and prosperity. To achieve this, maintaining law and order –peace and security – is vital.
The government has already begun to move in that direction.
VIOLENCE BY GANGS AND THUGS
DUNHAM: My next question relates to this. Gangs of thugs and criminals are a big problem in Nepal. What is the best way the Home Ministry can break apart their power structure? More specifically: What impact do gangs coming from India have on Nepal? What can Nepal do to fight back?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: For the last two or three years, Nepal has been in a state of transition: The old regime is finished and the new regime has not yet been properly established. But we are confidently moving ahead to establish a new system in the state.
In this transitory period, several elements such as gangs, thugs, and international criminals have entered Nepal and harassed the Nepalese population.
First of all, we have started to control the violent activities of the thugs, gangs and looters who are now within the city limits of the capital [Kathmandu]. We have been getting positive feedback. We have already attacked the bases and sources of these criminal gangs. We won’t let up with our efforts.
During the old regime, improvement within the security sector did not happen. Therefore, the present government is finding it difficult to make up for lost time.
Regarding the Indian criminals entering Nepal, we recognize the fact that they exist, that they come in from Indians bases, and that they have been involved in criminal activities on our soil. We plan to coordinate with the Indian government to stop these criminals.
Now, in Terai, those criminals who are coming from India are involved in murder, violence and abduction. But I believe that we can control them.
DUNHAM: There are twenty or thirty groups identified as political groups in the Terai. However, it’s presumed that many of them are simply criminal gangs posing as political groups – smoke screens. Do you have a good idea as to how many of these groups are genuinely politically motivated?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: Both the political and non-political groups in Terai are involved with criminal activities. We see that. However, we are currently trying to determine which of these groups are authentically politically motivated.
The past government believed that there were two or three of these groups that fit into that category and attempted negotiations with them – especially with the two factions of Terai Janatarantrik Mukti Morcha – one led by Jwala Singh and the other led by Goit.
But the current government has not yet been able to meet with these groups because of our busy schedules. Our plan is to invite all the groups to come to the table and negotiate. If the groups are genuinely politically motivated, they should come talk to us. The ones who participate will be regarded as politically motivated. Those who do not participate will be assumed to be criminally motivated. In the latter case, we will deal with them accordingly.
THE TIBET ISSUE
DUNHAM: Last week it was announced that Tibetans who do not have refugee certificate (RC) cards face deportation. It’s reported that those Tibetans who are currently detained at the Tibetan Reception Center – those who lack RC cards -- will be sent on to India. Does that mean that India has been designated as the standard destination for Tibetans without legal residence status, or is it also possible that Tibetans could be deported to China sometime in the future?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: Nepal is a country that has a very close and friendly relationship with both of its neighbors, India and China. We have enjoyed this relationship for a long time. From the very beginning, we have not let anyone use Nepal territory as the base for anti-Indian or anti-Chinese activities. Nepal has always been consistent in honoring this policy. We will continue to do so.
Regarding the Tibetan refugees: They have been living in Nepal for a long time. We have provided them with identity cards. However, we cannot continue to keep all the Tibetans who arrive in Nepal as refugees.
The Nepalese government recognized those who came at the beginning, especially those who arrived during the 1960s, as refugees. We have limited capacity to take care of refugees, so it must be limited to those who are recognized as refugees. All other Tibetans who come to Nepal, we hand them over to the UNHCR and, in turn, the UNHCR takes them to India. Once in India, the UNHCR coordinates with the Dalai Lama’s office in Dharamsala, where they will be settled. We do not send them to India ourselves.
In the recent past, [since March 2008] Tibetans in Nepal have become involved in many activities [that have been problematic to the Nepalese government]. We told them that, while they are living in Nepal as refugees, they should honor the law of the land. We told them that they were not allowed to be involved with whatever they desired. We made ourselves clear on that point.
If they break the law, we arrest them and hand them over to the refugee camp and warn them against getting involved with such activities again.
Regarding the Tibetans who lack RC cards: They cannot be involved in any unlawful activities. If they do so, they are abusing the Nepalese government’s friendliness and openness, which the government has extended to them.
If they are involved in such activities, we have been arresting and handing them over the UNHCR. We arrested those who were protesting in front of the Chinese embassy and then we talked to them. It was at this time that we discovered that none of them were refugees living in Nepal. As a result, we handed them over to the UNHCR. That is what we did.
We have not arrested nor deported any Tibetans to China. We will not deport them to China.
DUNHAM: In the months leading up to the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese and Nepalis very effectively sealed off the northern border of Nepal in an effort to prevent movement between Tibet and Nepal. Will the northern border of Nepal remain sealed now that Olympics are over?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: We tightened the Nepali-Chinese border because of the Beijing Olympics. Chinese officials closely monitored all the border points. At the request of the Chinese government, Nepal also tightened those border points.
Some people tried to disturb the march of the Olympic torch to the summit of Mt. Everest. In order to prevent that from happening, it was necessary for us to tighten security measures.
But it will not remain like that forever. We are in the process of easing those measures.
The Nepal government will request that the Chinese government do the same on their side. Some of the border points have already returned to normality. For example, the Tatopani border point, the border in Mustang, and in Humla [a northwestern district] have become very easy [to cross]. The Nepalese government sincerely hopes that, soon, all the border points where there was public movement along the Nepali-Chinese border will be as before [the Olympics].
VIOLENCE AMONG THE VARIOUS POLITICAL YOUTH GROUPS
DUNHAM: You are known as being a preeminent supporter of a multi-party democracy in Nepal. It seems to me that one of the major obstacles standing in the way of achieving multi-party democracy is the bad feelings between the various political parties—especially among the youth political groups. Everyday there are reports of clashes between the YCL, the Youth Force (UML) and/or the Tarun Dal (NC). Curfews have been imposed in some areas. But what other tactics can the Home Ministry implement in order to resolve the disruptive ongoing fighting?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: I will always remain on the side of multi-party democracy. I will always try to strengthen it.
In our context, the activities of youth political groups should be regarded as a transitory phase. The past government failed to establish political stability, as well as law and order. Because of that, the political parties established these youth wings, which were of an aggressive nature, in order to protect their respective leaders and to keep up the pressure in the political arena.
Among them, YCL, the youth group established by the Maoists, looks like its activities are inappropriate. Because of the YCL’s activities, all the other political parties established youth organizations. UML established Youth Force, for instance.
Now, when political stability is established and the trust of the public in the new government is earned, then the youth organizations will no longer be required. If they continue their [unlawful] activities, they will lose the support of the people. If they continue to take the law into their own hands, creating anarchy, the government will take tough action against them to control them.
Furthermore, if the youth groups continue such activities, the various political parties will shut them down. If the parties fail to shut them down, those same parties will find themselves ostracized.
There is no point of having this government if the various parties maintain warrior-like youth groups who take the law into their own hands.
I don’t believe that the situation will remain as it is. I believe that we will be able to control the youth groups and transform them into civil organizations.
LAND GRABBING AND THE RETURN OF SEIZED LAND
DUNHAM: Yesterday, according the Kathmandu Post, the National Human Rights Commission urged the government to take strong legal action against those guilty of land grabbing. What is your strategy for putting an end to this seemingly endless activity? The recent involvement of Matrika Yadav, Minister for Land Reform and Management, in appropriating land in Siraha seems particularly troubling.
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: I do not know and have not yet received such a report about the NHRC informing the government about this issue.
Regarding the activities in Siraha of our Minister for Land Reform and Management, Mr. Matrika Yadav, they are inappropriate. When the Prime Minister returns to Nepal from India, there will be serious discussion about it. I believe that the Prime Minister will stop this inappropriate activity of land grabbing.
DUNHAM: Speaking of the Prime Minister and the Maoist party, what about land that was seized by the Maoists in recent years and which has not yet been returned to its rightful owners? How will you proceed on this problem?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: The Maoist party had agreed with the former Seven-Party Alliance and the government to return the seized land and property. Recently, the Prime Minister expressed his commitment through the government’s policy and program, [presented by the president in the Constituent Assembly] to return all the seized land and properties.
It’s not true that they have not returned any land or property. The land has been returned in many areas, but not all.
Some of the land has been distributed to the homeless, landless poor people. In these instances, the people have not returned the land even after the Maoists made the request to do so. There are also some other reasons for failure to return land.
Now it is a governmental policy to return all the seized land and property to the rightful owners. This was agreed upon by the Maoists --the Common Minimum Program [guidelines for the unity government between CPN-Maoist party, CPN-UML party and the Madeshi Janadhikar Forum] --as a condition that must be guaranteed before we decided to join the government. This national unity government was formed only after the Maoists firmly expressed its commitment and made us believe that they were willing to return the seized land and property.
I believe that the Prime Minister will bring this process forward, in which case the Home Ministry will work toward the eventual return of the seized land and property to the rightful owners. If that doesn’t happen, then it can be said that the agreement upon which the national unity government was formed, will have been breeched. If the agreement is breeched, a new scenario will arise and our party (UML) may consider other options, of which I cannot comment at the present time.
TRAFFICKING OF WOMEN
DUNHAM: I would like to end with an issue that plagues most of the South Asian countries: sex slavery and the trafficking of women. What are your plans to help curb the abduction and sale of girls and women in Nepal? Is this going to be a priority for the new government?
HOME MINISTER GAUTAM: Even though this is a problem throughout South Asia, Nepal is particularly hard-hit by sex-slavery and the abduction of girls. All the past governments have worked to end this problem in one way or another. But they were not successful. Their programs proved ineffective.
The sale of women by thugs –abduction, false promises, etc., to lure them away from their homes – is a criminal activity. On the other hand, because of the poverty – lack of food, clothing and shelter among poor families – families have been forced to accept the selling of their girls into sex trafficking.
Either way, whether the girls are abducted or sold by their families, the new government will not tolerate it and strictly put an end to it. In order to do that, we will create an environment in which there is alternative employment for these women. We will promote self-employment programs. Even in the cases of women working in foreign countries, we will try to ensure that they are employed in respectable jobs rather than in the sex industry.
Those who are involved trafficking by abduction or false promises or whatsoever means will be punished with the most severe sentences allowed in this country: life imprisonment.
The Home Ministry will do everything in its power to effectively implement the law and to protect the people.