February 17, 2011
Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS) released a troubling report concerning two former U.N. officials based in Kathmandu and another well known advocate, who are now facing implicit death threats from Nepal’s ruling Maoist political party and have appealed to the United Nations for help and protection. The report was filed on February 15 by Thalif Deen.
Kul Chandra Gautam, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and a longstanding deputy executive director of the U.N. children's agency UNICEF, and Kanak Mani Dixit, a former press officer at the U.N.'s Department of Public Information (DPI) in New York and currently a senior Nepali journalist, have been declared "people's enemies".
A third individual under threat is Subodh Raj Pyakurel, executive director of Informal Services Sector (INSEC), the largest non- governmental human rights organisation in Nepal.
All three have been blacklisted in a cover story in the monthly magazine Lalrakshak published by the ruling Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-Maoist).
"We take this fatwa not just as targeting three specific individuals, but as a more emblematic case intended to frighten, intimidate and silence other dissenting critical voices that might challenge specific policies or practices of the Maoists," Gautam told IPS.
A letter to Nepali Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, signed by all three individuals, says the cover story is "an incitement to violence, and part of an all-out attack that is underway against a broad range of civil society actors from the districts in the capital, including journalists, lawyers and rights activists."
Bhattarai has remained head of the coalition government since August last year.
The goal is across-the-board intimidation, reflecting the despotic perspective: "Those who are not with us are against us, and our enemies are the enemies of the people," the letter reads.
The three under threat have also written to all heads of diplomatic missions in Kathmandu and U.N. agencies, including the U.N. Resident Coordinator and the representative of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
Gautam told IPS the main opposition parties have raised the matter in Parliament and also referred to it in a joint statement they presented to the Maoist party last week.
"At a time when Nepal's peace process is still incomplete and the much delayed drafting of the new constitution is in limbo, these and other provocative statements and actions by the ruling party has created an atmosphere of intimidation and panic throughout the country," it said.
One source told IPS that the chairman of the UCPN-Maoist, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known as "Prachanda", currently the most powerful political personality in the country, has been particularly offended by the repeated calls by Gautam, Dixit and Pyakurel urging him and his party to renounce the use of violence in politics.
More recently, Dahal also seems deeply offended by their critical questioning of his eagerness to lead an effort for the development of Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Gautam Buddha, in what they say is a highly non-transparent and unorthodox manner.
In this context, Gautam said, serious questions have been raised about the appropriateness of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's reported plans to visit Nepal in March to co-chair, with Dahal, an international meeting for the development of Lumbini.
The people of Nepal and Buddhists all over the world are happy to know that the secretary-general has taken a special interest in the development of Lumbini, declared a World Heritage site by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), he said.
The main rationale for U.N.'s involvement in Lumbini is to spread the culture of peace, not to condone the glorification of violence, said Gautam.
"If Ban Ki-moon were to consider co-chairing a meeting with Dahal, he must insist on the latter and his party to first officially renounce the use of violence as a method of political change in the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations," he added.
For the secretary-general of the UN to co-chair an international meeting with a political leader who has refused to renounce violence would be contrary to the spirit of the U.N. Charter, and to do so at a holy religious site would be a sacrilege insulting not just peace- loving Nepalis but followers of Buddhism around the world, he said.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva told IPS, "We are concerned about the branding of these human rights defenders as 'the people's enemies' by a magazine affiliated with the ruling political party in Nepal.
"The government of Nepal has a duty to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens, particularly those of human rights defenders, who are frequently at greater personal risk because of their efforts to support human rights. At this critical stage of the peace process in Nepal, it is very important that the space for human rights defenders is not narrowed or threatened."
Note: After posting this, Kanak Mani Dixit contacted me with the following comment:
"...indeed they [the Maoists] have threatened. What IPS has got wrong in the headline is that we have sought security, which is not true. We are instead challenging the Maoist leadership for promoting and condoning incitement such as this, which is meant to cow down independent thinking throughout the districts. We are just the Kathmandu-based guineapigs."