Update 00/01 on Developments in Nepal
13-06-2000 Operational Update
Nepal's growing Maoist insurgency has intensified over the past year. Its activities have led to the breakdown of government authority structures and the collapse of public services in areas of the most affected districts in mid-western Nepal, and have spread beyond this region to affect other parts of the country. With a growing impact on the country's development, the violence has led to increasing numbers of deaths, civilian displacements, and arrests. Fears of an escalation of clashes have been raised by government discussions of strategies to control the insurgency, including plans to reinforce police manpower, training, and weaponry. This document is intended to give an introduction to ICRC's activities in response to the recent developments in Nepal.
Economic, political, and logistic problems in Nepal
With a rising poverty level and little economic growth, Nepal is one of the world's poorest countries. Nearly half of its population of 21 million lives below the poverty level, with a large majority depending on subsistence agriculture. There is a sharp disparity in income distribution and the country's social and health indicators are amongst the poorest in South Asia.
A monarchy, Nepal adopted multi-party democracy in 1990. Attendant expectations for economic progress have been disappointed as a decade of unstable and short-lived coalition governments has failed to establish the stability needed for economic development.
With about 75% of its area covered by mountains, Nepal includes some of the world's most rugged mountain terrain. It is divided into three main geographical zones: the Terai, a highly populated fertile plain near the border with India; a central hilly region which is forested and moderately populated; and the rugged and sparsely populated high Himalaya bordering China. A poor road network makes many areas difficult to reach.
Origins of the insurgency
The insurgency began in 1996 with the declaration of the jana judha (People's War) by the Maoist party Samukta Jana Morcha . Starting in the underdeveloped and isolated mid-western districts of Rolpa, Rukum and Jajarkot, groups of insurgents targeted police stations, banks, and government offices and abducted or attacked individuals whom it designated as enemies of the movement. Using knives, hunting guns, and homemade pistols and bombs, attackers often forced their targets to abandon the area.
Maoist attacks have now spread to many areas of the country, even at times affecting Kathmandu and areas of the Terai. Since the insurgency was declared in 1996, the official death toll of related violence exceeds 1,200 insurgents, police, and civilians. Attacks have grown in strength and scope, involving dozens of Maoists, at times armed with automatic weapons. In villages where government control has faltered, insurgents have established parallel administrations. Several thousand civilians have fled their homes for more secure areas, and some 3,000 persons displaced in the mid-west recently demanded support from the government. Allegations of violations of international humanitarian law committed by both Maoist and government forces have multiplied.
Nepal's tourist industry has remained largely unaffected by activities of the jana judha , but a recent attack on a tourist site suggests that this may change, posing a threat to the country's most important source of hard currency. Government attempts to curb the insurgency through a combination of police action, increased allocations for development, and offers to negotiate with insurgency leaders have met with little success. The government announced recently that the army will be deployed in insurgency-affected areas.
ICRC response to developments in Nepal
ICRC action in Nepal focuses on the protection and assistance of those detained in connection with the insurgency and on the promotion of the respect of international humanitarian law among members of the armed and security forces .
In December 1998 the ICRC began visits to detainees held in connection with the insurgency. In June 1999 it established a permanent presence in Nepal by opening an office in Kathmandu. Currently a staff of 14 expatriates and 20 locally-hired employees is based there and carries out ICRC activities in the fields of protection and dissemination.
The ICRC began its prison visits in areas most affected by the insurgency, and has extended its reach to the whole country. Since the end of 1998, ICRC detention teams have visited a total of 41 of Nepal's 73 jails. During these visits they registered 513 detainees held in connection with the insurgency. By the end of March 2000, the ICRC had revisited 244 of those registered, and regular visits continue. In some cases the jails are located in very remote areas only accessible on foot and visits require days of travel.
A comprehensive report on delegates'findings in the course of these visits was submitted to the authorities on 25 April 2000. The ICRC is currently discussing the question of systematic access to police stations with the authorities concerned.
Humanitarian law training for security forces
Since the government has, to date, relied on police intervention to curb the insurgency, recent ICRC dissemination activity has given priority to encouraging security force respect for civilians by promoting th e inclusion of humanitarian law in police training. In April, the regional ICRC dissemination specialist conducted the first three-day seminar on humanitarian law and human rights law for 25 senior officers of the Nepal police. A presentation was also made to police leaving for the UN peace-keeping mission in Kosovo.
In 1997 the ICRC established a programme for the dissemination of humanitarian law to the Royal Nepalese Army. The regional armed forces dissemination specialist conducts seminars on humanitarian law for officers and cadets and continues to support army efforts to systematically include humanitarian law instruction in the standard training of all of its five echelons, from senior officers to junior ranks.
Supporting the Nepal Red Cross Society
The ICRC is also working with the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) to plan a first aid training programme for four district branches in insurgency-affected areas. It also trains Nepal Red Cross staff to carry out dissemination and tracing activities.