By Shashi Malla
NEPAL: International Opposition to Sapkota’s Nomination as Speaker
Wilful Communist Defiance
In a stubborn show of its arrogance of power, the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has defied international public opinion and the global public square, and proceeded to elect Agni Prasad Sapkota, 62, as Speaker of the House of Representatives. As he was the only candidate for the post of speaker, he was elected unopposed.
President Bidhya Bhandari administered the oath and secrecy to Sapkota on Sunday.
Only until last week there had emerged hefty international opposition to Agni Sapkota’s nomination as Speaker of Parliament.
The International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International jointly issued a press release Saturday firmly opposing the candidacy of Agni Prasad Sapkota for the post of parliament speaker. These international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) urged the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) to reconsider Sapkota’s candidacy (Himalayan Times/January 25).
These INGOs very reasonably stated that the NCP should reconsider Sapkota’s nomination as speaker of the Parliament until there is a thorough and independent investigation. The question now is whether the NCP has the guts to go against the judgement of such reputable INGOs. They were prepared to go rough shod over domestic opposition, but international resistance and pressure is a completely different matter. The NCP is definitely in the soup and the matter cannot be brushed off as international interference in Nepal’s domestic affairs!
Sapkota has been accused of involvement in the abduction and murder of Arjun Lama long back in 2005 in Kavre. The case is even a subject of proceedings before the Supreme Court of Nepal. In March 2008, the Court had directed the police to register a case against Sapkota and to investigate the murder. But the police did nothing and law enforcement failed miserably.
Audrey Oettli, program manager at TRIAL International rightly stated: “Nepal authorities should not appoint to high office people under investigation for human rights abuses, when they could interfere with investigation [itself].”
Moreover, “Such appointments are yet another illustration of the government’s unwillingness to demonstrate basic commitment to holding perpetrators of conflict-era rights abuses accountable.”
Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director of Amnesty International, was very precise: “The government and political parties in Nepal are increasingly showing that they are unwilling, even incapable of delivering truth, justice and reparations to conflict victims.”
Their signal of impunity will further push victims and activists to seek justice internationally under universal jurisdiction. Instead of putting those suspected responsibility into positions of power, the government should bring them to justice in fair trials.”
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Nepal’s leaders know a transparent process is essential to ensure justice and accountability for egregious rights violations during conflict, but they keep trying to protect those responsible for abuses.”
Dilly-Dallying by the Supreme Court
Senior Advocate Dinesh Tripathi had filed a public interest litigation against Sapkota’s candidacy last Friday, saying the process of electing Sapkota as the new speaker should be stayed as a case had been filed against him accusing him of killing Arjun Lama.
The Supreme Court did not demonstrate necessary diligence and urgency as Justice Hari Prasad Phuyal rescued himself at the last moment, saying he had pleaded on behalf of widow Purnimaya Lama 8 years ago when she had filed a case against Lama. It is indeed a blatant case of justice denied.
Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher J. B. Rana is now expected to reschedule the pending case.
Tripathy has filed a supplementary petition demanding that Sapkota be prevented from working as speaker – a very reasonable and legal stipulation.
Region West Asia/Middle East
Iraq in Turmoil
Protests Continue Unabated
Iraqi security forces cleared anti-government protesters from streets and squares in the capital Baghdad and the south of the country last Saturday. This has stoked fears among demonstrators that their long-running reform campaign may be suppressed (AFP/Agence France Presse).
The protesters have been calling for snap polls under a new electoral law, an independent prime minister and accountability for corrupt officials and those who ordered violence against demonstrators.
More than 470 people have already been killed in protest-related violence since October last year, and there does not seem to be any end in sight, since the many parties, factions, groups and sects are hopelessly divided.
There has now been a major split in the political movement for badly needed reforms. The influential, populist Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has announced he would no longer back the youth-dominated movement, after he held his own mass rally that saw thousands pack the capital’s streets to demand US troops leave Iraq.
Sadr has been accused of paving the way for a wider crackdown by withdrawing political cover. By Saturday, security forces were using tear gas and live rounds to clear protest camps across the capital, leaving at least 19 protesters wounded. Security forces also stormed a protest camp in the southern port city of Basra at the top end of the Persian Gulf.
Rockets Hit US Embassy in Baghdad Again
Amid the ongoing protests, at least three rockets struck the US embassy in Baghdad, on Sunday. One rocket hit the embassy cafeteria, while two others landed a short distance away. At least three people were injured. This was the first time in years that staff have been hurt in such attacks (AFP/BBC).
No group has claimed responsibility, but the US has blamed Iran-backed Iraqi Shia-militias in the past.
Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi [who had recently supported a parliamentary resolution calling for U.S. troops to leave the country] condemned the attack, stating that the continuation of such acts could “drag Iraq into becoming a battlefield”. He is stating the very obvious, because Iraq is indeed already a war zone because of internal strife, US-Iran confrontation, and Iran-Saudi & Emirates tensions.
The US State Department said in its first reaction: “We call on the Government of Iraq to fulfill its obligations to protect our diplomatic facilities.
Recent attacks have targeted the embassy or Iraqi military bases where American troops are deployed.
Iraq has been dragged into a rapid deterioration of relations between Iran and the U.S. in recent months.
This included the killing of the top military commander, Major General Qassem Soleimani of the Irani Revolutionary Guards, by a drone strike on 3. January at Baghdad airport. At the same time, the US air strike also assassinated Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi who had commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hexbollah militia group.
As a retaliatory tit-for-tat Iran undertook precise missile attacks against two U.S. bases in Iraq. There were no fatalities, but over 20 American soldiers suffered severe brain concussions. Trump, on his part, belittled these injuries.
Key Role of Shia Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr
Powerful Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has organized anti-American demonstrations aimed at pressuring US troops to leave Iraq. His supporters were involved in widespread anti-government protests before the cleric called for the focus to shift to the US after the killing of Soleimani. Last Saturday, they began withdrawing from anti-governments sit-in camps.
We are continuing with our daily updates on President Donald Trump’s Impeachment Trial in the U.S. Senate. Please visit our online edition at: www.peoplesreview.com.np