BY MAILA BAJE
As a nation, we didn’t have a decent 2019. Our freedoms came under attack as the government proposed laws to restrict the right to freedom of expression and subject civil society organizations to greater restrictions. For Nepalis, Amnesty International only states the obvious. The rest of world may not know and should.
“Over the past year, we have seen the country increasingly resort to repressive methods to restrict freedoms. Journalists were arrested simply for doing their jobs, singers were imprisoned solely for the content of their songs, and civil society came under greater pressure,” Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director at Amnesty International, was quoted as saying in a news release on the organization’s ‘Human Rights in Asia-Pacific: Review of 2019’ report. Any Nepali could have strung together those sentiments into intelligible sentences, even if not so engagingly.
“The government has also failed to deliver on truth, justice and reparations for thousands of victims of crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations committed during the decade-long armed conflict. Migrant workers, a source of prized remittances, were not protected from abusive recruitment practices. And many people who lost their homes during the 2015 earthquake were no closer to finding permanent shelter.” Yeah, well, Patnaik sums up the year we lived through.
Details such as how laws like the Electronic Transactions Act 2006 were used to arbitrarily arrest journalists and artists or how three proposed bills on the media council, mass communication and information technology would further restrict the right to freedom of expression add urgency to the affair and amplify it for the widest possible audience.
Amnesty’s references to proposed amendments to legislation that would undermine the independence of the National Human Rights Commission and a new law that would restrict the activities of civil society organizations and subject them to more stringent monitoring cannot be good auguries for the new year and beyond.
“The new bills proposing restrictions on freedom of expression will damage Nepal’s regional reputation and violate its international obligations. These bills must be withdrawn or amended immediately to ensure that no one in Nepal is punished for what they peacefully say or write,” said Patnaik.
Now, that’s where we need to pause. Amnesty International overlooks one crucial fact: that 2019 was also the year when Nepal sunk deepest ever in the mire of the raging Sino-American rivalry. And in such a situation, reputation tends to vary with the predilections of the beholder. Nepal’s performance on the US Millennium Challenge Corporation scorecard underscores a priority widely at variance with that of Amnesty International. The Chinese, for their part, won’t say what they think, unless they really think they have to say it.
With such divergent priorities and preferences, you will always have different ways of looking at things. When Nepal can’t figure out its place and posture in the emerging world order, how can you expect us to please Amnesty International?
And Transparency International’s Corruption Index? How do you think a poor country is supposed to oil the wheels of its great federal democratic republican secular juggernaut? Are Nepalis really so fed up with democracy? Not if you ask the architects of our change, here and abroad. We’re still a beacon to the world.
Truth, justice and reconciliation may be building blocks for sustainable peace and development elsewhere. Our leaders perceive them as perilous threats to the political consensus we so urgently need to keep afloat. Truth, justice and reconciliation may be building blocks for sustainable peace and development elsewhere. Our leaders perceive them as perilous threats to the political consensus we so urgently need to keep afloat. The watchdogs can bark all they want – and God bless them for doing so – but we’re firmly marching on our path – even if we don’t know where it will take us.