The recent Maoist general strike in Nepal was largely well-organized and non-violent, the United Nations human rights office in the country said today, stressing the crucial role of rights defenders in monitoring such events.
The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) organized mass demonstrations – drawing more than 160,000 people – across the country on 1 May, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and the establishment of a Government of national unity.
The following day, the party started an extended nationwide strike, or bandh, that was fully observed in nearly all of Nepal’s districts.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (<"http://nepal.ohchr.org/en/index.html">OHCHR-Nepal) said that although the early days of the six-day strike were mostly calm, incidents of violence picked up as the bandh continued and frustrations with its effects grew.
In a report issued today, it noted instances of the party using violence against people it viewed to be defying the strike as well as with representatives of other political parties and those alleged to be “infiltrators” among the UCPN-M protesters.
“The targeting of journalists by UCPN-M was also a cause for considerable concern,” with several media professionals having been badly beaten, the Office said.
“Despite frequently heightened tensions, demonstration organisers undertook measure to ensure that order was largely maintained with UCPN-M cadres,” the publication noted.
“Given the scale of the demonstrations, both in terms of the number of participants and geographical coverage, and the experience from previous similar-sized protest movements, the level of violent incidents was less than on earlier occasions.”
The events were monitored by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and rights defenders across Nepal, “largely without restriction,” with the Office collaborating with the Commission to share information and cover different areas.
But the publication noted issues of concern surrounding the deployment of human rights groups with links to the UCPN-M, with the large presence of these monitors often given “the impression that they are acting more as ‘human shields’ rather than as impartial observers.”
The Office voiced concern over how perceptions of impartiality “can have a detrimental impact on the perception of human rights defenders as a whole.”
However, it said, “there was an improvement in professional behaviour in comparison with previous demonstrations, and there were a number of occasions where the role of the organizations was viewed as constructive.”
Among its recommendations, the report underlined the importance of Nepal’s rights organizations to coordinate their work and to adhere to “the highest professional standards” in their duties.
Over the weekend, the Prime Minister announced he will step down after Maoists agreed to support his proposal to extend the term of the Constituent Assembly, which has been tasked with drafting the country’s new constitution.
The body was elected in May 2008, two years after the Government and the Maoists signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement ending a decade-long civil war that claimed some 13,000 lives in the South Asian nation.
Completing the drafting of the constitution – whose deadline was 28 May – is one of the main outstanding tasks of the peace process, which has recently stalled amid an ongoing political stalemate over key issues such as power-sharing arrangements and the reintegration of former Maoist combatants.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that he “commends all parties concerned, their leaders and the Prime Minister, for the compromise that preserved the country’s peace process, and for their commitment to national unity.”
The UN Mission in Nepal (<"http://www.unmin.org.np/">UNMIN), established in 2007, has been assisting the country with the peace process. Its mandate, which runs until 15 September, includes monitoring the management of arms and armed personnel of both the Maoists and the Nepal Army, as well as in assisting in monitoring ceasefire arrangements.