12.23.09

Senate Floor Statement On The Deteriorating Situation in Nepal

Mr. LEAHY.   Mr. President, over the years, both during and since the end of the monarchy in Nepal, I have urged the Nepal Army to respect human rights and cooperate with civilian judicial authorities in investigations of its members who abuse human rights.  I spoke on this subject a few days ago in relation to the horrific case of Maina Sunuwar, a 15 year old Nepali girl who was tortured to death by Nepal Army officers who then sought to cover up the crime.

I have also, similarly, urged the Maoists to stop committing acts of violence and extortion against civilians, respect human rights, and work to improve the lives of the Nepali people through the political process.  The fact that the Maoists laid down their arms and entered into a peace agreement gave the Nepali people the first chance in Nepal’s history to build a democratic government that is responsive to their needs.

It is therefore disheartening that the Maoists continue to engage in tactics that serve little purpose but to make the lives of the Nepali people, already difficult, even harder.  They have just staged their latest general strike, which for the past three days crippled Nepal’s economy.

For three days, Nepal, already a poor country, neither imported nor exported goods through its land entry points, causing a significant loss of revenue.  Tourism, one of Nepal’s most important sources of income for hotels, shops, transport, restaurants, and guide services, has been damaged. The garment industry, also among Nepal’s largest, was brought to a halt.  And there is the risk that foreign companies will decide that Nepal is still too unstable, and look elsewhere to invest.

What possible good does this kind of protest do?  It angers and hurts the very people whose interests the Maoists claim to serve.  In fact, it hurts poor people the most, because they and their children do not have savings, and go hungry.  And it can hardly make other political parties more likely to accede to the Maoists demands.  

The latest news is that the Maoist leaders have threatened an indefinite national strike unless the government puts in place within a month a unity government headed by the Maoists.  This kind of ultimatum, which has no place in a democracy, would be disturbing enough if it were not for the fact that the Maoists headed a coalition government last year after winning national elections, only to leave the government in May when it failed to replace the then Army Chief of Staff.

I also felt that Nepal needed a new Army Chief who was not tainted by past abuses, but for the Maoists to quit the government and then accuse the President of forcing them to do so when their demands were not met, was irresponsible.  Today, in fact, Nepal has a new Army Chief.  Time will tell if he is the right person for the job.

As an observer of developments in Nepal, I have been encouraged by the positive steps the country has taken since the events that led to the end of the monarchy.  But the desires that led to that courageous demonstration of popular will remain unfulfilled.  The institutions of democracy are barely functioning and the political situation continues to deteriorate.  Only five months remain until the deadline for drafting a new constitution, and growing distrust between the political parties threatens to derail the peace process.  Indeed, the political parties have often seemed more concerned with promoting their own interests than with addressing the needs of the Nepali people.  The Army has yet to reform.  Thousands of Maoist ex-combatants need to be demobilized and trained for jobs in the civilian workplace.  Unless the political parties take decisive steps to work together to address these issues the situation will go from bad to worse, and at some point the Nepali people may again take matters into their own hands.

In the meantime, the periodic economic shutdowns and acts of violence and intimidation perpetrated by the Young Communist League, cause one to question whether the Maoist leaders understand or accept the responsibilities that are inherent in a democracy.   Rather than orchestrating acts of collective punishment to try to force a result, the Maoists need to earn the public’s trust and respect.  There is also the responsibility to exercise power in a manner that strengthens, not erodes, popular support.  So far, the Maoists have failed to demonstrate a capacity for either.

The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) today remains a designated foreign terrorist organization under U.S. law.  I am among those who would like to see that designation lifted, as I believe the U.S. could, through technical assistance and exchange programs, help the Maoist leaders to better understand the benefits of working constructively within the democratic process on behalf of the Nepali people.  But the fact remains that having engaged in acts that got them onto the list in the first place, they need to demonstrate that they have abandoned those tactics and are accountable to the people.  Organizing harmful strikes that serve no logical or legitimate purpose, encouraging acts of violence, refusing to punish its own members who committed atrocities, and making threats, are not consistent with a responsible political organization.

Mr. President, poverty and injustice have been a fact of life in Nepal for centuries.  Three and a half years ago the Nepali people rose up against a corrupt, abusive monarchy and demanded something better.  They are still waiting, but they will not wait forever.  Like Nepal’s other political parties, the Maoists will be judged by what they deliver.

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