Lessons Learned from Nepal’s People’s Victory 2006
After successfully ousting Tunisian and Egyptian tyrannical regimes, the oppressed masses have taken to the streets of numerous cities in the Arab World with the hope that change for freedom is possible. The Arab world has a long history of frozen conflicts, but from the gravity of events in the first quarter of 2011, it has already been a year of people’s uprising. The North Africa and Middle East civil resistance are an unprecedented revolutionary wave. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and so forth have been centers of historical consequence for the revolutions. The civilian unrest campaigns of strikes, marches, rallies, captures and demonstrations. Tunisia’s Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation has been an ignition of Jasmine Revolution.
The unemployed, frustrated and alienated youths initially mobilized the youth movement over the internet, simply called “cyber warfare”. Through this fast medium of collaboration, masses organized to liberate the people from unjust regimes, first on the streets of Tunisia. The authoritarian regimes used their old structured strategies of theocracy and imposed or further tightened the state of emergency in an attempt to continuously hold on to power. Professionals from various walks of life joined the protests for different reasons and voicing grievances of identity (religion, region, class, ethnicities, etc.), resources (narrow down the gap between rich and poor; stop widespread unemployment, rampant official and non-official corruptions and inflation); democratization (inclusive participation); sovereignty and respect (protection and promotion of fundamental human rights and freedoms). The “Sturm und Drang” is spreading extensively in the Arab World which has been pursing authoritarian regimes since the Third Wave democracy in 1974.
The principal purpose of this article is to express our solidarity and to share Nepal’s experience of the popular movement and explore if it can be of support to the emancipation of the Arab World. Emancipation entitles “equal status of individuals (citizens) in relation to the state, equality before and under the law, adult franchise, regardless of religion, sex, culture, class, property (poor and rich),” and so forth. History has witnessed that emancipation is achieved not by begging but by snatching the rights.
2. Fertile ground for the People’s Victory in Nepal
On February 1, 2005 at 10 AM, the historic Royal Proclamation (RP) was broadcast to the nation where the then King Gyanendra sacked the 7-month old council of ministers, headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba, as being termed incapable and insincere once again to restore peace and security and hold parliamentary elections in the country. The King assumed the executive powers, declared a state of emergency (SoE), and announced a new council of ministers under his chairmanship.
Despite the acute needs of the country and people’s aspirations, the King included outturned and detested politicians and bureaucrats in his royal government. Most of the appointees in the cabinet were more than 60 years old. Both the vice-chairmen were in their 80s and had worked under the late King Mahendra. The incumbent royalist government constitutes a ‘rule of septuagenarians’ or ‘rule of technically dead-men (individual who lives after country’s life expectancy)’. They naturally lacked clear-cut vision, priority, policy, and process. Except a few, all of them embodied a deep-rooted feudal character rather than having a democratic make up and institutional politics. Individuals above 60 are cherished to live in the past and recall his/her experiences and activities, whereas the crisis overwhelms those between the ages of 16 and 50 who account for more than 50 percent of the population and were being inspired towards a Republican State of Nepal. They considered that only in a republic would their basic needs and rights be met. The writer in his book on Politics of People’s War and Human Rights in Nepal (2005) said, “Now the question arises, how can the King’s government fulfill the needs and aspirations of the youths. Ignoring them will only mean preparing the ground for an early abolition of monarchy before 2011.” However, the forecast became true while Nepal announced Republican Nepal formally wiping 240-year old monarchy out in May 2008.
The announcement of SoE suspended all constitutional fundamental rights and civil liberties. The Absolutism allowed for the arrest of anybody and incommunicado detention. Prior to the King’s proclamation, all members of the council of ministers had either been kept under house arrest or in incommunicado detention contrary to the institutional values of constitution and genuine democracy. An arrested person might be detained in prison for 180 days without interrogation and the period might further be extended to 180 days more, with the endorsement of the Home Ministry. The courts, including the apex court, faced constitutional dilemma in dispensing of constitutional rights. Anybody visiting a place outside Kathmandu valley and district headquarters realized that the people there were living in another Nepal due to the absence of the government’s functionaries.
Gradually, the government freed the prominent leaders, at times on the writ of habeas corpus. But vibrant student leaders and party professionals were subsequently re-arrested immediately after their release by order of the courts. The security forces continually arrested demonstrators – by the dozen – in daily protests against the direct rule of the monarch.
Political parties who had been opposing the royal regression since October 4, 2002, reached consensus on May 9, 2005, on a one-point agenda for the revival of the dissolved House of Representatives (HoR) to resolve the ongoing political crisis and to rectify the derailment of the constitution.
Any interview, article, news story, notice, view or personal opinion that went against the letter and spirit of Royal Proclamation or supported the Maoists directly or indirectly had been banned for six months. Both of the state-controlled print and electronic media reported that the security forces had won a major victory against the Maoists, whereas in fact the size and strength of the Maoists had been increasing each day. The censorship of news, views, analysis, and opinion in newspapers, periodicals, and FM radio, as well as the arrest of journalists constituted gross violations of the right to information. The restrictions on media led to approximately 1,600 staff dismissals (IFJ: February 20, 2005).
National and international human rights institutions severely criticized the king’s move and asked international donors and financial institutions to suspend military assistance to Nepal until the king adhered to the rule of law, upheld respect for human rights, freed political detainees, and restored democratic dispensation as a way out of both the violent and non-violent conflicts. Several human rights organizations, namely London-based Amnesty International, USA-based Human Rights Watch, Asian Human Rights Commission, International Commission for Jurists (ICJ), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), etc. had visited Nepal to express solidarity for democracy. AI’s General Secretary, who held a press conference in New Delhi after visiting Nepal, called upon the donors not to provide military aid to Nepal unless the record of human rights was improved and fundamental rights were reactivated.
India suspended the military assistance to Nepal and declared a strong commitment for multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy in Nepal. However, it resumed supplying non-lethal arms on May 9, 2005, while US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christian Rocca was visiting Nepal. On February 23, the British Government formally announced suspension of military assistance to Nepal in the light of the disturbing situation. The British government urged the king to restore representative government and democratic freedom as essential steps toward sustainable peace.
Due to the changed political situation and the lack of strong commitment to a government of elected representatives’ and decentralization measures, the World Bank cancelled Rs.5 billion of development assistance to Nepal. Similarly, the European Union members reiterated calls for the restoration of multiparty democracy, fundamental rights, and constitutional monarchy. Denmark and Swedish governments suspended their bilateral assistance and urged for the restoration of democracy and human rights. However, the Danish government vowed to continue to work with the civil society and non-government institutions. As a rebuff against the king’s democracy, the country’s foreign aid was scaled down for the fiscal year 2004/05 by 37.5 percent to Rs.12 billion, which included both loans and grants (Kathmandu Post:April 21, 2005).
The absolute monarch followed the same model in which the military dictator Pervez Musharraf had been using in Pakistan. The constant tussle between him and the democratic forces proved that it was very hard for both democracy and monarchy to function together at the same time in Nepal. The re-assumption of executive powers from the elected government on October 4, 2002, the oppression to political parties, suspension of constitutional rights, deaf ear to pressure from the international community, etc. finally made a fertile ground for the signing of the unprecedented historic 12-point memorandum of understanding between the two extreme forces – parliamentary Seven Party Alliance (SPS) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) on November 21, 2005 in New Delhi for restoration of peace, security and parliamentary system of democracy.
3. Nineteen-Day April Uprising in Nepal
The spark of self-immolation “death for liberation” was similar to a motion of the cadres of the Maoists, where they conducted the People’s War (February 1996 to May 2006): “martyr if they are killed or liberation if they survive.” During the ten years of armed conflict, a total of 16,200 people were extrajudicially killed leaving thousands of disappearances and IDPs, tens of hundreds injuries, and no account of arbitrary arrest and detention and inhumane tortures.
The 12-point understanding firmly proposed a peaceful transition for the sake of democracy, peace, prosperity, social advancement in a free and sovereign Nepal. It agreed to restore parliament to form an all-party government, with complete authority to hold elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA), through dialogue and understanding conduct a national political conference of the agitating democratic forces to form an interim government for CA elections. It confined the armed Maoist force and the royal army under the supervision of the UN or any other reliable agency, so as to conclude the CA elections in a free and fair manner. The CPN (Maoist) for the first time publicly accepted the democratic norms and values like competitive multiparty system of governance, civil liberties, human rights, rule of law and fundamental rights. The understanding accepted to launch a civil disobedience called Loktantric Janaandolan (People’s Movement) II in April 2006 to declare Republican Nepal from authoritarian Kingdom. This section has been analyzed based on participant observation of the writer himself, his unpublished diary and Newspapers, mainly the Kathmandu Post daily.
The SPAM (Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists) announced 5-day nationwide general strikes in the name of People’s Movement II starting from April 6, 2006. April 6 is the day announced by the CPN (Maoist) as “black-day” since the announcement of end of the People’s Movement I (April 6, 1990) by the major political parties while the then King Birendra agreed to deliver multiparty democracy in Nepal. The United Leftist Front (ULF), led by the present of CPN (UML) and Nepali Congress (NC) accepted the proposal, but communist revolutionary wing such as United National People’s Movement (UNPM) headed by the present CPN (Maoist) outrightly rejected the King-UPF-NC agreement of April 5, 1990.
On April 4, 2006: The outlawed CPN (Maoist) announced an indefinite, unilateral cessation of military hostilities in Kathmandu Valley effective from the same night on the course of People’s Movement II. The statement signed by Prachanda stated that the People’s Movement II was to expose an autocratic, feudal group that is conspiring to set free white military terror on peaceful demonstrations in the Kathmandu, under the pretext of countering Maoist penetration. It was welcome by all International communities, civil society and the SPA in Nepal. The government imposed curfew at the night time along the highways and adjourning districts of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. Besides this, the government amended the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Punishment and Control) Ordinance (TADO), adding new provisions that the actions of the Maoists in assisting demonstrations would be considered as a “crime related to terrorism and disruption” and it also restricted dissemination of Maoist-related information punishable under the same ordinance.
On April 5: The Local Administration of Kathmandu and Lalitpur districts once again issued notices banning all kinds of public gatherings and protest programs inside the Ring Road (27-km) area until further notice issued. Despite the unilateral suspension of Maoist military hostilities, announcements accepting the request of European Union and other international communities to announce the truce, the Government rejected saying “ceasefire is poly to topple the government.” The Government arrested more than five dozen protesters from protest programs organized at various places to crackdown pro-democracy activities. The Government ordered local authorities and security agencies to stop long-route buses from carrying passengers to the capital fearing the pro-democratic movement.
On April 6: On the first day of the great general strikes, Nepal police used excessive force to repress peaceful rallies of professionals, political parties and students defying the Government announcement of the ban. Thirteen lawyers (including Nepal Bar president and vice president), five professors, three doctors, 24 journalists, and others were arrested from the rallies. The Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur districts local authorities distributed pamphlets saying that the terrorists are actively participated in the strike and requested that people abstain from taking part in the strike. The local authorities imposed a night curfew for an indefinite period.
On April 7: Normal lives of the people were severely crippled throughout the country, including major cities. The rallies remained tense due to agitation between the demonstrators and the police. Agitated protestors set fire to about dozen vehicles and police arrested more than 450 demonstrators.
On April 8: The major demonstrations turned ugly as the government declared a day-long curfew in Kathmandu valley and other major cities. While the protesters disobeyed, at demonstrations police brutally attacked them where more than one hundred were seriously injured. However, the SPA, including professionals, extended the general strikes for an indefinite period and appealed the people to come out on to the streets and make success of the ongoing strike and restoration of movement for democracy.
On April 9: One day after the Home Minister claimed of rebel infiltration in the SPA demonstrations, officials from the OHCHR have found dozens of plainclothes soldiers, armed with grenades, at rallies to turn the peaceful demonstrations into violence. The Royal Government attempted to intimidate and infuriate the media industry; 111 journalists were arrested in the country since the people’s movement began on April 6. As well as the night curfew, the government went as far as imposing a curfew from 7.00 am to 8.00 pm in Kathmandu valley. However, demonstrators defied the curfew, initially mainly at New Bus Park, but then spreading throughout Kathmandu valley.
On April 10: The royal regimes resorted to brutally killing two more protestors and shot at dozens of others, with hundreds of injuries and arrests. As soon as news of the growing death toll spread, hundreds of thousands defied the curfew across the country.
On April 11: Civil servants came on streets in support of the ongoing indefinite general strike. The employees of Nepal Telecom launched protests demanding resumption of mobile phone networks. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists staged a protest rally in the capital defying prohibitory orders. The tourists also organized a rally in Pokhara, 150 km west of Kathmandu valley and at Thamel in Kathmandu. Police also clashed with tourists.
On April 12-15: King’s message on the occasion of the Nepalese New Year’s Day (April 13) did not disclose anything positive to resolve the current crisis. His statement reiterated all political parties to join in a dialogue and contribute towards activating democracy. Cops opened fire on a poem recital at the street. Meanwhile, doctors, artists, engineers, professors, rights activists, and civil society members organized various street protest programs such as singing, dancing, poem competition, etc. defying the government ban on rallies. The NHRC directed the government to summon a senior police SSP at their premise on the firing incident. Police also fired at the lawyers’ rallies where half dozen were injured. The IFJ requested UNSG Kofi Annan to apply pressure on King to reinstate democracy and human rights in Nepal.
On April 16-18: Massive rallies were organized on ring road. Nationwide protests strengthened defying the curfew. The family members of the security forces also joined with the massive movements. Thousands of villagers also participated in rallies in major cities, walking a long distance. The army opened fired on protestors in Arghakhanchi, causing dozens of injuries. Thanking citizens from all walks of life for their massive participation in the ongoing movement for democracy, Joint People’s Movement Central Coordination Committee (JPMCC) announced fresh protest programs. The king consulted with the ambassadors of the India, China and USA. Indian PM conducted the discussion with his cabinet ministers on Nepal. Army firing killed protestor in Bara. Local authority announced 90-day detention for arrested journalists.
On April 19: Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh sent a Special Envoy Dr Karan Singh to Nepal accompanying Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran to discuss with king and SPA leaders on April 19. American Ambassador James F Moriarty was summoned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for his favor in the democratic movement. More than three dozen public servants were arrested. Protests turned to festivities, singing Shanti lyaunchha janatako boli le; Bichar rokna sakdaina goli le (People’s voice will bring peace, bullets cannot subdue our resolve)” (Kathmandu Post: April 19, 2006).
On April 20-21: Army shot dead two protestors in Jhapa, eastern Nepal. Eighteen hour curfew announced in the capital. Funds for the treatment to injured protestors continued to pour in. India’s special envoy Dr Singh said that the ball was in king’s court. Police killed three protestors at Kalanki, in Kathmandu. Curfew extended to 24 hours.
On April 22: King invited the SPA leaders for dialogue through live TV and Radios and delivered the name of the Prime Ministerial candidate. He also said, “We return the executive power of the country to the people.” He further stated, “The government therefore requests the seven-party alliance to recommend at the earliest, a name for the post of prime minister who will have the responsibility to run the government. The present council ministers will continue to function until the appointment of the prime minister” (Daily Times: April 23, 2006).
The United States and India heartedly welcome the king’s step as it was addressed on their grand design to oust the SPA from the Maoist clutch. The US spokesman of the US Department of State said, “We are pleased that King Gyanendra’s message today made it clear that sovereignty resides with the people.” It further said, “We expect the king to live up to his words, and allow the parties to form the government.” India’s special envoy Karan Singh said, “I think it is the right thing to do to defuse the situation. Now the political parties have to shoulder the responsibility and take the process forward. The sooner that can happen the better it will be.” However, the SPA leaders vowed to continue movement until the king addressed their roadmap to peace, democracy and the demands of the people on the streets.
On April 23: The UN and UK also welcomed the address. Kofi Annan said, “It is up to the parties to work out the modalities for the transfer of power in a timely, orderly and responsible manner.” UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Dr Kim Howells, said: “We call upon the political parties to work constructively together to establish this government. We call upon the security forces to work closely with whatever democratic government is formed to restore peace and stability in Nepal.”
On April 24-25: Hundreds of thousands of protestors came on streets denouncing the king’s address and defying curfew and barricades across the streets. The demonstrators dispersed at 3:30 pm only after it started raining. International communities were shocked seeing such huge numbers on the streets, which compelled them to rethink on their earlier stand. The security forces gave up their duties seeing the sheer size of the rallies. The security strategy was cleared to prevent the rallies from approaching the royal palace. Security barricades were kept at all important public service offices such from Thapathali, Tripureswore, Bhotahity and Lainchour to royal palace in the capital. About one million people demanded that the king restore the parliament and declare the elections to the Constituent Assembly in Kathmandu alone. The situation was too tense outside the capital where the local authorities defied curfew in more than five dozen districts.
Finally India compelled to ignore the two pillar policy – democracy and the monarchy, and obliged to support the civil unrest. India’s Foreign Secretary finally omitted any reference of constitutional monarchy in Nepal organizing an hour-long press conference in New Delhi on April 25. At the same evening, the king was obliged to address another roadmap prepared by the JPMCC. King’s second address said, “Convinced that the source of State Authority and Sovereignty of the Kingdom of Nepal is inherent in the people of Nepal… the on-going violent conflict and other problems facing the country according to the road map of the agitating Seven Party Alliance, we, through this Proclamation, reinstate the House of Representatives which was dissolved on May 22, 2002 on the advice of the then Prime Minister in accordance with the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal-1990.” Thus, Nepal finally declared a Republic Nepal from the first meeting of the CA in May 2008.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR-Nepal) expressed their serious concern over the excessive use of force by security forces against the peaceful uprising. The London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) urged the government to rein in security forces that were facing national and international criticism for using excessive force in the ongoing peaceful demonstrations. The Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Nayan Bahadur Khatri (appointed by king Gyanendra) directed the government not to use excessive force for arbitrary arrest of civilians and detention without sufficient grounds. The NHRC claimed that detainees were out of food and water, in poorly managed detention centers. The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “While maintenance of law and order is the responsibility of the state, security considerations should not be the basis for denying citizens right to peaceful protest – a right for which virtually all avenues seem to be closing”. Twenty-one demonstrators were extrajudicially killed and thousands were injured during the 19 days of protests.
The founding pillar of the People’s Movement II was the CA elections. The drafting of a new constitution and possible integration of Maoists army into society and security forces was the remit of the 12-point understanding. It was cautiously welcomed across the international community. However, the then American Ambassador to Nepal, James F. Moriarty, visited New Delhi many times and urged India and West not to form alliances between the extreme left the Maoist and the SPA, constitutional parties. In mid-February 2006, Moriarty delivered an address at a talk program at the American Centre, strongly criticizing the 12-point agreement. He stated that the uneasy partnership between the Maoists and the other parties as wrongheaded. Indeed, the US has a policy to rare and care the limited elites in power politics and ignore the great majority of the people in the world. This approach certainly extends to the Arab world too.
The Democracy Index 2010, which measures indicators of democracy, bolstered through the Third Wave in 1974 and fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, declines in recent years owning to financial crisis, called democratic recession, starting in 2008 notably effecting fully formed democracies. A remark of the ongoing people’s uprising in Middle East and North Africa, is that 16 out of 20 countries, have been practicing authoritarian regimes. Three countries namely Lebanon (ranks 86), Palestine (ranks 93) and Iraq (ranks 111) fall on the category of hybrid regimes albeit of Israel (ranks 37) in flawed democracy. The authoritarian regimes range from 113 to 167 ranks as Kuwait (114), Mauritania (115), Morocco (116), Jordon (117), Bahrain (122), Algeria (125), Comoros (126), Qatar (137), Egypt (138), Oman (143), Tunisia (144), Yemen (146), UAE (148), Syria (152), Libya (158), and Saudi Arabia (160) have been fertile grounds for civil unrest. Nepal ranks 108, Bangladesh 83 and Pakistan 104 in hybrid regimes whereas India ranks 40 and Sri Lanka 55, but China is ranked 136.
One to twenty-six countries are fall on the category of full democracies which represents 12.3 percent world’s population. The political freedom and civil liberties are respected in the full democracies with scores of 8 to 10 index values. The flawed democracies that include 53 (ranging from 27 to 79) countries with 37.2 percent world’s population score of 6 to 7.9 index values which conduct free and fair elections, but government infringes freedom and governance as their interests. Where elections display substantial irregularities and malpractice in state attitudes/structures toward opposition parties, they are considered hybrid regimes, scoring 4 to 5.9 index values. The hybrid regimes consist of 33 countries (80 to 111 ranks) with 14 percent population. This is a consequence of weak rule of law and an underdeveloped or weak civil society. The authoritarian regimes score 0 to 4 index values. It represents the second largest 36.5 percent world’s population in 55 countries, ranking 112 to 167. This is where political pluralism is either absent or heavily restricted. Such countries almost totally follow dictatorships. If Elections are conducted; they are not conducted in free and fair (Democracy Index 2010 by The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited 2010).
The full democracies are stable to improve relationship between people and the state, whereas flawed democracies are relatively stable. Hybrid regimes are poor in terms of people-state relations. Thus, authoritarian regimes are highly vulnerable (risk) to mass uprising aimed at ousting aged-old dictatorship. If the mass uprising of the Arab World cannot move towards more democratic governance and freedom rejecting dictatorial regimes, such countries are sure to experience chaos and bloodshed pursuing armed conflict or revolution. The conflicts invariably follow three steps: first, oust the existing regime, second, struggle for identities, and competition for state power capturing countries’ resources. While hybrid and flawed democracies can represent a progressive move away from dictatorship, there are many areas where if grievances remain unaddressed, peace is threatened through cyclical injustice and instability. In reality peace and conflict often recur similar to the peace-conflict lifecycle (Peacebuilding Approaches in Experiments with Peace 2010) for many years owing to violent attitudes and cultures. Second generation leaders inevitably replace warrior-mindset leaderships, to attend flawed democracies that can be developed further by a third generation towards implementing fully functioning democracy.
Bishnu Pathak, who holds a Ph.D. in Conflict and Human Rights, has been working at the Peace and Conflict Studies Center, (PCS Center, formally known as Conflict Study Center or CS Center) as a Director. He is a Convener of South Asia: TRANSCEND International and Board Member of TRANSCEND Peace University. His book Politics of People’s War and Human Rights in Nepal is a widely circulated volume. He is the author of a number of publications on human rights, UN, security, peace, and federalism including Nepal’s 2008 Constituent Assembly Elections: Converting Bullets to Ballots, brought out by the East-West Center Bulletin, Washington and Approaches to Peacebuilding with peace-conflict lifecycle in “Experiments with Peace” in October 2010, Oslo. I highly acknowledge to Copy Editor Mr. Joseph Bergson, UK.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 7 Mar 2011.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Lessons Learned from Nepal’s People’s Victory 2006, is included. Thank you.
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