Nepal: UNMIN Election Report No 2, 30 Mar 2008

Report
from UN Mission in Nepal
Published on 30 Mar 2008
This report has been prepared by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), in conjunction with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal. The United Nations was requested to assist in creating a free and fair atmosphere for the election of a Constituent Assembly, including through UNMIN's monitoring of the ceasefire and the management of arms and armies and OHCHR's human rights monitoring.

Conditions for Constituent Assembly election on 10 April 2008

Across much of the country, campaigning has continued in an enthusiastic and relatively peaceful manner, but a significant number of districts have experienced a surge in incidents involving clashes between different political party supporters. The main threats to peaceful campaigning were continuing acts of violence by armed groups in the Terai, and obstruction, intimidation and violence carried out by supporters of political parties against candidates and supporters of competing parties, as well as intimidation of voters. The gravest incidents during the past week were the killings of two cadres of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) in Kapilvastu and Solukhumbu, which bring the total number of violent deaths of Maoists since 5 February to at least seven; and the bomb attack at a mosque in Biratnagar which left two dead on 29 March . While the full details of these incidents remain unclear, the killings, violence and intimidation are stark reminders of the responsibility of the authorities and the political parties to create and maintain a conducive environment for the election. Also of deep concern are widespread reports, confirmed by UNMIN and OHCHR monitoring and investigation, of continued Maoist intimidation of rival parties and voters, with clashes between the CPN-M and the Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML), Nepali Congress and Rastrya Prajatantra parties becoming frequent. The 24 March recommitment by the national leaders of the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) to engage in peaceful campaigning and not to interfere in each other's electoral activities, while welcome, has not so far succeeded in having the desired impact. District-level agreements, while having a positive influence in some districts, are also often not being adhered to. There has been little or no reported progress on implementation of commitments in the SPA's 23-point agreement regarded by different parties as of importance in the pre-election context, including compensation to victims of the conflict, return of property and investigation of disappearances. UNMIN has intensified its monitoring of arms and armies during this crucial period, but there have been cases of Maoist combatants leaving their cantonments to engage in political campaigning, and in some instances in uniform and with perimeter security weapons to provide security for senior party leaders.

1. Violence by groups opposed to the election

The Government's invitation to four armed groups - the Madhesi Mukti Tigers, United Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (U-JTMM), Terai Cobra and Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha-Rajan Mukti - to participate in dialogue, and their initial acceptance (despite certain preconditions) was encouraging. However, violence and threats from groups declaring their opposition to the election have continued, contributing to insecurity and fear, especially in parts of the eastern, central and mid-western Terai. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated or were deactivated by police in several Terai districts including Sunsari, Morang and Kapilvastu. Some of them exploded near party offices or houses of candidates (including the Nepali Congress office in Kapilvastu and the house of a Rastrya Prajatantra Party candidate in Saptari) or during campaign activities (such as occurred with the Nepali Congress in Saptari). These incidents contribute to a climate of apprehension that is particularly acute in villages along the border with India. In other cases candidates were directly targeted by armed groups. For example, a UML candidate was attacked in Saptari and a CPN-M candidate was abducted in Siraha, in both cases while they were engaged in campaign activities. Other party candidates have reported receiving death threats by telephone, including threats by the U-JTMM against candidates from the Nepali Congress, UML, CPN-M and Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) in Kapilvastu. A voter educator was abducted by an armed group in Saptari on 22 March. There continue to be warnings of plans to derail the election and undermine the peace process through violent acts such as the assassination of political leaders, which would outrage the nation and the international community. The bomb attack at a mosque at Sarauchiya in Biratnagar on 29 March left two dead and others seriously injured. This deliberate targeting of a place of religious worship will outrage Nepalis of all communities, and the authorities should make all efforts to ensure that the direct perpetrators and any others responsible for this crime are promptly identified and brought to justice.

2. Violations of human rights and the electoral code of conduct

The gravest incidents reported in the last week were the fatal shootings of Maoist cadres in Kapilvastu on 22 March and in Solukhumbu on 26 March. The U-JTMM has reportedly claimed responsibility for the killing in Kapilvastu of CPN-M area committee member Shiv Kurmi. However, the Maoists have claimed that Nepali Congress played a role in the murder, and maintained the victim had been threatened by the Nepali Congress on a number of occasions. Reprisals were taken by Maoists against Nepali Congress property in the days following the killing. OHCHR has been informed that the police do not intend to pursue those already identified as alleged perpetrators until after the election as a result of political pressure not to do so. However, prompt and effective action in bringing the perpetrator or perpetrators of the killing to justice is all the more important given the recent history of communal tensions and violence in the Kapilvastu area. Similarly, it is imperative that the Nepal Police are known to be conducting a prompt and impartial investigation following the killings of two CPN-M cadres in Rolpa on 18 March. The clash in Solukhumbu on 26 March, in which a Nepali Congress candidate and supporters were also injured, also remains under investigation, with the CPN-M and the Nepali Congress presenting starkly different versions of the events. Both parties accuse the other of instigating the incident, disrupting their pre-planned campaign venue, using firearms, and inflicting significant casualties. Of particular concern is the allegation that members of the Armed Police Force (APF) or Nepal Police used lethal force where it was not strictly necessary or took a partisan position in the clash.

UNMIN and OHCHR have received numerous reports of incidents related to the electoral campaign, many of which resulted in injuries. The largest number of allegations received in the past week related to the disruption of UML campaign activities by Maoist cadres, including their Young Communist League (YCL). Assaults of UML candidates and supporters by Maoists were reported in several districts, including Baitadi, Dhading, Rupandehi, Siraha, Chitwan, Jhapa and Rasuwa. In some of these cases, UML members or supporters were not only attacked and beaten but also allegedly detained for a number of hours. It is of further concern that in some of these districts violent incidents demonstrated an increased pattern of premeditation. CPN-M cadres have also been accused of disrupting campaign activities of other parties, including activities carried out by Rastrya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and RPP-Nepal in Dhankuta and Rolpa, and by the Nepali Congress in Khotang, Rolpa, Lamjung and Makwanpur.

Reports of violent incidents involving other political parties include alleged assaults by MPRF members on Nepali Congress supporters in Sunsari, clashes between MPRF (Biswas faction) and the Sadhbhavana Party (SP) in Sunsari and between Nepali Congress and Terai Madhes Democratic Party supporters in Sarlahi, and an alleged assault on Maoists by Nepali Congress supporters in Tanahun.

Lower-level yet damaging threats and intimidation are widely reported. UNMIN and OHCHR have received numerous reports that during door-to-door campaigning voters are being told by political parties - particularly the CPN-M - that their vote will not actually be secret and that voters will face reprisals if they do not vote as instructed. Reports of this behavior were particularly prevalent in Gulmi, Kalikot and Agharkhanchi.

The recruitment of temporary police has concluded in most districts and newly-recruited police are now scheduled to undertake a single week of training. Temporary police were primarily recruited from local youth and students, mainly in their early twenties. There are reports that in several districts the major political parties played a significant role in the recruitment process, calling into question the principle that temporary police should not have party affiliations. For instance, organisations representing disadvantaged Tharu agricultural workers in the Far-Western Region have complained that many candidates from their communities were rejected in favour of less qualified candidates recommended by mainstream political parties. The government quotas recently established for increasing the access of marginalised groups to the police were not applied in the recruitment of temporary police.

In discussion with several political parties, UNMIN and OHCHR have heard of plans to recruit volunteers, particularly from their youth wings, to be present outside polling stations on Election Day. OHCHR also received reports from several districts, including Kalikot and Kailali, that the YCL is providing training to their volunteers. YCL members have stated that they need such volunteers to ensure the fairness of the process, claiming that the Nepali Congress is making use of State machinery and that the UML has the support of most civil society organizations involved in election monitoring activities. However a large presence of youth in and around polling stations on Election Day could escalate tensions and lead to increased intimidation and violence, and even the anticipation that large groups of youths are likely to be present could generate sufficient apprehension to deter potential voters.

UNMIN has also received continuing reports of misuse of State resources and unequal access to Government resources and police security. Smaller parties report that they are less able to rely on the services of the State to support them in campaigning, while without police protection some candidates feel uncomfortable campaigning in the more disturbed constituencies.

Some parties have expressed concerns about the use by CPN-M Chairman Prachanda of helicopter transport for campaign activities in violation of the Code of Conduct. Others have claimed that the use of Government helicopters for medical evacuation purposes has not been made equally available to all parties.