Nepal: Washington's Wait and See Attitude
on Coups and Human Rights Abuses
by Frida Berrigan
"We own the country," said a Nepali Army Captain while kicking a blindfolded student. He is right. King Gyanendra declared 100 days of emergency rule on February 1, 2005, dismissing his government, cutting the country's communications to the outside world and sending the soldiers into the streets to quell dissent. The press has been gagged, mobile phones are inoperable and human rights groups report extrajudicial killings are on the rise. In a March demonstration against the coup, the New York Times reported that Nepali police clubbed protesters in at least two towns and arrested 300 people nationwide.
The United States has long supported the Hindu monarchy's fight against the Maoists. Between 1994 and 2003 (the last year for which full data is available), the United States provided Nepal with more than $8.3 million in weapons and services, $6.6 million in 2003 alone.
Since 1996, ongoing conflict between Maoists and Nepali security forces has resulted in 10,000 deaths. In the past four years alone, local human rights organizations have documented 1,200 cases of disappearances at the hands of security forces and even before the royal coup that (among other things) prohibited speech or acts that "hurt the morale" of armed forces, Nepali security forces enjoyed almost total impunity. The International Herald Tribune describes the military and police as "poorly trained.... with a terrible record of human rights abuses" who are fighting a "retrograde Maoist movement that makes few apologies for its equally brutal killings and systematic intimidation and extortion."
After an attack at the American Center in Katmandu in September 2004, Washington ramped up its military commitment. Just a few weeks after the attack, in which no one was injured or killed, the BBC reported that a plane loaded with U.S. weapons and ammunition was delivered.
The Congress' Budget Justification for Foreign Operations asserts that providing the Nepali military with the "capability to prevail against the Maoist insurgents" is a high priority and specifies that the U.S. will deliver "M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, and M-4 carbines to outfit a new ranger battalion" In addition, Nepal will be eligible in FY 2005 to receive grant Excess Defense Articles.
For fiscal year 2006, President Bush is requesting $1 million in Foreign Military Financing, down from $3.9 million in 2005 and $2.9 million in 2004. Military training funds through IMET has increased slightly from $500,000 in 2004 and $550,000 in 2005 to a request of $650,000 for 2006.
While strengthening Nepal to prevail against the Maoist threat, Washington is be in danger of turning its back on the mounting human rights crisis in Nepal, undermining its ability to act to quell monarchist abuses.
Even as the international community-- including the United States-- condemned King Gyanendra's coup, Nepali and U.S. soldiers were shoulder to shoulder in joint military training along with soldiers from Uganda, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and India. The troops received training in unconventional warfare in a six-week course at the Counter Insurgency Jungle Warfare School in northeastern India. A February 3 article in the Xinhua News Agency quoted the Indian commander in charge of the school as saying, "the training is in full swing and the foreign soldiers are happy with the course." The Institute's motto is "fight a guerrilla like a guerrilla."
London and New Delhi both suspended military aid to Nepal after the coup. But Washington has been slower to respond. U.S. Ambassador James Moriarty was withdrawn from Katmandu following the coup, but the State Department plans to wait until the end of the 100 days of emergency rule to make a decision on economic and security assistance.
For blindfolded students beaten by soldiers, for protestors clubbed by police, for journalists and activists in detention and for the relatives of the disappeared, it is too long to wait.
Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center. A version of this profile in Nepal is included in the ATRC's forthcoming report U.S. Weapons at War 2005: Promoting Freedom or Fueling Conflict? For more information about the report, or to order a copy, email email@example.com