Leahy, Lion


U.S. SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY

CONTACT: Office of Senator Leahy, 202-224-4242

VERMONT


Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy
A Lost Year For Democracy And Peace In Nepal
February 1, 2006

Mr. President, one of the many things one learns as a United States Senator is that speaking out about autocratic, corrupt and abusive governments invariably elicits a response.

The victims of such regimes, including human rights and pro-democracy citizens who are often imprisoned and tortured, express their appreciation. Knowing that they have supporters half way around the world gives them hope.

The officials of those governments and their supporters respond differently. Knowing that they cannot honestly defend their ill gotten gains and abuse of power, they do what they can do. They attack the messenger. And they do so through distortion and outright fabrication.

I have made several statements about the troubling situation in Nepal, a poor country with the most majestic mountains on Earth, which has received too little attention by the Congress. It is a country struggling against a determined Maoist insurgency that has brought extortion, brutality and false promises of a better future to virtually every province.

And it is a country in which an autocratic monarchy has sought to consolidate its grip on power and take the country backwards after a decade of fledgling democracy.

One year has passed since last February 1st when King Gyanendra dissolved the multi-party government, curtailed civil liberties and imprisoned political opponents. He has ignored appeals of the United States, India and Great Britain, as well as the United Nations, to negotiate with the leaders of Nepal’s political parties on a plan to restore democracy.

When the Maoists unilaterally announced and then extended a four month ceasefire, the army and the palace rejected out of hand the suggestion that reciprocating could test the Maoists’ intentions and possibly create an opening for dialogue to end the conflict.

What we are witnessing in Nepal is, put simply, a struggle between the discredited, anachronistic past, and the possibility of a democratic future.

There is also a third possibility. A Maoist government that imposes its will on whomever remains in Nepal after a mass exodus, and which further destabilizes an already troubled region.

Predictably, those who have enjoyed the undeserved benefits of absolute power and privilege want to hold on to what they have. They seem to believe that the Maoists can be defeated by military force. As desirable as that might be, there is no evidence to support it.

Those who see the King’s repressive policies as reckless and playing into the hands of the Maoists, have risked their freedom and their lives by calling for an inclusive democratic process. And, as the situation continues to deteriorate, calls for a republic are growing louder.

On January 2nd the Maoists ended their ceasefire by triggering bombs in several locations. A few days later they killed 12 police officers in Katmandu. They have carried out attacks in Nepalganj and other cities, causing civilian casualties. A week ago, in an apparent attempt to derail the controversial municipal elections scheduled for February 8, gunmen who are suspected of being Maoists killed a pro-monarchy party member in the city of Janakpur. These brutal acts should be universally condemned. There is absolutely no justification for the use of violence to terrorize civilians or to disrupt an election.

But neither can it be said that the United States has an effective policy when it appears to amount to little more than blaming the Maoists and repeating over and over that the King should reach out to the political parties. He should, but for almost a year he has refused to do so and absent stronger pressure there is no reason to believe that he will.

It also begs the question of what is the legitimate role in the 21st Century for a monarchy that has squandered its moral authority and shown no competence for governing.

Three weeks ago, in the King’s latest attempt to quell mounting public criticism of his failed policies, the palace announced a preemptive curfew and a ban on political demonstrations. Since then, hundreds of pro-democracy citizens, including several political party leaders, have been imprisoned around the country.

Two weeks ago, the police used tear gas and water canons to break up a rally in Katmandu, and more political protesters were arrested. The former Prime Minister remains in custody after a widely ridiculed “trial” by the King’s hand picked anti-corruption commission.

The Nepali people want peace. But nearly a year after King Gyanendra justified his power grab as necessary to defeat the Maoists, they are stronger and peace is more elusive. As many others have said, the only viable way forward is through dialogue, including the Maoists, under United Nations or other international auspices, with the clear purpose of developing a broadly accepted plan to restore and strengthen democracy.

To those of Nepal’s ruling class who in various opinion pieces have distorted my words, mischaracterized my record and questioned my motives, I can only say that sooner or later they will have to face reality. They could help save their country, but not if they continue to bury their heads in the sand and malign those whose only desire is to see a democratic, peaceful Nepal.

Mr. President, Nepal is a beautiful country with a remarkable culture. Its people, as resilient as they are, do not deserve the hardships of caste discrimination, poverty and violence that they endure daily. The Maoists have shown no respect for the rights of civilians. But neither has the King shown that he has a workable plan to stop Nepal’s downward spiral. His decision to hold municipal elections has only widened the gap between himself and the leaders of the political parties who were never consulted, who see this latest move as part of a calculated strategy to consolidate his power, and who have said they won’t participate.

Far more creative and persuasive leadership is urgently needed in Nepal, including from the army, as well as from the United States, India, China and other friends of Nepal, to prevent a tragic situation from becoming a disaster.

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