In mid-December, Amnesty International (AI) released a report holding state security forces accountable for the wide use of summary execution, torture and disappearance in the past year; Al also questioned the legality of half the deaths of 4050 alleged Maoists in state counter-insurgency operations. The report equally condemned the CPN (Maoist) for its killings, kidnappings, torture and use of children, and called for international action to address the human rights crisis in Nepal. A look at Nepalgunj town in Banke district reveals the experience of ordinary people and members of civil society as the seventh — and by far the bloodiest — year of the insurgency renders communities in the western tarai fearful and suspicious, and leaves a trail of widows and orphans in its wake.
“Nepalgunj is more peaceful than Kathmandu”, a local woman says. “Other than one or two bombs, there has been nothing”. Indeed, night time curfews are imposed only sporadically, shops and offices are bustling, and the bazaar swarms with people going about their lives on foot, push-pedal riksaa, pony-driven tangaa, car, jeep, bus and bullock-led bayal gaadaa. The town has long been a launching ground for state and NGO development work in west Nepal. Since last year’s reinforcement of the Chisapani Barracks, it has also become a strategic—and violent—staging ground for security operations. In the span of a year, Banke district has seen 99 insurgency-related deaths—as compared to nine deaths in the six previous years of the insurgency. In the same period, 29 people were allegedly disappeared by the state—the highest number in any district. None of this turbulence is at first evident. The harvested fields near the town look idyllic, dotted with haystacks and crops of mustard and pulses. Development workers are even flocking to Nepalgunj, displaced from war-torn project areas. The pricier hotels see a constant flow of customers.
But a visit to the Bheri Zonal Hospital reveals the proximity of war. On any given day there are 20 to 25 patients in a special ward for insurgency victims. The patients eye all visitors warily. A skinny woman is a heap of bones in one bed. Two men have had both legs broken by Maoists. Others have broken arms, or burns, or burns to the eyes and forehead. Some men turn away, in no mood to expose their wounds or their stories to strangers.
The hospital’s superintendent, Dr Durga Prasad Pradhan says that many insurgency victims have nowhere to go after they recover. “In the past year I have come to realise the extent of our poverty”, he says. “The men have fled the villages. The women cannot farm the fields alone. Some patients beg to stay on because they cannot go anywhere else”.
Within the hospital’s compound ward stands a police constable, posted here to report insurgency victims. Dr Pradhan says that the police have never interfered in the treatment of such patients. He does not say much else on the subject. He does not need to. It is obvious that police presence prevents those affiliated with the Maoists—and those fitting Maoist profiles—from seeking medical care here.
The war in the countryside is embodied by the exodus of people making their way to the nearby Indian border posts. Local people say that up to 500 people from all over the western hills are daily leaving the country via Nepalgunj—some to take part in the seasonal migration for labour, but many to sit out the insurgency. “There is another group of displaced families”, says a man, pointing at a bus stop. He can recognise them by their baggage, which includes clothes and bedding, pots and pans and other telltale objects. Looking at the sheer numbers of people heading southward, one gets the feeling that the villages of the west are emptying.
Of those who do remain are growing numbers of widows and their economically vulnerable, psychologically scarred children
Bhandariya is a cluster of three settlements in the open expanses of Bageshwari VDC (Village Development Council or Committee), Banke district, a mixed settlement that came into being in the 1970s, as official policies encouraging migration from the hills made neighbours of hill and tarai castes, majority and minority religions and many small ethnic groups. Most residents farm their own small plots and sharecrop the lands of those better off
On the front porch of Mansaraa Budha’s house, the teenage daughter of the house is urging bullocks to mill around in circles, threshing grains from the hay underfoot. She is a dishevelled girl with hard, watchful eyes. She has good reason to be mistrustful. It was the visit of four Maoists six months ago that left her bereft of a father, and of the will to better her life.
On the evening of 2 June 2002, four unarmed Maoists had asked for shelter at Mansaraa’s house. “Maoists would pass by here often”, says a villager. “They would come and go as they please”. They had never stayed before at this particular house, but like other villagers before them, Mansaraa and her husband Prem Bahadur could not turn away these unwelcome guests: who, after all, would protect them if the Maoists turned on them?
The family’s clay house consists of two rooms, an alcove, and an attached cowshed. Mansaraa’s youngest son, studying in class eight, slept on the porch with the visitors. Prem Bahadur, Mansaraa, their two daughters and their daughter-in-law, six months pregnant with her first child, slept indoors.
Villagers say that a large convoy of security forces drove into Bhandariya in the dead of the night and surrounded the nearby houses. In the dark, they dragged those sleeping on Mansaraa’s porch to the front courtyard, making them all face down. They also stormed neighbouring houses, asking everyone to identify themselves and the men on Mansaraa’s courtyard.
Villagers say that the uniforms worn by the security forces belonged to the army. Some of the army men were visibly drunk, they say. When one of the Maoists tried to run away, he was shot dead. Mansaraa’s daughter—the one leading bullocks in the courtyard today—rushed out to see what was happening, only to be kicked and slapped around. “Are you a Maoist girl?” asked two army men. Maoists had in the past held cultural programmes in the area to attract young cadres. The men asked, “Do you know how to sing and dance?”
They let her go after her family identified her, but her face was marked and bruised. She was in such shock she did not notice that the army men were beating her brother along with the Maoists. According to villagers, they beat the three Maoists to death. They spared Mansaraa’s younger son’s life, but left him badly injured.
By this time Mansaraa had fainted. Her husband, convinced that he would be killed for housing Maoists, hid in a narrow space between the shingle roof and a tin sheet over the cowshed. There is just enough space there for one person to squeeze into. Army men hunted for him through the house, checking every grain vessel. When they found him, they killed him with two shots to the back.
They then hauled the bodies into an ambulance accompanying their convoy, and left.
The family was in utter shock. “What could we do?” Mansaraa says. “We stayed, we cried. No, we could not even cry. We were afraid someone else might come, something else might happen”. She is bewildered: nobody from any of the other houses came to see how her family was doing. The next morning, some villagers said that they had not heard a thing. They were too afraid to get involved.
The concept that citizens have rights—even if they are suspected Maoists—is clearly unfamiliar here. “If the Maoists had not stayed at our house, none of this would have happened”, says Mansaraa, unable to blame the army for what, by all accounts, amounted to her husband’s summary execution. AI’s report maintains that there may be a policy, among some units of the security forces, to deliberately kill suspected Maoists and villagers who house them. All execution is illegal in Nepal.
But Mansaraa does not work the legal niceties into her calculations. Instead she focuses on day-to-day survival. Her husband’s death has robbed her family of two bread-earners; for her youngest son left the village soon after his father’s death. Her daughter-in-law gave birth to a breached baby four months after that night. Word was sent to her husband, Mansaraa’s oldest son in India, but he did not bother to visit
Mansaraa’s youngest daughter is just five, a girl more serious than most children her age. As for her older teenage daughter, who was studying in class seven at the time of her father’s death, she stopped going to school the day after the incident. She will not explain why. Yet she is emphatic about her decision: “I will not go”, she insists. “I just will not”.
It is as though she wants to spite herself as a way of responding to what happened. That is all the power she has.
Immediately after striking a defiant pose, her hard look wears off. She lays her head on her forearm and suddenly begins to cry. And the mother, who has so far been stoic, also breaks down to see her daughter crying.
Across a stretch of fields is the home of Zaahraa Ali, another woman widowed by the insurgency. In her early 30s, Zaahraa must now support her five sons and two daughters, as well as her blind father-in-law and aged mother-in-law. Her house is as humble as Mansaraa’s. Her economic challenges are the same. Her emotional trauma is similar. But it is the Maoists who are to blame for her sorrows.
Some four months after the execution of their comrades in Mansaraa’s front porch, the Maoists set out to exact revenge on suspected informants. Villagers say that 35 to 40 Maoists, of whom five or six were armed and uniformed, entered this part of Bhandariya at 8:30 at night on 21 September. Amid blows and cuffs, they rounded up 14 men from the settlement’s Baniya, Sekh, Sharma and Mussalman families. The women were told to stay at home.
The insurgents made the men sit in the ‘chicken position’, with the arms looped under the knees and hands holding the ears. They shouted, “Saalaa, do you know who we are? We are Maoists. We will kill you all”. They asked if everyone understood Nepali.
A few of the villagers replied, “Only a little”.
Their captors announced that they were fighting for poor Nepalis, and that three rogues among them had caused the deaths of four of their comrades. They did not mention the names of the ‘rogues’. One by one, they stood each man up and wrote down his name, and checked his face by torchlight. They then told the men to go home and sleep
This they did with relief. But the Maoists had rounded up six men beforehand, and had taken them to a road outside the settlement. From their homes the villagers listened in horror to the sounds of laathi beatings and hacks of the khukuri. They also heard gunshots in the night.
They came out of their homes after the Maoists left, and found that the gunshots had been reserved for 35 years-old Shahzad Ali and 45 years-old Tribeni Prasad Baniya. Both men’s hands had been tied behind their backs before they were shot in the eye. Their skulls had shattered from the impact of the bullet. Baniya’s right leg had also been broken.
The villagers carried the four other tortured men back to their homes, and they took 70 years-old Chet Prasad Sharma, whose leg had been broken by laathi blows, to the Bheri Zonal Hospital.
Today the villagers do not speak much about what happened, though they insist that the murdered men had no political affiliations, and had no links to security forces. Baniya and Ali both operated rice mills, now closed. Their families are at a loss about how to make ends meet. Baniya left behind aged parents, a widow, four young sons and two young daughters. The youngest girl was just eight months old. Ali left behind a blind father, an aged mother, a widow, five young daughters and two young sons.
One harrowing night, spinning off from an earlier brutal night, has left 18 villagers bereaved and a whole village in shock. In this part of the countryside, this is what the ‘People’s War’ looks like.
It becomes chillingly obvious, visiting other nearby villages, that the past year’s sudden escalation of violence has polarised communities and strained social cohesion to breaking point. Living under siege, villagers now hesitate to get involved in the affairs of others, or to help neighbours in need, as they once would have. “When the dogs bark at night we know that either the Maoists or the army have come to the village”, says one villager, with an embarrassed smile. “But even if we hear someone calling we do not go out. We stay in our houses and keep quiet”.
Local people say that mistrust and suspicion is especially rife in ‘new’ communities created by hill migration, where families have shorter histories of living side by side. But even in the older Mussalman and Tharu communities, village parlance is peppered with terms such as ‘informants’ and ‘CID’ (shorthand for the Criminal Investigation Department). It sounds, from the tones that people take and the uncertainties that they express, that everyone is watching everyone else here, living with the terrible knowledge that by mistake or by design, personal, economic, social or political rivalries can be harnessed to fatal effect by those close to the Maoists or the state.
It is not hard, after all, to sow discord in villages. In Naulopur village of Naubasta VDC, Bhumisaraa Thapa, an aged widow blames village ‘CIDs’ for the murder of her eldest son Dal Bahadur and daughter-in-law Parvati in a raid at their home on 10 September that villagers maintain was carried out by the Armed Police Force. Fellow villagers had tagged them as Maoists. Bhumisaraa says that villagers had also petitioned the government that her youngest son be killed because he was a Maoist. Now he, as well as another adult son and adult daughter are on the run, afraid that they too will be killed.
Bhumisaraa now lives in penury with her youngest daughter and her orphaned grandchildren, one of whom was wounded by a bullet when her parents were killed. She swears that villagers are acting on personal grudges in turning against her children. “If he wanted to join the Maoists, he would have done so long ago”, she says of her youngest son. She especially regrets that he has had to flee. He used to want to go and work in India, she says. “But I told him: do not leave me. Your path will clear when I die. You can leave the village then”.
“Even if he has joined the Maoists now, it is because he has been given no choice”. She cries bitterly as she says this, cursing her fate and her enemies. And she mutters, more to herself than to us, “Where have all the friendships gone? We used to have friends amid the Jumlis from Jumla, the pahadias from the hills and the deshis from the plains. Where have all these friendships gone?”
After the state of emergency ended in August 2002, state security forces have come under increasing pressure from civil society—scattered journalists and editors, human rights activists, intellectuals and political workers—to stop resorting to extra judicial remedies, and to admit to mistakes made in combat. The fact that 73 percent of nationwide insurgency-related deaths have been caused by the state has led many to question the tactics being used; and the impunity with which security forces are operating is also highlighted in AI’s report as a “longstanding problem”.
This mounting cry against state excesses may allow idealists to hold onto the stubborn illusion that the Maoists, for their part, are purely out to empower the disadvantaged. The fact is, though Maoist excesses are fewer—and seemingly more targeted—they are particularly barbaric, involving cruel forms of torture. It is as though merely killing someone were not enough.
Nari Devi Chand’s house, a modest brick structure with a tin roof, stands on the dusty road running through Nibuwa village of Kohalpur VDC. She and her mother-in-law had gone next door to watch television on the night of 5 June, leaving her husband Bhoj Bahadur at home with their daughter and sons, when 30 to 40 Maoists swarmed the family house.
Villagers say that they included young children, teens, men and women — some armed and uniformed. They spoke in an unintelligible tongue. “It may have been a code”, says a villager who heard them say only, “khol, khol, khol” and two other words. “Or maybe they were speaking Kham”. They broke a streetlamp and warned everyone in the nearby houses to stay indoors.
Nari Devi’s teenage daughter, in the family house, heard people at the door, and asked, “Who is it?” The family did not know that Maoists were simultaneously attacking three other families in the village, bombing one house, beating a man from another house, and killing a man from a third house.
Here, the insurgents broke down the door, heading straight for Bhoj Bahadur. His daughter saw him crying, and she shouted, “Father, father!” He was pleading: “I will give you money, spare me”. The Maoists said that they did not want his money, just his life. “They tied his hands behind his back with mummy’s sari,” the daughter now says, with sadness but without anger.
They dragged 39 years-old Bhoj Bahadur out of the house, and announced that he was an informant who had caused the arrest—and subsequent death—of two comrades by security forces six days earlier. They chanted, “Kill the informants”, and “Long live Maoism” before taking him behind the house, where they shot him through the heart—but not before cutting off his ears, nose and face. The Maoists also pocketed a gold chain that he was wearing.
“My son was a simple man, he had not studied much”, says Bhoj Bahadur’s wizened mother Kalaasi, who cannot control the flow of tears from her eyes. “He never argued with anyone. We later heard that one or two villagers had turned against us, but we do not know if it is true.”
Bhoj Bahadur had been so badly battered that his brain lay exposed. His mother says, “There was no face. We recognised him by the chip on one of his teeth.”
The government has allotted compensation for this and the other families attacked that night, but the scars remain. “Every night I think they will come back and kill us”, says Nari Devi. She has placed two of her sons in an orphanage in Nepalgunj. Her daughter faints often these days, she says. “She is changed”.
Her daughter, sitting beside her, keeps her eyes trained down, revealing nothing. But a page of her school notebook, lying open nearby, says much: it is filled with poems copied in her neat handwriting, each one expressing a vast adult melancholy.
The brutality of the Maoists prevents even those who feel that social and economic transformation is long overdue in Nepal from supporting them. Working out of Nepalgunj, human rights advocate Govinda Bandi is emphatic about the culpability of the insurgents: “Their methods are especially cruel. There is no question that the state should control their violence”. But those means must be legal, he argues. “That is the only demand of human rights activists. We are not saying that the state must not fight Maoist violence. We are just saying that the state must observe rules, even in war”.
Yet talking to the town’s journalists, it becomes clear that the state has found it inconvenient, even unnecessary, to uphold civil standards. To begin with, by propping up the defence ministry as the only authoritative source of news on the insurgency, the government has made it harder for journalists to come by information. “Official sources do not talk openly any more”, says Ganga Sharma of Today Nepal, “and villagers are afraid to tell us what is happening”.
Added to this is the harassment and threats meted out by the army. One journalist says he was summoned to the Chisapani Barracks—described by AI as a camp “notorious for torture”—and threatened at gunpoint by a major there. Photographer Krishna Khanal says that he has destroyed photographs and negatives under pressure. A few reporters laugh—nervously, without mirth—about a colleague who would turn off the road whenever he saw the same major from Chisapani driving: he honestly believed that the man might run him over.
And do the Maoists ever threaten the journalists? “Sometimes we hear that they wished we had not written such-and-such”, says one journalist. “But it is mostly the army that obstructs our work”.
The journalists say that district government offices do little to protect them from the security forces. They also complain about the complacency of those in Kathmandu, including their own editors, who often do not publish what they write or edit it beyond recognition. Rudra Khadka of Kantipur says that he feels relatively safe, but those working for the smaller media houses feel vulnerable. “Kantipur and Himal Khabarpatrika will speak out if their own journalists are arrested”, says Krishna Adhikari of Spacetime, “but will they speak out for journalists from other papers?”
Janak Nepal of Samacharpatra says irately, “Look, we have said all this to people from Kathmandu many times before. We are sick of saying this again and again. Nobody is doing anything for us. Nobody”.
It is largely because local civil society is operating under such constraints that Kathmandu has remained confused—and largely silent—amid the bloodshed of the past year. How, if not through a free media, could Kathmandu’s civil society find out that underneath the surface calm Nepalgunj’s bazaar is abuzz with rumours of rape, torture and execution allegedly taking place at the Chisapani Barracks? How, if not through the unimpeded work of human rights activists, could Kathmandu investigate such allegations and form educated opinions? AI holds that 66 people have been disappeared by security forces in the past year, in what is a “pattern” of disappearances and unacknowledged long-term detention. By the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) count, the country is now 6781 deaths into the insurgency. How, except through open debate, can Kathmandu decide if this is the course it wants to follow?
Just as CPN (Maoist)’s Baburam Bhattarai’s recent claim to The Washington Times that the Maoists are practicing democracy among “millions of different classes, nationalities, regions, castes and gender” sounds like a whitewash, the ministry of home affairs’ claim that 93 percent of the 4366 people killed last year were Maoists sounds patently untrue. Maoists, being, well, Maoists, are not accountable to tell the truth to civil society. But is it really tenable for a legitimate government to falsify its excesses and lie about its mistakes?
The bulk of civil society is not, after all, keen to demoralise the security forces: this could only prove dangerous to the country. Their desire is to ensure that the state observes the tenets laid out in the 1990 constitution, and in the international treaties that Nepal has either acceded to, ratified or signed, which are: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969); the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (1976); the Convention in the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979); the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976); the Convention Against Torture (1987); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).
And the fact is that for better and sometimes for worse, Nepalis are a forgiving lot. If the state security forces did not, as a matter of course, resort to extra judicial remedies, people could exonerate genuine mistakes made in combat. If the army, armed police force and police stopped committing execution, illegal detention, torture and disappearances, they could even garner genuine community support.
How can this do anything but boost the morale of the security forces?
It is human nature, after all, to rankle at injustice. Seven months after they were subjected to mass torture by security forces, the men of Chaudhariya village, Sumsheregunj VDC, still bristle at the memory. Early in the morning on 18 May, two trucks, one jeep and a motorcycle of army men surrounded the village and raided the houses of three suspected Maoists. They found Jhurra Tharu and Munshi Tharu bathing at the local stream. Unable to locate Hari Ram Tharu—he had gone to the fields to defecate—they rounded up every man from the nearby houses and fields.
They made these 70-odd men kneel, and one by one stood them up, asking if they were Maoists. “If you did not know how to reply properly, they would set you aside”, says one villager indignantly. “They checked our knees to see if they were callused, to see if we had taken Maoist training. They kicked and hit us. Maybe 10 in a 100 were spared a beating”.
After an hour of this, the convoy left with the three suspects. A week later another convoy returned and raided five or six houses, tying and blindfolding the men and beating them in the process of identifying and arresting Faggu Tharu.
The villagers should be glad, one would think, that the suspects were merely apprehended, and not executed. But Chaudhariya is still smarting from the mass torture its men were subjected to.
How does this help the state’s counterinsurgency efforts?
Other such stories abound, unfortunately. 15 men from Sumsheregunj were tortured by Maoists on 9 July; two were killed. Two sisters that AI documented as having been raped at the Chisapani Barracks in April were allegedly threatened after the AI report came out. Villagers claim that official reports of certain ‘encounters’ have been faked, and that evidence has been planted in their houses by security forces.
Banke is 13th on a list of districts with the highest insurgency-related deaths. INSEC puts the death toll here as of November 2002 at 108: 99 of these deaths were caused by the state, and 9 by the Maoists. An alarming 99 of these deaths took place in the last year.
In nearby districts, the fighting is more intense, and the methods more desperate. Rolpa district, the heartland of the insurgency, suffers the highest death toll, with 1168 dead as of November. Rukum comes second on this macabre list, with 749 dead. Dang’s death toll is 340; Kalikot’s is 278; Arghakhanchi’s is 261; Salyan’s is 220; Achhaam’s is 219; Bardiya’s is 207, and Kailali’s is 173. Gorkha—place of origin of the Shah dynasty—is tenth on this list, with 169 dead. All these districts lie in the western half of the country. Killings by the state account for 78 percent of these deaths.
The destruction that lies further afield becomes grimly clear from a short trip to Bardiya district, just west of Nepalgunj, large parts of which are under Maoist control.
Of the 188 people killed by the state here is Rupa Tharu of Jagatiyaa village, Saurahawaa VDC. Rupa’s mother says she was nine; her father says she was 10; villagers say at most she was 12. She studied in class two at the village school, not far from the VDC building gutted in a Maoist attack.
At around 10 at night on 21 July, hundreds of army and policemen stormed Jagatiyaa, ‘ambush’ style. (Local people say that the security forces do not otherwise stray from the pitched roads of these regions). They surrounded a portion of the 100-house village, and for reasons that the villagers cannot guess at, headed straight for Rupa’s house, breaking down the door to the room where their family was sleeping, as well as the door to an adjacent room, where relatives were sleeping. The security forces then blindfolded Rupa and took her to an open area near the village well, and, according to villagers, shot her dead. “They did not even ask her name”, says a relative, as Rupa’s mother, Laksmi Kumari, listens on with a look of anxiety on her face. The relative says, “They just took her”.
The rest of the village awoke to the sound of the gunshots, but nobody left their homes. The army and policemen knocked down some doors and made four village men carry Rupa’s body, on a wooden bed, as far as her school. From there they must have carried the body to a convoy; the villagers did not see the vehicles.
Rupa’s family regrets that they did not even get to perform a proper funeral. Traditional Tharu rites would have food and money buried alongside the deceased to aid the soul’s journey across new realms. Two days after her death, Rupa’s decomposing body was released by the Guleriya district police, and lowered into the ground by two policemen in a grave they dug for her at an unmarked spot in the Bansi forest near the Indian border.
Rupa’s brother, Fulsing, four, and sister, Lauti, one and a half, have nothing to remember their older sister by save for a passport-picture negative that their father possesses. They will grow up to learn that their sister’s death was officially reported as the death of a 17 years-old Maoist as she tried to flee captivity.
How does this help to quell the Maoist insurgency?
In a paper published out of Nepalgunj, How Anomalous, a poem for the times written by Nishant Malla “Shuvechhuk” of Sitapur village:
Life seems anomalous, hard to describe
Like black smoke flying without aim
Like white dandelions drifting in the wind
Like a reckless bet placed at festival time
Like a flower that has withered without budding
Like a huge error committed on purpose
Like a tiny flower parched by a drought
Not that the area is paralysed by melancholy. Doctors at the 100-bed Bheri Zonal Hospital are treating twice as many patients, and despite budget cuts they have reserved six free beds for the poor. In the legal field, Advocacy Forum is working to ensure the rights of insurgency-affected families. Advocate Mandira Sharma says, “There just are not enough human rights lawyers in the country to activate the available national provisions and international treaties”. Still, her team is filing for compensation of torture victims and the families of those killed unlawfully, and habeas corpus writs for those who have been disappeared. Journalists, too, are testing the limits of what they can write, despite the risk this entails. And social workers are seeking ways by which they might slowly set things right. These are small efforts, to be sure—but they do point at ways in which the country may work towards truth and reconciliation.
Smack in the middle of town is a sunny house with rooms lined with new beds and warm blankets: this is a new orphanage—opened by an NGO called Social Awareness and Helping Activities in Rural Areas—for children who have lost their parents to the insurgency, killed either by Maoists or by the state.
The orphanage’s in-charge, Rameshwar Shah, says that SAHARA raises funds through a combination of individual donations and through a widespread ‘mutthi-daan’ system, or ‘the donation of a handful’. The organisation distributes collection boxes, asking that people place five rupees in them every day—the cost of a cup of tea. By adding to its initial run of 300 boxes in Nepalgunj, SAHARA hopes to eventually house 50 insurgency-affected children.
The first eight children—ranging from five to nine in age—are sitting in a room, now, horsing around in their time off from school. Some are alert and bright-eyed; others are bashful, yet others are screeching, laughing, throwing tantrums. They all have come from families headed by war widows. They have told the staff that when they grow up they want to be engineers, professors, doctors, lawyers, even journalists and social workers.
They do not, at this age, hold their families’ politics against each other. The SAHARA staff says that it will make sure they never do.
Excerpts from the AI report:
SINCE NOVEMBER 2001, the people of Nepal have experienced unprecedented levels of political violence. By the end of October 2002, according to figures made public by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Royal Nepal Army, the number of people killed in the conflict since November 2001 had reached 4366. This compares to around 2700 people killed in the previous five years. According to the same sources, 4050 of the 4366 were “Maoists”.
Amnesty International believes that at least half of these killings may have been unlawful. The vast majority of the victims were civilians targeted for their real or perceived support to the CPN (Maoist); others were Maoists deliberately killed after they were taken prisoner or killed instead of being arrested. In addition, torture is widespread and at least 66 people are reported to have “disappeared” since November 2001 after they were seen being taken into custody by the security forces. The total number of “disappearances” reported to Amnesty International in the context of the “people’s war” is over 200.
Human rights abuses by the Maoists have included deliberate killings of an estimated 800 civilians considered “enemies of the revolution”, hostage-taking for ransom, torture of people taken captive and deliberate killings of members of the security forces after they were taken captive. The Maoists have also been responsible for recruiting children into their ranks and using them in combat situations.
(The complete report is available at www.amnesty.org)