-  Thursday 01 October 2020

It is a fight between the King and the people

Wednesday 18, January 2006

Krishna Pahadi, Nepal's prominent human rights leader and founding chairman of the Human Rights and Peace Society, is the face of Nepal's wounded democracy and human rights. Hit Bahadur Thapa of ekantipur talked to Pahadi recently on the current human rights situation in Nepal. Excerpts:

ekantipur: How do you assess the human rights situation in the country in the aftermath of the King's Feb 1 move, last year?

Krishna Pahadi: The human rights situation is deteriorating day by day since the state itself is involved in extra-judicial killings, detention and torture of innocent people. And no perpetrators of these crimes have been brought to book so far. Impunity is a major problem. The King-led government is heading towards more dictatorial rule by imposing a media ordinance and the NGO code of conduct. The Maoists, too, have committed serious human rights abuses by abducting and killing innocent civilians and extorting money from them. Even the independent judiciary is under threat, as a result, it has failed to address some vital human rights issues. For instance, the Supreme Court failed to stay the implementation of the media ordinance. Both the Supreme Court and National Human Rights Commission have lost their credibility. The state has failed to address the existing problems, protect press freedom and human rights in the country. The government has violated many international laws and conventions related to human rights which it is a party to.

ekantipur: Who do you blame the most for human rights violation in Nepal- the state or the Maoist rebels?

Pahadi: We do believe in the rule of law and we are in favour of an advanced democracy. Our ideals are non-violence and tolerance. We oppose violence in any form. The Maoists declared an armed rebellion in 1996 against the state and have committed countless human rights violations since then. But we have always opposed such acts of the Maoists. The killing of civilians is not a solution. The state, too, as I mentioned earlier, has committed countless human rights violations and has failed to protect even the fundamental rights of the people.

ekantipur: How do you compare the human rights situation in Nepal with other third world countries?

Pahadi: I don't want to compare Nepal's human rights situation with other countries. All I can say is human rights should be considered as the people's basic rights in any country. Governments across the world are responsible for protecting human rights in their respective countries. Human rights are indivisible and universal. Unfortunately, human rights violations do take place in some parts of the world including civil, social and political rights. International agencies like the UN and Amnesty International are working for the protection of these rights.

ekantipur: In recent times, you have campaigned for democracy and human rights in different parts of the country. What has been the response of the people to your campaign?

Pahadi: I am really happy with the people's overwhelming support and growing participation in our peaceful rallies across the country. Tens of thousand have gathered to hear and cheer us. Our mission is to strengthen the political forces. We urged the Maoists and the parties to protect the people's human rights. We do not accept the Maoist system of rule, which is without the fundamental freedoms, human rights, and social justice. A true democratic republic is our only agenda. People in 1990 gave their mandate for that. I found huge support to our agenda when I visited Ilam, Dang, Sindhuli, Janakpur, Biratnagar and Mechi. People attended our programmes by risking their lives. When I was in Dang, the army fired blank shots at 8 pm to declare a curfew and to dissuade the people from attending our programmes. In Sindhuli, security men intimidated the organizing committee of the rally. In Mahendranagar, government-sponsored elements spread rumours that the army would open fire as soon as I'd start speaking against the King. Representatives of various professional groups including doctors, engineers treated us like heroes and freedom fighters and said that we were lighting candles in the darkness. We created a wave by staging various rallies and then the parties followed us.

ekantipur: Some say your speeches are more like a politician than a human rights defender, do you agree?

Pahadi: They are trying to sideline me by saying so. But such remarks do not deter me. I was jailed during the erstwhile Panchayat regime for advocating human rights. I was transferred to four different prisons at that time. When the country got multi-party democracy in 1990, I declared that I am a human rights activist and don't want any political power. We fully devoted ourselves to human rights issues such as the rights of the Dalits by staging a series of street dramas across the country. We urged the government to ratify the international covenant against torture. We mobilized the society. As per Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the will of the people should be reflected in the government. So, we are addressing the root cause of the problem and we say that the King is not the source of power. It is a fight between the King and the people.

ekantipur: In your speeches, you never miss the chance to advocate the issue of constituent assembly elections and the need for a republican set-up in the country. Why?

Pahadi: Constituent Assembly elections can open the way to the peace process. We have already lost nearly 13,000 people in the ten-year-old conflict. We don't want any more deaths. We want peace. What is the harm in going for constituent assembly elections? We know that in 1961 the present King's father, late King Mahendra, bulldozed the multi-party system and imposed the party-less Panchayat system in the country. And the current King is doing the same thing. After his Feb 1 move last year, he revived the Zonal Commissioners and District Convenors, the vestiges of the Panchayat system. He imprisoned all the leaders who opposed his move. His definition of democracy is ridiculous. History is testimony to the fact that monarchs have always wanted to grab power and mislead the people. Therefore, we are talking about a democratic republic.

ekantipur: The government accuses some human rights NGOs of being funded by foreign powers to intensify protests against the King. What do you have to say?

Pahadi: I think the royal regime is frightened by the people's massive support to the street movement against autocracy. This might have impelled this regime to falsely accuse the rights NGOs of being funded by foreigners. I also read about it in the newspapers. As for our peace society, we do not receive any foreign funds, as we do not apply for any funds. Some people have supported us spontaneously.

ekantipur: You have also made quite a few visits abroad in recent times. You went to various parts of the US and Europe. What message did you get from your visits there?

Pahadi: Actually I was invited to visit the US and the European Union by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience. I visited Ireland, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Belgium and the USA. I attended more than 26 meetings in Europe. I held a series of discussions with parliamentarians and media persons there. Wherever I went the people welcomed me like a hero, saying that I was a light in the darkness. In US I addressed more than 12 meetings every day. The Nepali diaspora living in San Fransisco, Washington DC, Texas and Boston welcomed me. I held discussion with several US congressmen and senators regarding our movement for democracy in Nepal. Both in Europe and the US, I found enormous support for our movement in Nepal. They asked us what type of support we wanted. I told them not to give us monetary support, but moral support. I am also planning to write a book on my EU and US tour. In London, the BBC broadcast an 18-minute live coverage about my activities. The people there treated me like a freedom fighter.

ekantipur: How did you feel when you were awarded an honorary citizenship of a city in Italy?

Pahadi: Yes, the Mayor of an Italian city honoured me with honorary citizenship for my contributions to the human rights issues in Nepal. But I did not forget my ground realities. I came back to Nepal to work for democracy and peace here.

ekantipur: Along with the key leaders of the mainstream political parties, you were put behind bars after the Feb 1 royal move. While they were freed after three months, you spent five months in detention. Why do you think they kept you in detention for a longer period? Were you more of a threat to the current regime than even the mainstream politicians?

Pahadi: Anything could have happened to me when I was in detention. Some security men told me, "You are gone for ten years."

I thank all the people who supported me and worked for my release. The autocratic government, perhaps, felt threatened by the type of civil movement we could launch against it at that time. To avert this (civil movement) they extended my detention.

ekantipur: What was your most memorable moment while in detention?

Pahadi: I never thought that the detention centre was a prison for me. While in detention, I found time for meditation and for writing four books. I have to publish them. I did Yoga and read newspapers there. I will do the same thing if I am detained again.

ekantipur: Now let me ask you a few personal questions. Why are you always seen dressed in yellow coloured clothes?

Pahadi: It is a symbolic movement against autocracy. Moreover, I have my own way of living. I have no personal ambition. This colour is also a symbol of sacrifice and non-violence. We want to develop the culture of non-violence in Nepal and we have a long way to go in this direction. We have to set examples for the new generation.

ekantipur: Sometimes you keep a long beard like sadhus and jogis, while sometimes you are clean-shaven. Why?

Pahadi: I have my own way of life.

ekantipur: You are still unmarried. It is said you have vowed not to get married ever. Why? Is it because you couldn't find a woman?

Pahadi: I want to remain celibate throughout my life

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