By Zaman Khan
Subodh Raj Pyakurel carries with him a vast experience of working with development and human rights organisations in Nepal. He is Chairperson of Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) and Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA). Besides being Executive Member of South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR), Mr. Pyakurel is also Chairperson of Human Rights Home (HRH), and Convener of NEMA (National Election Monitoring Alliance) and NCICC (National Coalition for ICC), Nepal.
Mr. Pyakurel has also served as member of the National Monitoring Committee on Code of Conduct for Ceasefire (NMCC) formed by an agreement between the Nepal government and CPN (Maoist) to monitor human rights situation during the ceasefire by State and the CPN (Maoist) in 2006. He was appointed member of high level committee to monitor composite peace agreement and other political agreements. One of the Steering Committee Members of the National Human Rights Action Plan and Spokesperson of Bhutan Refugee Support Group (BRSG), Pyakurel was at the forefront to observe and monitor the Jana Andolan (People’s Movement)-II that overthrew the autocratic rule of the king in Nepal in April 2006. His role in motivating people and media from around the country to oppose King’s unconstitutional takeover in the year 2005 has been widely recognised and acclaimed.
Pyakurel has the experience of leading human rights movements in Nepal. He was elected as the National Council Member of the first national assembly of Forum for Protection of Human Rights (FOPHUR) in 1984 and Central Committee Member of Forum for Democratic and National Unity (FODENU) in 1985. Pyakurel holds a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA) from Tribhuvan University, Nepal and has acquired a Graduate Training Course on Financial Programme Management from Programme Planning Centre, Bradford University, United Kingdom. Pyakurel was recently in Lahore where The News on Sunday interviewed him. Excerpts follow:
The News on Sunday (TNS): What brings you to Pakistan?
Subodh Raj Pyakurel (SRP): I am here on behalf of Forum Asia to study and get acquainted with the matters related to minorities in Pakistan and to have discussions with local human rights defenders, engaged in ensuring justice to minorities in Pakistan.
TNS: What are your observations?
SRP: In Pakistan, misuse of blasphemy laws, especially the Ahmadis issue is really shocking. And, personally, I feel very sorry about the situation of women in Pakistan, though we have seen that Pakistan has an established judiciary. Criminalisation of politics has been a major challenge for human rights defenders in some situations. We have seen disappointment and frustration among human rights defenders.
TNS: State and non-state actors, in many parts of the world, are violating human rights. And they are doing that with impunity.
SRP: If you see the statistics most human rights abuses are committed by non-state rather than state actors and a new kind of ‘criminalisation’ has emerged. That emerged in desperation. The reason is that politics is not clear. Politicians don’t seem to believe in educating people.
TNS: In Nepal, you have had different experiences, from monarchy to democracy. Why is there an impasse?
SRP: People give mandate to a political party in such a manner that until and unless more than two parties come together it is not possible to promulgate the new constitution or write a new constitution. Now the political parties do not realise and understand the basic essence of a fractured mandate. One party most responsible among others is the Communist Party of Nepal Unified Maoist. Maoists do have 30 percent seats in the Constituent Assembly. So, they were allowed to lead the government. But at that time they could not run the government. Now they are demanding that they be again given a chance to lead the government.
TNS: Why did they (Maoist) resign in the first place? Do you think it was reasonable?
SRP: It was a very amateurish decision. As per our interim constitution, there is a provision relating to the army chief. The provision says that the cabinet decides firing or hiring army chief. It makes the decision and the decision is forwarded to the president. The president issues the letter. But the Maoists fired the army chief and sent a copy to the president and asked him to endorse it. So, the president wrote back a letter to the prime minister asking him to follow the constitutional process. On that account, they felt very much insulted and resigned.
TNS: Have they not realised the gravity of the situation?
SRP: Till now, we have not seen that they have realised or they have any intention to realize that. This is the 21st century. This is not the age of capturing state power by force as was done by Chinese or Russians or Koreans or Vietnamese. Because in those times there was a feeling that there shall be a class struggle; state will be captured and the party and the state will be amalgamated into each other. That does not apply in the present world. During the 19th century, they captured the state and the whole state was for the party but, in Nepal, the Maoist party is reviving the same pattern of party operation. All the members, right from the secretariat officials down to the bottom are monthly-paid cadres. From where does the party get money? The present state does not allow money from its coffers. This is the reason the Maoist party cadre is seen heavily engaged in extortion, in capturing tender notices, making unholy alliances with contractors, builders and suppliers and even stopping development projects where contractors have not paid them the money.
TNS: Can anti-democratic forces or monarchy stage a comeback?
SRP: I don’t think monarchy can come back again. Anti-democratic forces under the guise of utilising people’s sentiments can play foul in Nepal that is true. Nepal is sandwiched between two giant countries, China and India. Both would not like to see a destabilised Nepal.
TNS: Some people say India is the biggest hurdle for the Maoist government?
SRP: You see the question is that if we the people of our own country are united, can any neighbour intervene unnecessarily? That is not possible.
TNS: Are you an optimist as a human rights activist?
SRP: I am an optimistic because it is hardly four years since we ousted monarchy and were declared a republic. We have made historical changes in our country. This is the real transitional period. It takes some time for people to understand facts, to analyse the wisdom of the leaders. We do also belong to the 21st century and, most importantly, the Nepali civil society is very vibrant. They cannot be ignored. In the next six months, we must have a new constitution. If that is not promulgated, all parties shall be defamed and will fail. At the end, to save their own existence, they will certainly come together.
TNS: Don’t you think human rights activists have been neglecting economic rights?
SRP: Political parties do have an agenda based on caste discrimination or religious minorities but their actual agenda is to capture votes by appealing to the sentiments, and not to wisdom. I see human rights defenders quite engaged in raising awareness of the people. A person who is aware shall certainly assert for economic, cultural, and social rights.
TNS: Would you like to throw some light on the Accountability Watch Committee (AWC)?
SRP: AWC was established by some of us because in our country a culture of impunity has been the biggest hurdle. During the movement, all the political parties have a commitment that they will address the past crimes but after acquiring power they forget everything and past criminals usually become their partners. So, that is the biggest challenge.
TNS: Don’t you think all countries of South Asia need such kind of organisations?
SRP: This is true everywhere, not only in South Asia but for the entire world.