Kälin calls for humanitarian action in Nepal

Fighting between government troops and rebels has increased Keystone

Swiss human-rights expert Walter Kälin has called for more international action to avert a humanitarian crisis for those made homeless by the conflict in Nepal.

This content was published on April 25, 2005 - 15:36

The United Nations’ representative for the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) told swissinfo that the country was in the grip of a "climate of fear".

Kälin has just completed a ten-day visit to Nepal where he travelled to several districts and spoke to those driven from their homes by fighting between Maoist rebels and government forces.

According to the UN, between 100,000 and 200,000 people have been displaced.

He also held talks with government ministries working on the IDP issue and representatives of the Nepalese army, but did not manage to meet the rebels.

His findings come just days after the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva accepted a Swiss resolution demanding that democracy and individual freedoms be re-established in Nepal.

Swiss-led negotiations with Nepal have also brought an agreement that will see UN human-rights observers stationed in the Himalayan kingdom.

In an interview with swissinfo in the capital Kathmandu, Kälin said the overall situation in the country was "very difficult and dangerous".

swissinfo: What do you think are the main reasons for internal displacement in Nepal?

Walter Kälin: Large numbers of people have been displaced due to violence and threats by the Maoist rebels. However, many people are also scared of getting caught in the crossfire between government forces and the Maoists. The bad security situation makes life unbearable in places.

Many of the IDPs have left for India in the hope of finding work but a large number remain in Nepal. Their situation is increasingly difficult. Some of the women are even forced into prostitution. The overall situation for the displaced here raises serious humanitarian and human-rights concerns.

swissinfo: Have people also been internally displaced due to threats by government forces?

W.K.: Many people are afraid of government forces. They are afraid of getting caught in the crossfire and of getting into trouble for supporting the Maoists by giving them food and money. The fact is that they are often forced to do that, so they are really caught between the two sides.

swissinfo: Were you shocked by the extent of the situation in Nepal?

W.K.: I have been to Nepal before and I knew what to expect. The main reason for coming here was to propose ideas for action. I feel the problem of IDPs has been overlooked and neglected in the past and what we need now is action. We should address the problems at an early stage before it becomes a full humanitarian crisis.

swissinfo: What sort of action are you planning to take?

W.K.: So far the UN agencies and non-governmental organisations have provided mainly development aid to Nepal. But we now need more humanitarian action to help people live through this crisis.

swissinfo: The Nepalese King Gyanendra invited you to come here, but how did the Maoists react to your visit?

W.K.: I have not been in contact with the Maoists but I don’t think they were against my visit as I did not encounter any security problems. I hope the rebels will accept my demand to respect the basic principles of international humanitarian law. If they do that, one of the main causes of displacement will almost certainly be eliminated.

swissinfo: But don’t you think it would have been important to seek dialogue with the Maoists?

W.K.: Of course talking to both sides is very important and Nepal has just accepted that by signing a memorandum of understanding with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which gives the UN and its human-rights monitors access to both sides.

swissinfo: Since King Gyanendra introduced absolute press censorship on February 1, the picture of Nepal has been blurred. How do you feel about the general situation here?

W.K.: If you stay in Kathmandu and the surrounding valley, you are in one Nepal; but if you leave the capital you are in a different kind of Nepal. The situation is in fact very serious outside the capital. It is a climate of fear at all levels and the situation is very difficult and raises a lot of concerns. Almost every Nepali I spoke to told me that their only wish is to have peace. This country is in a very difficult and dangerous situation.

swissinfo: What role can Switzerland play in solving the current crisis in Nepal?

W.K.: Switzerland can play an important role. One of the reasons why little has been done in the past is the lack of money. In one of the camps half of the IDPs had houses and the other half had to live miserably in tents because the money ran out to construct better shelters. Switzerland can also play an important role in supporting the implementation of the memorandum of understanding regarding the human-rights monitors, and Switzerland should do that.

Switzerland has played a very important role regarding the Nepal resolution and that in fact has lead to a breakthrough.

swissinfo-interview: Billi Bierling in Kathmandu

Key facts

Nepal is a priority country for Swiss development aid.
Switzerland has been working for more than 40 years in the kingdom. All programmes and projects are designed in a different manner to build up the partners' capacity to solve their problems.

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In brief

Earlier this month the UN Commission on Human Rights reached an agreement with Nepal that will allow human-rights monitors into the country.

A six-member monitoring team is expected to commence its work by mid-May.

The country's Maoists have been fighting for nearly ten years to replace the monarchy with a communist republic. About 11,000 people have been killed.

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