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Swiss offer to host Nepal human rights talks

Nepalese demanding a return to democracy at a rally in January Keystone

Switzerland has invited representatives of Nepal's government and civil society for talks in Geneva next month to discuss the country's human rights situation.

This content was published on March 31, 2006 - 21:50

United Nations officials, international experts and other countries have also been asked to attend the meeting planned for April 18.

"Its purpose is to engage in a dialogue with all relevant actors on the human rights situation in Nepal," the Swiss Cooperation Office in Nepal said in a statement.

"Further, it will provide participants with an opportunity to express their deep concern about continuous human rights violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict in Nepal," it added.

Nepal's National Human Rights Commission, the country's Advocacy Forum and Bar Association, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the International Commission of Jurists have also been asked to participate.

The OHCHR had been due to present a 26-page report on the situation in Nepal at this month's 62nd session of the UN Human Rights Commission.

But the session was cut short ahead of the Geneva-based commission's replacement on June 19 by a new Human Rights Council, which is the result of a Swiss initiative.

"It was foreseen to have a meeting within the framework of the UN Human Rights Commission but since that was not possible it was decided to organise this as a follow-up," Lars Knuchel, spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry, told swissinfo.

Knuchel said the foreign ministry had yet to receive a response from the Nepalese government.

Armed conflict

Ian Martin, the OHCHR's representative in Kathmandu, told swissinfo he was pleased the Swiss government had convened the meeting.

"Discussion by member states now will be a timely reminder to all parties of the importance of ensuring respect for human rights and international humanitarian law in this period when the armed conflict is at full scale and political confrontation seems to be on the rise," he said.

The OHCHR says that while violations by the armed forces and Maoist rebels have decreased, serious human rights abuses are still taking place. Earlier this week UN special rapporteur Manfred Nowak said torture was widespread.

Both the Nepalese army and Maoist rebels have been accused of serious human rights violations during a ten-year conflict that has left more than 13,000 dead.

Rebel violence has escalated since King Gyanendra sacked the government and seized absolute power in February last year.

Opposition parties have threatened a four-day general strike from April 6 and there are fears of a major crackdown by the government.

The Nepalese embassy in Geneva said it was unaware of the meeting and could not comment on whether its government would be sending a delegation.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

In brief

Nepal is one of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation's (SDC) priority countries. The SDC in Nepal works mainly in rural areas, which are at least partially controlled by the Maoist insurgency.

The agency, which oversees an annual development budget of SFr20 million ($15.3 million) in Nepal, is active in rural infrastructure development, building suspension bridges and roads.

The SDC is also involved in activities linked to the conflict such as human rights initiatives, both nationally and at local level.

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Key facts

Population of Nepal: 26.3 million.
Head of State: King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev.
Maoist rebels have been waging a campaign against the constitutional monarchy since 1996 in a conflict that has left more than 13,000 people dead.
King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency in February 2005.

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