Nepal: New report shows foreign arms fuelling conflict and human rights abuse
Presently the UK has already suspended all arms assistance to Nepal but the situation was recently described by the UK government as "under review".(1)
The 27-page report, Nepal: Military assistance contributing to grave human rights violations, shows how arms sales and gifts from countries including India, the USA and the UK, have led to an escalation of the nine-year-long conflict between the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) and rebel Maoist forces, and how foreign-made weapons have been implicated in abuses such as execution-style killings of unarmed civilians, indiscriminate attacks on civilians villages and the torture, abduction or "disappearance" of thousands of civilians.
Amnesty International is calling on these governments and others - including Belgium and South Africa which have recently supplied military assistance, and France, which supplies components for helicopters assembled and delivered by India - not to resume military assistance or arms supplies destined for Nepal until the security forces can demonstrate that they will uphold human rights.
Despite clear evidence that foreign arms and training have been used for the killing and abduction of civilians by both sides in the conflict, such assistance has only recently been suspended and in some cases still continues.
Amnesty International's concern at the willingness of governments to send arms and equipment to Nepal is heightened after the organisation recently collected compelling evidence in Nepal of the government setting up village defence forces - local militias organised to fight Maoist rebels.
Amnesty International is concerned that this will further blur the distinction between combatants and non-combatants.
Amnesty International Asia-Pacific Programme Director Purna Sen said:
"With the conflict poised to escalate, any further military assistance would be highly irresponsible.
"Arms should not be exported as long as there is a clear risk that they might be used to commit serious human rights abuse. As has already been demonstrated, civilians will be those who suffer most."
In 2003 the UK provided the RNA with two Mi17 helicopters, and in 2004 it sent two Islander Short Take Off and Landing aircraft. Though designated for "conflict prevention" purposes, these transfers were not made with the specific safeguard of the incorporation of an end-use monitoring system to ensure that the equipment was not later fitted with armaments.
In 2001 the UK also granted export licences for various shipments of small arms, including 6,780 assault rifles. The UK has also provided extensive in-country training for the RNA, including training in bomb-disposal, intelligence gathering and human rights.
Many RNA officers, including the current Commander in Chief, have also received training at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst.
It is not known whether the UK authorities carry out any systematic vetting beforehand.
The report's specific concerns over arms and logistical supplies also include the following:
- The export of 25,000 5.56mm infantry rifles (INSAS) to Nepal from India, despite evidence of their use in grave human rights violations such as the murder of 19 unarmed Maoist suspects by Nepalese security forces in August 2003
- The supply by India of Lancer helicopter gunships, produced under license from the French company Eurocopter, which have been used by the RNA to attack mass meetings called by the Maoists in villages often resulting in the killing of civilians
- The transfer of 20,000 M16 automatic assault rifles to Nepalese security forces by the US along with over US$29 million in military funding since 2001
- Inconsistent application of the EU Code of Conduct for Arms Exports with the sale by Belgium of 5,000 Minimi Light Machine Guns to Nepal in 2002, despite an earlier German refusal to supply similar weapons on human rights grounds
- Training provided to Nepalese security forces by the US, UK and India with unclear or non-existent vetting procedures to screen out those reasonably suspected of gross human rights violations
- The supply of military communications equipment to Nepal from South Africa in 2003
- A failure by the UN to independently vet members of the RNA sent to take part in UN military missions despite reports that the Nepalese government rewards soldiers who "kill the most Maoists" with UN deployments
Amnesty International is calling for the suspension of all arms supplies and military assistance to Nepal until the government takes clear steps to halt human rights violations and bring those responsible to justice.
Specifically, the Nepalese government must implement April 2005 recommendations of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
These include an end to arbitrary arrests and "disappearances", clarification of the fate of all "disappeared", the amendment of security legislation, the institution of prompt, independent and impartial investigations of all alleged violations of human rights and the prosecution of all those responsible.