Listen up! Podcast time

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My new podcast, Nepal Now, is up and running. Please take a listen (above), on the website or in your podcast player.

So far (after a dozen episodes) we’ve featured Mithila painting with a gender perspective, the key role that local communities play in responding to Nepal’s emergencies, an interview with director Deepak Rauniyar (White Sun, Highway), women in the age of Covid-19 an Indigenous perspective on tackling climate change, and more.

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Don’t mourn the death of internationalism — look harder

A shorter version of this article was published in the Nepali Times, but this one includes the role of the media, a point I had to cut from the published version because it was too long. Please let me know if you agree.

© Diwakar Chettri

COVID-19 is laying waste to international cooperation as well as health systems. Countries have retreated into themselves, barring makers of medical equipment from exporting goods and in some cases hijacking shipments en route to other countries. The Trump administration has exited the World Health Organization (WHO) and is leading an attack on the organisation’s credibility. Internationalism is on its deathbed.  

Or is it?

It’s a conclusion you can easily draw from media reports, which thrive on drama and conflict. “During this global pandemic there’s been precious little sign of intergovernmental collaboration and collective leadership. Instead the worldwide response has been characterized by national self-interest, mutual suspicion and recrimination,” intoned Stephen Sackur, host of BBC’s HardTalk, while interviewing former UK Foreign Minister David Miliband recently.

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Top court rebuffs Nepal government. Will credible transitional justice follow?

Suman Adhikari poses with a photo of his father Muktinath,

Suman Adhikari poses with a photo of his father Muktinath, one of the 17,000 victims of Nepal’s conflict, 1996-2006. © Marty Logan

This week the Supreme Court of Nepal rejected the government’s attempt to strike down the court’s own 2015 decision directing the government to follow international standards in delivering transitional justice.

The big question now is: will the Government of Nepal finally live up to its many pledges to provide justice to survivors and families of victims of the conflict 14 years after the government-Maoist civil war ended?

In 2015 the Supreme Court directed the government to amend its Transitional Justice Act to meet global standards. Specifically, it was told to remove amnesty for those accused of the most serious crimes committed during the civil war, which killed roughly 17,000 Nepalis from 1996 to 2006. Those crimes include torture, rape and other sexual violence and ill-treatment and enforced disappearance.
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Shape up the lockdown in Nepal

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My local market in Kathmandu on 17 April. © Marty Logan

Finally in the past two weeks Nepal has started testing larger numbers of people, using so-called ‘rapid diagnostic tests’, although the total is still less than 20,000. That is one of the few bright spots in the government’s response to the pandemic since the first case was confirmed here on 24 Jan. So far the country has been very lucky but it’s time to stop taking the good fortune for granted and get serious about the ongoing lockdown.

The following was published on the Nepali Times website on 17 April:

Shape up the lockdown in Nepal

Going through the motions to quarantine people or wearing masks haphazardly will not help to prevent a devastating outbreak

When I read a few days ago that China and India were willing to provide medical equipment and medicine to Nepal I did a double-take. Surely, this isn’t news, I thought — I’m certain that the giant neighbours would have responded positively to such a request a month, or even two months ago, when it was blatantly obvious that Nepal lacked masks, Covid-19 tests and other materials needed to prevent an outbreak. Of course, what did make it headline-worthy was that the recent inquiry had come from the Nepal Army.

I have no medical training, but given the utter failure of the government to react to the shortage in a timely manner, and to get the big things right more broadly, I think that the smaller ways in which we all react to the threat are going to take on a larger dimension. Yet what I’m seeing in my neighbourhood, and in the media, does not give me confidence.

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COVID-19 limbo in Nepal

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A typical scene in Kathmandu, which has been under lockdown since 24 March. © Marty Logan

With only 16 cases detected since January, how seriously are Nepalis preparing for the pandemic?

Nepal’s long land border with India (1,800 kilometres) is usually open, so that citizens of both countries can come and go easily without visas and usually with little notice from the police posted at entry points. On March 24 India closed that border, along with all other access to the country of 1.4 billion people. The same day Nepal also declared a ‘lockdown’ and barred all entries. But it’s been estimated that there are 500 official and unofficial entry points along the imaginary line between the two countries and in the days before and after the lockdowns as close to half a million Nepalis living in India crossed home, according to the Nepali Times newspaper.

Since Nepal’s first case of COVID-19 was detected in January the country has tested just over 6,000 people. Yet only 15 other cases have been detected, and no one has died of the coronavirus. How can that be? is the question that everyone is asking, including officials in the ministry of health.

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Locals in Nepal take direct action

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Police use a water cannon to push back protesters on the streets of Kathmandu. Photo: Nepali Times

The jury is still out on federalism in Nepal, which was put in place in 2017, after elections to three levels of government – local, provincial and federal. But there is no doubting that local people are getting more vocal about their frustrations at the slow pace of road building and other infrastructure works. I wrote the following in this week’s Nepali Times:

Think locally, act locally

  • In May, residents and traders burned tyres to block the Chabahil-Jorpati road, signalling their frustration at long-delayed construction on the dusty, crater-filled stretch. They succeeded in sparking action, but after upgrading work stalled, protests erupted again last week in a bid to force the contractor to finish the job.
  • The road blocking trend morphed into poster protests, where the faces of delinquent road contractors were plastered to poles and vehicles. This included Nagarkot, where contractor Sharada Prasad Adhikari, also the landlord of Nepal Communist Party Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, was targeted. The tactic spread further, with Mayor Bhim Parajuli of Biratnagar being publicly shamed last week.
  • Residents attempting to stop road-building in Baitadi in October were turned on by an excavator operator, whose shocking attack with the machine injured eight people. Attempted murder charges are pending.
  • In Udaypur last week, locals clashed with police after seizing more than a dozen dump trucks and an excavator that were being used to gouge sand and rocks out of a local river.
  • Residents of Charikot of Dolakha District took to the streets last week to protest the lack of progress in repairing the Jiri Highway. They blocked the main intersection to vehicular traffic for hours.

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UN rights experts critique Nepal again

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A tree blocks a road near Butwal, Nepal during the Maoist conflict in 2005. Photo: Marty Logan

United Nations experts have critiqued draft changes to the Nepal law on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), says an editorial in this week’s Nepali Times.

In April, the experts from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, known as ‘special procedures’, took the Nepal Government to task for its slow, faulty progress in transitional justice. This time, their letter focuses on three proposals for the NHRC Act:

  1. Giving the attorney-general the power to approve the NHRC’s investigations
  2. Barring the institution from receiving any funding external to its government budget
  3. Preventing the NHRC from opening regional of sub-regional offices.

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Nepal: human rights champion or foe?

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Photo: Republic newspaper.

There’s an important editorial in this week’s edition of Nepali Times. It points out that while the Government of Nepal portrays itself as a human rights leader at the global level, at home it falls distressingly short of what’s required of a rights champion.

Not only have successive governments failed to implement a credible transitional justice process following the ceasefire between government and the Maoists in 2006, current leaders – including former Maoist fighters – are trying to curtail the powers of the National Human Rights Commission. The NHRC’s recommendations have been almost totally ignored by various governments since it started work in 2000.

Read on, from Nepali Times:

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Interview with Nepal’s health minister

Gagan ThapaMy interview with Nepal’s health minister, Gagan Thapa, is in this week’s Nepali Times. Video is also available on that page.

Thapa was a rising star when I last lived here and has become Nepal’s youngest cabinet minister. Continue reading

Nepal: the road to …

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I’ve been back in Nepal for nearly two months now, eager to write about what I’m seeing and hearing but reluctant to come to any premature conclusions.

So instead, I’ll present some impressions, like this photo (above) of a bridge over the Rapti River in Dang district, which I took last weekend. Continue reading