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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
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.