Friday, October 16, 2015

“Like We Are Not Nepali” Protest and Police Crackdown in the Terai Region of Nepal

They fired teargas shells, scared the children. Everyone here is very scared, scared of the police. The women and children don’t want to go out of the house. We are being treated inhumanely, like second-class citizens. Like we are not Nepalis, like we’re criminals or terrorists. –A witness of police violence in Mahottari district, September 2015

If an APF [Armed Police Force] personnel is obstructed from discharging his duties or is physically attacked, he may use necessary or final force in order to defend self, maintain law and order and to arrest the attacker. –Section 8, article 58(3) of the Nepali government's July 7 Armed Police Force regulation 

On September 11, 2015, police used teargas and opened fire on a group of protesters who were walking through the Mills Area neighborhood on their way toward the center of Janakpur, a town in southern Nepal. Bullet marks on the houses testify to the use of live ammunition. According to residents, police chased fleeing protesters into residential compounds and attacked them there, even opening fire inside one man’s home.

Fourteen-year-old Nitu Yadav was among the protesters. He attempted to hide from the police in some bushes. Four separate eyewitnesses described what happened next. In front of onlookers he was dragged from his hiding place by police officers, thrown to the ground, and, while an officer stood on his legs, shot dead in the face at point-blank range. Doctors who subsequently examined Yadav’s body confirmed that it bore injuries consistent with this account.

Another protester, Sanjay Chaudhari, was hiding nearby. According to witnesses, he was shot in the back moments later as he attempted to flee. He died shortly after reaching hospital. Approximately 45 people were killed in the violent protests staged over Nepal’s new constitution during the months of August and September, almost all of which took place in Nepal’s southern region known as the Terai. This report documents the killings of 25 people, including 9 police officers and 16 members of the public, in five Terai districts between August 24 and September 11, 2015. Human Rights Watch found no evidence that any of these victims, including the police, was posing a threat to another at the time he were killed.

The nine police officers were killed in two separate incidents, eight of them on August 24 in Tikapur, when an angry mob of protesters encircled and viciously attacked a small group of police with handmade weapons. That same day an unknown assailant, probably associated with the group that killed the eight police officers, shot and killed the 18-month-old child of another officer.

The remaining 15 victims were all shot dead by the police. They include six people who witnesses described as bystanders not participating in any protest. Two victims, Ram Bibek Yadav in Jaleswar and Hifajat Miya in Kalaiya, had already been injured when numerous witnesses state that they saw police deliberately kill them as they lay on the ground. In another disturbing case, 12-year-old Bikas Yadav was allegedly shot and wounded in Janakpur while he attempted to give water to an injured man.

In all five districts Human Rights Watch visited we heard allegations of police breaking into homes to beat the occupants, including women and elderly people; police using racial insults during violent incidents or threatening to kill members of the public; and police arbitrarily beating passers-by and harassing villagers belonging to communities which are seen as opposing the new constitution. In Birgunj, two eyewitnesses described how a police officer deliberately opened fire into a hospital. Both eyewitnesses sustained injuries during the incident.

There is, in short, compelling evidence of criminal attacks on defenseless police by protesters, and abundant evidence in several cases of serious crimes by police against protesters and bystanders, including disproportionate use of force and extrajudicial killings. In addition to the deaths, hundreds of people have been injured, some of them grievously.

Protesters also vandalized a number of vehicles and buildings. Meanwhile, strikes imposed by the protesters, in effect since mid-August, as well as curfew orders and “prohibited zones” declared by the government, have had a crippling effect on normal life and caused intense economic hardship. 

Since late September the passage of goods across the border with India has been significantly curtailed, leading to severe shortages of fuel and other essentials across the country. The Nepali government has blamed India for the shortages, claiming that India is imposing an unofficial blockade in order to force the government to amend the constitution in line with the Madhesi demands. India has denied this charge, claiming that the shortages are due to protester blockades and a general lack of security for the trucks ferrying the goods.

A Controversial Constitution
The protests began in the final weeks of Nepal’s protracted constitution drafting process. Drafting a constitution through an elected Constituent Assembly was a central plank of the peace agreement signed in 2006 to end a decade-long Maoist insurgency and civil war. The first Constituent Assembly was elected in 2008, but it failed to complete the new charter, in large part due to differences over the delineation of federal provinces. A second Constituent Assembly elected in 2013 was also deadlocked for over a year. However, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake which struck Nepal in April 2015, four major political parties reached an agreement to complete the charter by a “fast track” process.

However, marginalized groups in the Terai—the lowland region that stretches across southern Nepal between the Indian border and the foothills of the Himalayas—objected to this “fast track” process and the constitution which emerged from it. Once again, the delineation of federal provinces was the most contentious issue. In particular, protests against the new constitution involved two relatively large ethnic or social groups: Madhesis, concentrated in the eastern and central Terai; and Tharus, concentrated in the far western Terai. They objected to the new federal boundaries and to other aspects of the new constitution which they claim abrogate previous commitments made to their communities and create “second-class” citizens. Objections include the unequal distribution of parliamentary constituencies and restrictions on the right of women to pass citizenship to their children.

Underlying these grievances is a long-standing history of discrimination by successive governments, which remains dominated by traditional social elites from Nepal’s hilly regions, against marginalized groups including Madhesis and Tharus...

Dilip Simeon // Madhu Sarin (March 2006):