Amnesty: West arming Nepal dictatorship

Western governments are flouting their own rules and contributing to grave human rights abuses by selling arms and weapons systems to Nepal, Amnesty International said in a statement today. The rights group accused the UK, US and India of supplying thousands of assault rifles to the Himalayan kingdom and said Belgium was selling machine guns and South Africa military communications equipment. “With the conflict poised to escalate, any further military assistance would be highly irresponsible,” Amnesty said, appealing for a ban on arms sales to the kingdom.

“Arms should not be exported as long as there is a clear risk that they might be used to commit serious human rights abuse,” said Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific program director Purna Sen. At least 12,000 people have been killed in the nine-year Maoist insurgency. King Gyanendra sacked the government and took power himself in February accusing politicians of having failed to stem the rebellion. But to date he too has failed to curb the violence.

He also imposed a rigid clampdown on press coverage of the conflict, and on June 13 some 50 journalists protesting the press curbs were detained in the capital Kathmandu and three wounded as police broke up their rally.

Amnesty said India had sent Nepal 25,000 rifles which had been used in the killing of 19 Maoist rebels in 2003 and also Lancer helicopter gunships made under license from France’s Eurocopter which used to attack village meetings called by the rebels. The US has supplied Nepal with 20,000 M16 assault rifles and $29 million in military funding since 2001.

The UK has sent several shipments of small arms and nearly 7,000 assault rifles in breach of the 1998 European Union Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, as well as supplying Short-Take-Off-and-Landing aircraft without verifying their end usage.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense denied it had broken any rules.

“The Department of Trade and Industry will not issue a license if to do so would be contrary to international commitments or where there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression,” a spokesman said.

Amnesty also accused Britain, India and the United States of training Nepalese security forces without vetting them for suspected human rights abuses.

Amnesty called on the Nepalese authorities to end arbitrary arrests, clarify the status of all people who had “disappeared,” relax rigid security laws and fully investigate all allegations of human rights violations. (Reuters, June 14)

See our last post on Nepal.