KATHMANDU - The Nepal Army, which faced a series of human rights violation charges in the past when it was fighting Maoist insurgency, has been dragged to court again after the end of the civil war for refusing to stop recruitment that the UN says violates the peace agreement.
The ongoing row between the Nepal Army and the Maoists, who are now the ruling party, has received a new twist with human rights activists jumping into the fray.
The International Institute for Human Rights, Environment and Development (Inhured), a Kathmandu-based human rights group, Tuesday moved the Supreme Court, asking it to stop the current drive by the Nepal Army to recruit nearly 3,000 people.
The rights group says the recruitment drive violates the peace agreement signed between the Maoists and the government three years ago that ended the 10-year armed insurrection.
Three lawyers - Shrikrishna Subedi, Ram Krishna Kafle and Tek Raj Arryal - filed the petition against the Nepal Army, its recruitment directorate, the office of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and the defence ministry that is also headed by a Maoist leader.
In 2006, after the fall of King Gyanendra’s army-backed regime, the Maoist guerrillas signed a comprehensive peace agreement and an arms pact that was overseen by the UN.
The Maoists agreed not to make any fresh recruitment to their underground People’s Liberation Army (PLA) till the peace process was completed. The then coalition government of the main political parties also pledged not to make any new inductions to the Nepal Army.
In spite of the agreement, the then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who is now the leader of opposition, allowed the Nepal Army to hire new personnel.
The army, that has over 90,000 members, defends the move, saying it has not increased its size. The new recruitments have been made to fill the vacancies that arise due to people leaving or retiring.
It also says the inductions are made in accordance with Nepal’s constitution and the Civil Service Act.
However, with a new Maoist-led government coming to power last year, the former guerrillas are now locked in a new battle with their former arch enemy.
The PLA has about 19,000 combatants. Though the peace pact pledges they will be merged into the army, it has been a contentious issue that threatens to derail the fragile peace negotiations.
The Nepal Army has refused to induct the guerrilla fighters en masse, saying they would have to meet international eligibility criteria. Due to their political indoctrination, the PLA would fail to meet the army’s yardsticks since the national army seeks to recruit non-political personnel.
Now the Nepal Army has moved again to induct about 3,000 people, despite opposition by Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal and PLA leaders.
The PLA is now threatening that it too will start recruiting nearly 15,000 more combatants if the army hiring is not stopped.
The UN Mission in Nepal, which is overseeing the arms and fighters of the PLA, says any recruitment, be it by the Nepal Army or PLA, violates the accords.
The court petition comes after the row received political colours with Koirala’s Nepali Congress party taking up cudgels on behalf of the Nepal Army.