UN official expresses concern over thousands displaced in Nepal

Just back from a weeklong fact-finding mission in Nepal, Dennis McNamara, Director of the UN’s Internal Displacement Division, told a press briefing in New York that “best guesstimates” put the displacement figure somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people over the past few years of the near decade-long Maoist uprising. Perhaps 1 or 2 million Nepalese had crossed the un-patrolled boards into India.Explaining that it was notoriously difficult to get hard data on displacement, Mr. McNamara described the deteriorating and chaotic situation on the ground that had drawn the UN’s concern: along with sporadic and deadly violence in rural areas and along India’s border, Nepal also faced huge seasonal population migrations to and from India, driven by the search for employment or better livelihoods in urban areas.”In all that, it’s difficult to measure precisely who’s been displaced by what, but this is certainly an increasing humanitarian concern. And even in somewhat of a pre-crisis stage, we haven’t been able to get a handle on what we at the UN can do about it,” he said, pointing out the difference between the displacement situation in Nepal and that of Sudan, Somalia, Liberia or Colombia.His trip followed the signing last week of an agreement by the UN’s Geneva-based human rights office and the Government to set up a monitoring operation to prevent human rights abuses in the conflict.Mr. McNamara said that much of the displacement had been sparked by acts of violence or threats, forced recruitment by the Maoists, fear of reprisals by the army, grinding poverty and a general climate of insecurity, particularly in rural areas. He added that large numbers of youth had fled forced conscription – some villages estimate that between 60 and 80 per cent of their young people run off.During his visit as part of a UN team headed by Walter Kalin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, he had met with Government officials, representatives of the Royal Nepalese Army, civic actors and representatives of the internally displaced communities. He also visited areas along Indian border where he had seen some of the victims of the conflict.The overall human rights situation was “extremely serious,” he said, describing arbitrary arrests, mass abductions and a sharp rise in child trafficking inside Nepal and across the Indian border. There was no functioning civil administration or justice system, he said, and noted that both Nepal and the Maoist opposition carried out their own justice arrangements, which were largely unaccountable.While the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and other agencies were stepping up their efforts on the humanitarian side – re-orienting their initiatives from development to humanitarian activities – he urged donor governments to also shift their support for that purpose. Donors must also put more pressure on the Government to do more to protect civilians and IDPs, particularly by providing basic health care, sanitation and other services.In all this, Mr. McNamara stressed, humanitarian action should not become a substitute for real sustained political action facilitated by the UN and key governments to try to get a resolution of the long-term conflict, which was, as usual, severely affecting civilians, women and children and displaced.

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