Nepal's troubled human rights monitors

Rights troubles

What compelled NHRC to lobby against a UN agency, which is supposedly here for support?


Kamal Raj Sigdel, The Kathmandu Post, July 14, 2009


Nepal's human rights defenders stand at a very uncomfortable position today. Their failure to address a number of problems that have festered for the last four years has weakened the position of the all human rights institutions in situation where noncompliance and impunity keeps rising.

The key institutions such as National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal are at loggerheads with each other over their mandates. The former has expressed disappointment over the government's decision to extend the term of the latter. One wonders as to how these institutions would work together under such circumstances for the next one year, in the least.

This is an embarrassing situation, especially when the country is undergoing the most critical phase of post-conflict transformation. The defenders — which also include civil society — are working to their own peril by failing to work in sync.

NHRC's aversion to OHCHR is a case in point.



As per the agreement between them, the latter has the mandate to build the capacity of the former. But the reality is different. NHRC believes that it has significantly upgraded its capacity to replace the UN rights body. This is what NHRC brazenly told the Prime Minister on June 26 while arguing that OHCHR is redundant. Ironically, NHRC is now embroiled into a serious internal problem due to a controversial recruitment drive, which the Supreme Court has already stayed. Despite all this, NHRC believes that it will be in a better position once OHCHR leaves.

But the question is why? What compelled NHRC to lobby against a UN agency, which is supposedly here for support? The reasons NHRC has supplied to show OHCHR redundant — such as an improved rights situation and OHCHR's infringement on the constitutional authority of NHRC — are not the whole story.

The underlying problems are somewhat different and OHCHR is equally responsible for the present awkward situation.

There are at least four issues the monitors have to address immediately, without which they are unlikely to gain strength.

First, there is a serious technical problem on resource sharing. The reality at present is that most of the available international funding on human rights is funneled down to I/NGOs and OHCHR leaving NHRC dry and starved. As a result, NHRC, which receives a scanty budget from the government, cannot fund much of its costly and complicated investigations, attract or keep intact capable staff in its offices, and collaborate with civil society, which for obvious reasons run after OHCHR.

It is high time the stakeholders worked out a mechanism for resource sharing keeping NHRC at the top priority because, like it or not, it is the only national organization which will stay permanently to monitor the rights situation. NHRC should also upgrade its capacity to compete for international funds, for which OHCHR could help.

Second, although OHCHR's exit policy should keep NHRC at the top priority so that by the time OHCHR leaves, NHRC should be technically and financially capable to fill the vacuum, this is not happening. NHRC officials claim that nothing tangible has improved in NHRC due to OHCHR's presence in the past four years.

OHCHR should strategize an exit policy. It is not the mercy of government that should keep the UN rights body here but the actual need of the country and the time-bound operation to fulfill it. In the past couple of months, OHCHR became unnecessarily timid hoping for mercy from the government, especially the Maoist-led one. It kept mum during several instances of serious rights abuse by the Maoists, which drew scathing criticisms from the CPN-UML.

Third, the rights monitors should resolve the problem of "overlapping mandates," which encouraged NHRC to lobby against OHCHR. The Guidelines of Operations signed between the two institutions to that effect does not seem to have resolved the problem. It's been almost five months since both the parties have been unenthusiastic about working out a plan to implement the guidelines.

Fourth, the rights monitors should realize and brush up their weaknesses. NHRC overestimated its capacity when it claimed last week that OHCHR was redundant because it (NHRC) was capable of taking control of the situation single-handedly. Worth noting — not a single recommendation from NHRC to the government to punish officials involved in serious human rights violations has been implemented. NHRC is yet to gain full political independence and that won't happen until the system of appointing its members based on political affiliation stops. So far as the human rights NGOs are concerned, they are even more divided along political lines — Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the UCPN (Maoist).

Besides addressing these problems within the monitoring institutions, one thing the government should do is allay the neighboring countries' fear that the presence of OHCHR in Nepal would prove harmful to them, particularly in relations to the Tibetan refugee issue concerning China and India's ongoing crackdown on the armed groups operating in its Bihar and other bordering states in India. Rights activists claim that the pressures from south and north are also one of the factors behind weakening presence of UN rights body and tensions with NHRC.

Whatever the reasons, it's time the rights monitors came together to sort out the problems and to move forward synergistically, for the challenges ahead are daunting.  

Posted on: 2009-07-14 02:10:59 at The Kathmandu Post (

Now the Uighurs: There's a Reason News of Unrest in China's Xinjiang Province Reads a Lot Like Last Year's Trouble in Tibet

The Washington Post Editorial

The following editorial appeared in Sunday's Washington Post:

If the reports of deadly riots and repression in a far-off region of China sounded familiar last week, it's because you have heard them — or something much like them — before. The uprising by ethnic Uighurs in the city of Urumqi in Xinjiang province was the third such popular protest by Uighurs in the past 20 years, and it looked a lot like the trouble that broke out last year in Tibet. What began as a peaceful protest by an aggrieved minority turned to rioting after police responded harshly. Then followed a brutal crackdown by security forces, accompanied by revenge attacks by members of China's Han majority.

As always, Chinese authorities have been unsparing in the force used to silence the protests. As always, they are blocking communications from the region (though some Western journalists were allowed to travel to Urumqi) and fomenting Han nationalism with xenophobic diatribes in the state-controlled media. Once again an exiled leader is blamed, without evidence, for fomenting "terrorism" — in this case Rebiya Kadeer, the World Uighur Congress leader, who lives in Fairfax County, Va. And — as always — China is doing and promising nothing to remedy the underlying cause of the unrest, which is its treatment of both Tibet and Xinjiang as if they were colonies, populated by captive nations.

One reason China's Communist leadership rejected the political reforms undertaken by the Soviet Union in the 1980s is a fear that Xinjiang would follow the path of neighboring Soviet Central Asian republics — some of them also populated by Turkic ethnic groups — that became independent nations. But Beijing is simply repeating all of the mistakes of the Soviet Union and other colonialist powers. It has systematically suppressed Uighur culture and language; practice of the Muslim religion is also tightly controlled. Millions of Han Chinese have moved to the province over the last half century, turning the 8 million Uighurs into a minority in their own land. As in Tibet, Han Chinese hold a privileged economic position in the cities, while Uighurs are regarded and often treated as an inferior race.

The United States and other Western countries have tried for years, in vain, to persuade Chinese leaders to change policy in Tibet. Unlike the Dalai Lama, Uighurs get little love in Paris or Hollywood; mostly they are known for the alleged militants held at the Guantanamo Bay prison, who have been found to pose no threat but who (with four recent exceptions) have not been released, for lack of a place to send them. But this minority, too, deserves support. The brutal suppression of the Uighurs' legitimate demands for justice will not make them go away; it will only weaken China's ability to hold on to the territory in the long term.


Clues to China's Imperial Thinking in Xinjiang

By John Pomfret
Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Most Americans have never heard of Gen. Zuo Zongtang, but when they hit the local Chinese takeout and order a greasy carton of General Tso's chicken, they're invoking his name. By 1878, Zuo, or Tso, marching west from his base in Shaanxi province with 120,000 troops, had extended China's imperial reach deep into Central Asia. The boundaries set by Zuo's campaign in a region called Xinjiang, or the New Territories, have remained essentially untouched to this day.

Chinese like to point out that Zuo's victories in Xinjiang occurred just two years after Gen. George Armstrong Custer died at the Battle of Little Bighorn trying to corral members of the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes back into their reservations. They compare their treatment of China's minorities such as the Tibetans or the Uighurs — who speak a Turkic language, read Arabic script and are culturally if not altogether religiously Muslim — and the white man's handling of Native Americans. See, I've been told countless times by Chinese friends, it's not just the white man's burden to bring civilization to the "natives," it's the yellow man's burden, too.

The violence last week in Xinjiang between Uighurs and Han Chinese underscores two nettlesome issues for China. First, despite its world-beating economic growth rate, its maglev trains in Shanghai and its postmodern Olympic Village in Beijing, China is still an empire in the throes of becoming a country. And second, if this empire really is going to "rule the world" someday, as a recent book predicts, is its treatment of Xinjiang a harbinger of how it plans to deal with us? And are the violent reactions to China's power something that will erupt not just on China's streets but around the world?

Continuing the policies of the Qing Dynasty, China's Communist leaders have always treated Xinjiang more like an imperial outpost than a province. In 1949, Chairman Mao dispatched one of his most trusted generals to tame it. Wang Zhen then became its first governor, and its economy remains dominated by a state farm system established by the People's Liberation Army. Millions of Han Chinese were initially forced and then encouraged to populate Xinjiang in a scheme to dilute its Uighur majority. In 1949, Han were 6 percent of Xinjiang's population; in 2000, the year of the last census, they made up 40 percent.

A program to develop China's west launched in the early years of this century has had the air of an imperial edict to settle savage lands — and extract all the available oil, gas and minerals while you're at it. Chinese scholars invoked America's concept of Manifest Destiny and its Wild West when writing about the plan. Others saw a parallel to Israel's Jewish settlements in the West Bank; even the irrigation technology Han settlers use is designed by Israeli engineers.

Xinjiang isn't the only place where, for better or worse, China seems more empire than nation-state. There's Tibet, of course, which has been under military occupation since the 1950s and erupts spasmodically in anti-Chinese violence, most recently last year. And there is Hong Kong. The city passed from British to Chinese control in 1997, but it remains a colony — except its overlords are no longer in Whitehall, they're in Beijing. Meanwhile, the deal China is offering Taiwan, the final piece in China's decades-old imperial dream to unite the motherland, parallels the one in place for the old British colony.

As for Manifest Destiny, the Han commonly view Uighurs in stereotypical terms. Landing at Kashgar's airport once, I asked a Han cabbie whether his wife was Uighur, knowing full well that mixed marriages are as common there as they were in the segregated American South. The guy practically veered into an oncoming truck and then proceeded to regale me with anecdotes about the wanton sexuality of Uighur girls. "But we're civilizing them!" he assured me.

As China rises, what will be the face of its civilizing mission to the rest of the world? And how will the world respond? Will we chafe at China's power like the Uighurs did in Xinjiang? They countered violently, wantonly killing Han Chinese, burning cars and ransacking stores. And if that happens, will the face of Beijing's reaction mirror those chilling photographs of grim-faced Han men armed with big sticks, prowling the streets of Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi?

Earlier this year, an American chief executive mused that he'd rather be China's President Hu Jintao, who cancelled his participation in the G-8 summit to deal with the Xinjiang crisis, than President Obama. But Hu has got the tougher job. Leading an empire in the 21st century is no joke, especially if that empire is the People's Republic of China.


John Pomfret is the editor of The Washington Post's Outlook section and the author of "Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China."


Fixing the Economy? It's Women's Work

By Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — While the pinstripe crowd fixates on troubled assets, a stalled stimulus and mortgage remedies, it turns out that a more sure-fire financial fix is within our grasp — and has been for years. New research says a healthy dose of estrogen may be the key not only to our fiscal recovery, but also to economic strength worldwide.

The sexy new discussion in policy circles around the world, thanks to the recession, is whether a significant shift of power from men to women is underway — or whether it should be. Accounting giant Ernst & Young pulled out charts and graphs at a recent power lunch in Washington with female lawmakers to argue a provocative bottom line: Companies with more women in senior management roles make more money. The latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine sweepingly predicts the "death of macho." Economists at Davos this year speculated that the presence of more women on Wall Street might have averted the downturn. Adding to this debate is the fact that the laid-off victims of this recession are overwhelmingly men.

All those right-brain skills disparaged as soft in the roaring '90s are suddenly 21st-century-hot, while cocky is experiencing a slow fizzle.

The numbers make a compelling case. The studies Ernst & Young rounded up show that women can make the difference between economic success and failure in the developing world, between good and bad decision-making in the industrialized world, and between profit and loss in the corporate world. Their conclusion: American companies would do well with more senior women.

And it's not only one study, but at least half a dozen, from a broad spectrum of organizations such as Columbia University, McKinsey & Co., Goldman Sachs and Pepperdine University, that document a clear relationship between women in senior management and corporate financial success. By all measures, more women in your company means better performance.

Pepperdine found that the Fortune 500 firms with the best records of putting women at the top were 18 to 69 percent more profitable than the median companies in their industries. McKinsey looked at the top-listed European companies and found that greater gender diversity in management led to higher-than-average stock performance.

Is there a magic number of women? In some cases, it's just three. Catalyst, a research firm focused on women and business, found that Fortune 500 companies with three or more women in senior management positions score higher on top measures of organizational excellence. In addition, companies with three or more women on their boards outperformed the competition on all measures by at least 40 percent.

It's time to admit the obvious. Men and women are different, and our management styles are different. Research by the University of Pittsburgh and Cambridge University, among others, finds that some of those differences are intrinsic, thanks to hormones.

Gender stereotypes aren't politically correct, but the research broadly finds that testosterone can make men more prone to competition and risk-taking. Women, on the other hand, seem to be wired for collaboration, caution and long-term results.

According to a 30-year study of fund managers released last month by the National Council for Research on Women, female investors and professional money managers used more measured strategies. They didn't take huge risks, but they also didn't lose big. Their returns were consistent. Men took larger risks and wound up with results that varied more widely. A study by the French Fund association found that funds managed by women had more consistent results over one-year, three-year and five-year measurements. Female-managed funds weren't usually top performers, but they were never at the bottom.

Whatever the future, we hardly need to explain why, after all the trouble the testosterone-infused Wall Street culture brought us, a bit of that caution would be a healthy ingredient in our financial mix.

If that all seems too touchy-feely for left-brainers, here's more hard math. The "diversity prediction theorem" is part of the most cutting-edge thinking about best business practices. Scott Page, an economist at the University of Michigan, uses mathematical models to demonstrate that a diverse group will solve a complicated business problem better than a homogeneous group. In fact, diversity is even more important than expertise. In other words, a bunch of white male brainiacs won't usually reach the best conclusions.

There's a sound business reason why Norway now mandates that corporate boards be 40 percent female. Why Iceland, after its embarrassing financial mess, put major banks and its government in female hands. And why Hermes, the only French company to outperform expectations during the recession, also has, you guessed it, a management structure dominated by women.

Americans aren't so enamored of social engineering, of course, so how do we get to that profitable mix? To us, the answer is clear. Professional women have been leaving the workplace in droves, and we need to stop the brain drain. Recent studies show that almost a third of professional women opt out at some point in their careers and, strikingly, that MBAs are more likely than lawyers or doctors to choose to stay home with their children.

Beyond a certain point, many women find that the costs to family of a high-octane career are just too great. We need to recognize that the glass ceiling is in part a self-imposed, defensive perimeter. But we can't afford to have women take themselves out of the running for top slots. And the only way to prevent that is changing the workplace to allow us the freedom to fit in our personal lives.

Luckily, that freedom makes economic sense, too. That's why companies such as Wal-Mart, Capital One, Best Buy, Sun Microsystems and Sara Lee, to name just a few, say they have glimpsed the future of work and have decided it's an extremely manageable place. They've discovered that allowing people to work the way they want — from home; at night; from the sidelines of the soccer field — actually increases productivity. Best Buy found that changing the work rules boosted productivity by an average of 40 percent.

And though progress is slow, women are negotiating nontraditional paths to senior management. Witness Sara Lee's chief executive, Brenda Barnes. As a PepsiCo executive vice president, she left corporate America for seven years to raise her children. Her return is a singular achievement, but it suggests a future in which careers can move in waves, not straight up, or straight off of, a ladder.

Corporate America, take the first step toward economic recovery. Open your minds and offices to new ways of working and succeeding. Not because you are nice guys — but because it will help the economy and your bottom line.


Katty Kay is a Washington anchor and reporter for "BBC World News America." Claire Shipman is the senior national correspondent for ABC's "Good Morning America." They are the authors of "Womenomics."


India's First Wal-Mart Draws Excitement, Not Protest

By Emily Wax
Washington Post

AMRITSAR, India — The wide, clean aisles of India's first Wal-Mart are nothing like Kavita Gopal's usual shopping haunts. There are no bicycle rickshaws careering past her as she buys sacks of rice, no humor-filled haggling over the price of an egg and no demanding neighbors yelling down from their windows for shopping favors.

"It's so relaxing and bright in here. It's like a really enjoyable day trip," cooed Gopal, a 22-year-old housewife who wore a mustard-colored sari as she slowly pushed a giant wagon through the air-conditioned superstore.

For shoppers like Gopal, the arrival of the world's largest retailer in one of the world's largest marketplaces has brought more praise than protest. In recent weeks, crowds have swarmed the store, located on the Grand Trunk Road, the ancient and fabled trade route that stretches across India and into Pakistan.

They all want to get a glimpse of the warehouse-like store and its neatly organized bulk packages of sugary fruit juice, flat-screen televisions and tubs of Indian sweets. Although Wal-Mart has occasionally been the subject of controversy in the United States, the store here — BestPrice Modern Wholesale, a joint venture with India's Bharti group — has drawn excitement and wonder.

"In Punjabi, we have an expression: When there is a wedding, everyone flocks to see the new bride," said Kamal Gambhir, a wholesaler whose congested offices are located in this city's oldest bazaar. "I myself had returned from a trip and came back to hear little children asking, `Where is the new Wal-Mart?' I told them it's on our most historic road."

The Wal-Mart also happens to be in the middle of utter mayhem. On a recent day, merchants of watermelons and cold water maneuvered their rickety pushcarts through a nearby tumble of traffic; an ice cream cart competed for space with a feather-duster hawker and a bone-thin man in his underwear brushing his teeth on the side of the highway.

The Grand Trunk Road, in that sense, still resembles the Grand Trunk Road described by Rudyard Kipling more than a century ago: "a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world."

To protect its smaller merchants, the Indian government has ordered that Wal-Mart sell only to wholesalers, as well as business owners and their families and friends, a move that has eased the tensions among the merchant associations and left-wing political parties. Business owners are allowed to grant access to the store to up to three friends and family members, and many others are clamoring to borrow membership cards for a chance to benefit from the low prices.

Even so, Wal-Mart is unlikely to beat the wallahs, as many of the workers offering their wares are known. After all, experts say that only 3 percent of India's retail market is organized domestically.

Meanwhile, the Indian government — wary of upsetting wallahs and political factions — has been careful to limit foreign investment in single-brand retailers. Sweden's IKEA, the world's biggest furniture retailer, recently called off a $1 billion investment plan due to the restrictions, according to reports in the Indian news media.

Wal-Mart has also been mindful of local sensibilities. It has pointed out, for example, that more than 90 percent of its shelves here are stocked with Indians' favorite products, as well as household names such as Amul, a butter and dairy brand.

That's not to say everyone is welcoming Wal-Mart. India Foreign Direct Investment Watch, a national coalition of labor unions, environmentalists, nonprofit groups and academics, has said that the company will eventually hurt shopkeepers, even if its store is not open to everyone in the general public.

"Wal-Mart's sheer size gives it unrestrained economic power, which allows it to drive down costs in the retail and manufacturing sectors and to enact its own standards with regards to its work force," the group said in a statement.

Some experts say the diversity of the Indian market — bricklayers who earn $2 a day, middle-class penny pinchers and billionaire industrialists — might be enough to sustain demand for all types of retail. Wal-Mart officials say that India's middle and upper classes, particularly those in "joint," or extended, families, could benefit from the bulk products that it is selling. Along with Bharti, Wal-Mart plans to open 10 to 15 stores across the country in the next three years.

"India is a very complex country, and there will always be room for big boxes and for the neighborhood shopping," said Raj Jain, managing director and chief executive of the joint venture, Bharti Wal-Mart.

Jain added that the store here has kept a local flavor: "We play loud Bollywood pop music and serve Indian thalis (food platters) in the cafe since we don't want to alienate people."

Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, an economics professor here in Amritsar, located in northern India's Punjab state, said Wal-Mart and other Indian-run box stores like it will have a big impact on India. But they will never change the country in the same way that it and other chain stores have transformed the American small town.

Most Indians have tiny kitchens, shop nearly every day for fresh food, and get home delivery and even interest-free credit from their neighborhood shopkeeper. Indians' hearts are still with the hawkers, Dhillon said.

"People still want the motorbike even if they can't afford the fuel," he said. "For now, they just want to see that Wal-Mart is in India. They can talk about the rest of the issues later."


Siege in Mumbai Spawns Wave of Films Recounting the Horror

By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post

MUMBAI, India — Auditioning in December for the role of a Bollywood villain, Rajan Verma was asked to act like a man attacking a train or a building. He clutched a toy gun and spewed out what he hoped sounded like a venomous diatribe.

Verma, 28, had no idea what the movie was about. But when the casting director handed him a black T-shirt, beige cargo pants, a blue backpack and a replica of an AK-47 assault rifle, he knew instantly. He was being asked to play one of the assailants in the terrorist attacks launched against Mumbai on Nov. 26 — a date Indians refer to as 26/11.

"We all know Ajmal Amir Kasab's look," Verma said of the lone gunman captured during the three-day siege, who is now on trial for his part in the deaths of more than 170 people, including six Americans. "I immediately refused the role. I did not want to glamorize this diabolical man."

In the end, Verma took the role, and the film, "Total Ten," is to be released this summer. It is the first of a slew of planned movies seeking to revive the horror that paralyzed Mumbai.

"The movie must put an end to the factory that produces people like Kasab," said Verma, who sported ripped, faded jeans and a skin-tight red T-shirt during a recent interview. "I went on a diet, hit the gym and straightened my hair for the role. The toughest part was to bring the animal-like cruelty in my eyes," he added, narrowing his eyes to a glare.

During the siege, which India has accused Pakistan-based Islamist groups of engineering, 10 gunmen attacked 10 sites in the city, including two five-star hotels, a train station and a Jewish outreach center. Since then, filmmakers have registered more than 30 movie titles for projects centered on the attacks, including "Taj Terror," "Operation 5-Star Mumbai" and "26/11 Mumbai Under Terror."

"Directors of low-budget quickie movies seem to be quite happy to tackle films about the 26/11 attacks because of the sensationalism inherent in the incidents," said Nandini Ramnath, a film editor at Time Out Mumbai. "Whatever the merits of the movies, they are bound to make at least some viewers hum the national anthem in their heads. Patriotic kitsch always works."

India's news media have provided saturation coverage of the attacks, the subsequent investigation and Kasab's ongoing trial. In March, residents of a Mumbai neighborhood burned an enormous effigy of Kasab during a local festival.

But the director of "Total Ten," Surinder Suri, says fatigue has not set in.

"Four films have been made on the Kennedy assassination. People still watch," Suri said. "Some stories will always remain an enigma to the human mind, no matter how many times they are explored."

Suri said that his movie opens with 10 men setting out from Pakistan by boat and arriving in Mumbai after a harrowing trip across the choppy Arabian Sea. It focuses on Kasab's story, with flashbacks to the alleged gunman's training in Pakistan and a sequence depicting him killing passengers and policemen at the train station before his arrest on the streets outside. The final scene shows residents pouring into the streets to light candles and shots of the wreathed bodies of policemen and soldiers killed in the attacks.

Unlike typical Bollywood offerings, "Total Ten" will have no song-and-dance numbers and no romantic subplot. The film was shot in three cities between December and April. In Mumbai, Suri shot at the sites of the attacks, causing massive traffic jams as thousands of people gathered to watch. Some bystanders appeared frightened when they spotted Verma, dressed like a gun-wielding Kasab, walking around the train station.

Getting permission from police to film scenes at the actual sites was not easy.

"They said: `It's all over now. Let it be,' " Suri said. "The police are in a hurry to forget it, because they lost so many officers."

But, he added, "the film will be Mumbai's catharsis."

Suri and Verma said they had lost friends in the attacks.

Verma came to Mumbai's movie mecca eight years ago and has acted in two children's movies, one in which he hijacks a school bus and another in which an army of animated rats attacks him with guns. Now he worries that the "Total Ten" posters will be torn down and burned and that he will be a target of public anger.

"The film will release a tide of emotions," he said. "People will want Kasab hanged."

Indian news media have reported that the Kasab character is hanged in the film, but Suri neither confirmed nor denied it. Kasab's attorney, Abbas Kazmi, said he is disturbed by the report.

"Such movies will thrust their conclusions on people, create prejudice and jeopardize the interest of the accused," he said. "The movies will turn into a parallel court."

Not everyone is focusing on Kasab. Filmmaker Sanjay Jha Mastan plans to shoot a political thriller inspired by the attacks.

"I see the whole event through a political lens," he said. "I will show politicians promoting their narrow self-interest by using the excuse of Mumbai attacks. I will not preach. I want to entertain. I will even find ways to include songs in my movie."

Meanwhile, Verma says that most of his friends and neighbors now call him "Kasab," an identity he is anxious to shake off.

A few weeks ago, he said, he received an e-mail from someone claiming to be a Pakistani woman named Razia.

"She wrote that I look handsome in Kasab's character and said she wanted to marry me," he said. "She even attached four photographs."

Verma said he forwarded the e-mail to the Mumbai police.

Rights Protesters Target Drug-War Funds

By Ken Ellingwood
Los Angeles Times

MEXICO CITY -- Citing alleged rights abuses by Mexican soldiers assigned to the drug war, Human Rights Watch urged the Obama administration Monday to not release tens of millions of dollars in withheld security aid unless Mexico allows such cases to be tried in civilian courts.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Washington-based group said Mexico's military courts have failed to bring to justice troops Human Rights Watch holds responsible for a "rapidly growing number of serious abuses."

Under the $1.4 billion multiyear aid package known as the Merida initiative, the U.S. government is to withhold a 15 percent portion until the secretary of State reports that Mexico is meeting human-rights conditions. One condition is that civilian authorities are investigating and prosecuting alleged abuses by troops and federal police "in accordance with Mexican and international law."

The withheld funds so far amount to more than $100 million.

"The Merida initiative provides the Obama administration with an important opportunity to strengthen U.S.-Mexican drug enforcement and human rights cooperation," the group's executive director, Kenneth Roth, said. "To capitalize on this opportunity, however, the Obama administration should vigorously enforce the human rights requirements included in the aid package."

The conduct of Mexico's soldiers has attracted growing scrutiny since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led crackdown on drug traffickers two and a half years ago. He has dispatched 45,000 soldiers to the country's most violent trafficking zones. In places such as Ciudad Juarez, they carry out basic police duties.

Rights advocates accuse soldiers of torture, rape, illegal arrest and, in some cases, killings. In Ciudad Juarez and other places, residents complain that soldiers have burst into their homes without warrants, made arrests without cause and even stolen appliances and food.

Activists say military authorities weigh cases behind close doors and are reluctant to prosecute. Human Rights Watch say Mexican military courts have not convicted any soldier of a serious abuse during the past decade.

Mexico says it takes allegations against soldiers seriously but it has insisted that, under Mexican law, only military courts can try soldiers.

Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont said last week that military tribunals afford victims the same rights available in civilian courts and are capable of punishing wrong-doers.

In 2008, Mexican leaders reacted angrily when congressional Democrats attached human-rights conditions to the three-year Merida package, which provides equipment and training. The requirements were softened before the final package was approved.


Amid Missile Tests, North Korea Increases Restrictions at Home

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post

TOKYO — As it noisily goads the outside world with missiles and a nuclear test, North Korea is quietly tightening screws at home.

State controls over the lives of North Koreans have become more onerous this year and operations of international aid agencies have been shackled. The government of Kim Jong Il is moving aggressively to reel in private markets by limiting what they can sell, reducing their hours of operation and shutting some down, according to reports from several organizations with informants inside the shuttered communist state.

"Control of the market is now so tight that people are getting one-third to half the cash income they had before," said Jiro Ishimaru, who edits Rimjingang, a journal of reports, photos and videos smuggled out of North Korea by anonymous eyewitnesses. "Many people cannot afford food on sale in the markets."

Last month, North Korea rolled back the U.N. World Food Program's capacity to monitor where international food aid is distributed and who receives it. Pyongyang also slashed the WFP's geographical reach inside the country, cutting the number of counties where it can operate from 131 to 57. In the spring, the government abruptly canceled a deal to accept hundreds of thousands of tons of food aid from the U.S. government.

The cuts come during a year when the United Nations estimates that 37 percent of North Koreans will require food aid. WFP officials said they are able to deliver about a tenth of the 45,000 tons of food a month needed to avert severe malnutrition.

"On top of an already precarious nutritional situation, this is very alarming to us," said Lena Savelli, a Beijing-based spokeswoman for the WFP.

The backdrop for market and food-aid restrictions — as well as for this year's steady rumble of military provocations — is an apparent changing of the dictatorial guard in Pyongyang.

Kim Jong Il, who inherited his absolute control of North Korea from his father, is 67 and looks unwell after he suffered a stroke last August. South Korean media reported this week that Kim may be suffering from pancreatic cancer. He has chosen his 26-year-old third son, Kim Jong Un, to succeed him eventually, according to South Korea's intelligence agency.

To enforce hereditary succession in a communist state, analysts said, the Kim dynasty needs to project military strength abroad while maintaining strict control at home.

Unruly private markets have been an increasing challenge to state control since the mid-1990s, when famine killed perhaps a million people and the government's system of food distribution fell apart. The government had little choice then but to tolerate farmers markets as safety valves against starvation and to let foreign donors into the country to hand out food.

Markets have since become the country's principal network for distributing food and nearly everything else, including a flood of Chinese-made DVD players, televisions, MP3 players and other consumer electronics that have given North Koreans new information about how the rest of world lives.

Always suspicious of markets, the government has periodically cracked down on them, banning small-plot private farms, chasing vendors off the streets and requiring that some goods be sold only in state-owned stores. In the past few months, however, enforcement has reportedly become far tougher and more consistent.

"Slowly but surely, plans to close all general markets are becoming a reality," according to a report this month from Good Friends, a Buddhist charity that says it has informants in North Korea. "No apparent steps are being taken by the government to address growing food shortages that are only being exacerbated by prohibitions against small-plot farming and the sale of grain in markets."

North Korea consistently fails to grow enough food to feed its 23.5 million people. To fill the gap, it grudgingly depends on donations of about a million tons of food a year from South Korea, the United States, China and other international donors.

With the possible exception of China, which keeps secret the amount of food it gives to Pyongyang, those donations are fast drying up.

With the coming of summer, North Korea has entered its agricultural "lean season," a time period of nutritional hardship when stocks from last year's crop run low and the fall harvest is still months away. In response, the government has recently cut food rations through its public distribution system, according to U.N. officials.

For more than a decade, private markets and food aid have been buffers against severe malnutrition and famine in North Korea. But the buffers only work when individuals have cash to buy food and when aid is allowed into the country. There is widespread concern among aid agencies and non-governmental organizations that Pyongyang's policies are raising the risk of a food emergency, especially if floods destroy much of the fall harvest, as often happens in North Korea.

"People couldn't care less about nuclear tests or missiles or succession," said Ishimaru, the editor with a network of informants in North Korea. "To live is all they can think about."

Special correspondent Akiko Yamamoto contributed to this report.


Swat Valley Refugees Begin to Head Home

By Joshua Partlow

The Washington Post

MINGORA, Pakistan — The slender young man hung upside down, strung up by his feet from an electric transmission tower just outside the Swat Valley. The police officer who smiled next to him, and the villagers walking past, heeded the message taped to his shirtless corpse.

"If anyone takes down this body, he will meet the same fate. This is a warning to the Taliban."

It was not clear whether the army or angry residents had strung up the corpse. But the point was unmistakable: A favorite Taliban intimidation tactic has been adopted by the Islamist militia's opponents, reflecting the desire of at least some here in the Swat Valley and neighboring areas to ensure that the Taliban, now officially gone after a fierce fight, stay away.

A caravan of trucks and buses carrying hundreds of war refugees passed by the dangling man Monday on its slow procession to Swat. After fleeing the Pakistani military's war with the Taliban and spending weeks away from their homes, the returning refugees were met by politicians throwing fistfuls of petals.

The politicians spoke of battles won and peace restored. But this did not feel like a particularly joyful day. None of the returning refugees could be sure exactly what they were coming home to. The valley has changed hands several times between the Taliban and the government in recent years. Residents remain fearful that the Taliban will be back, and they have little faith that the government will protect them.

"I hope God will make it safe," Bacha Zada, a baker, shouted from atop a truck crossing into Swat. "This is our new life."

For two months, soldiers and insurgents have fought amid the rice paddies and apple orchards of this verdant valley. The fighting forced more than 2 million people out of what was once a tourist destination and into crowded tents and relatives' homes in adjacent areas of Pakistan's northwest. The military said it has driven the Taliban from the valley, and on Monday it began repatriating the first small batch of residents.

Ahead of these returnees, a convoy of provincial politicians and their armed guards toured the valley, driving into Mingora, the area's largest city and the scene of some of the worst urban combat. Although most of the villages and towns in Swat seemed largely intact, albeit deserted, evidence of a battle here was plain to see.

Bombs and artillery shells have demolished houses and turned schools and police stations into rubble. There are fire-blackened storefronts and roll-down shop gates crumpled like foil. Around Green Square in downtown Mingora, windows of hotels and shopping plazas are blasted out.

"This is our main city," said Khalil ur-Rahman, a leading politician in Mingora. The Taliban "have destroyed everything.," he said.

It was at the center of the square that Taliban fighters used to dump their victims' bodies when they controlled Mingora. These gruesome killings initially occurred on Thursday evenings, Rahman said, but then became nightly affairs. Eventually, the area was dubbed Slaughterhouse Square.

"They gradually got stronger. They were given support because there was no opposition. The people used to think the army and the Taliban were friends, brothers," he said. "Then they began slaughtering the people, police, public officials."

The government has renamed the square, calling it Martyrs Square.

On Monday, flak-vested soldiers and black-clad police officers stood guard throughout the abandoned valley. They have converted schools and offices into garrisons and blocked roads with logs, rocks and sandbags to slow potential suicide bombers, although no traffic circulated other than the patrolling military pickup trucks and armored vehicles.

Swat is still under curfew, so virtually all shops and offices remained closed. The few residents who chose to stay through the fighting carried white flags as they walked cautiously through the streets.

Shah Dawran, a surgeon, left his home during the fighting but stayed in the valley to keep working. With no insulin available, he concocted a homemade remedy to treat a diabetic. He took in patients with shrapnel and gunshot wounds and saved the ones he could. "Two people died due to huge blood loss in my presence," he said.

Military officials said that more than 1,500 suspected Taliban fighters were killed in the operation, although just one of the top 27 Taliban commanders in the area is confirmed as dead. The army has said that Maulana Fazlullah, the leading Taliban commander, known for his fiery radio sermons, has been injured. Taliban spokesmen have denied that.

Encouraged by the improved security, authorities say Swat is secure enough for families to return home.

"Peace will soon be restored," said Muhammad Idrees Khan, police chief of the Malakand district, which includes the Swat Valley. "The militants are not capable of challenging us now."

The main challenge for the government involves restoring services, rebuilding the damaged structures and protecting villagers as they come home in a phased return expected to unfold over the coming weeks. One brigadier general who briefed the politicians said police morale remained a critical concern. When the Taliban took control of the area, the police put up little resistance. A new, 2,500-strong police force built around retired military officers is scheduled to begin work soon to bolster the ranks.

The security forces must also attempt to gain the trust of the returning families. The brigadier general said he asked a group of people for clues about who destroyed a school in Swat, but nobody offered any help.

"Now we are trying to have people take us into their confidence," he said.

Many displaced farmers were forced to abandon their crops before the summer harvest and are now worried that they would have difficulty providing for themselves. A minister for North-West Frontier Province who toured Swat on Monday, Wajid Ali Khan, said the government planned to provide food for five months for the returning refugees.

"We will try to focus on the problems of the people," he said. "It is not 100 percent clear, but I am satisfied with the situation."

By the late afternoon, the first buses finally crossed into Swat. Television cameramen crowded around the first vehicle and shouted questions at the passengers, who said they were relieved to be going home. Then the bus driver pushed through a crowd and drove under a white banner that read: "Welcome to your own homes."

Special correspondent Haq Nawaz Khan contributed to this report.

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