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UN Human Rights Chief Condemns State of Emergency In Nepal

The United Nations' top human rights official, Louise Arbour, is condemning what she calls the serious deterioration of human rights in Nepal since the king dismissed the government and declared a state of emergency.

UN Human Rights Chief Louise Arbour has sent a letter to King Gyanendra of Nepal, telling him that basic human rights cannot be suspended under any circumstances. She says, even in time of public emergency, the rights of people must be safeguarded. These rights, she notes, include the right to life and the prohibition of torture and ill treatment.

The spokesman for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jose Diaz, says Ms. Arbour is seriously concerned.

"The High Commissioner is alarmed by disturbing reports of arrests throughout the country of political leaders, unionists, students and other member of civil society," he said. "It is our understanding that these people are being held in arbitrary and often unacknowledged detention, without access to legal counsel, their families or international representatives. It is also our understanding that all independent media have been placed under state control."

Mr. Diaz says he does not know how many people have been arrested since the king declared a state of emergency and assumed direct rule on February 1. But human rights organizations, such as the International Commission of Jurists, say hundreds of political and student leaders have been jailed.

Ms. Arbour went to Nepal on January 23 to make a first-hand assessment of the human rights situation in that country. While there, she reported that the Nepalese people were being subjected to violence and brutality on a staggering scale as a result of the armed conflict with Maoist rebels. She criticized both the rebels and the state security forces for committing gross violations of human rights. And she said, a climate of impunity prevailed in the country.

Mr. Diaz says, during her visit, Ms. Arbour had quite a lengthy meeting with King Gyanendra, in which they discussed her concerns about the worsening human rights situation in the country.

"She came out of that meeting feeling that the king had heard her concerns, and had taken a lot of what she said on board," he said. "We have seen from what has happened since that that has to be taken with a grain of salt [that one has to be skeptical]."

In her letter to the king, Ms. Arbour urged him to immediately stop arresting people and to allow those who have been detained the right to see a lawyer. She reminded the king that Nepal is a party to all key human rights treaties and, as such, is obliged to protect the human rights of its people, not to abuse them.