I realize that while I’ve been rambling on about Nepalese politics (and really I can’t help myself, it is all so fascinating to me) I’ve hardly mentioned COCAP and the amazing activists I have had the pleasure to meet and talk with over the past few days. While part of this is due to the fact that I won’t be 100% clear on the work I will be doing for COCAP until I reach Mahendranagar and meet their local partner organizations, I also struggle to find a narrow enough entry point to discuss the organization as a whole.
Each of the volunteers and staff are amazing people who (some at a remarkably young age) have been politically active, shown courageous action in the face of state intimidation and violence, and really lived and practiced what they preach (I urge everyone who has had the patience to read this far, to read my friend Mark Koenig’s excellent blog about the organization.) The transparent and democratic nature of COCAP, coupled with their grassroots nature and the commitment of their volunteers, is truly an inspirational model for civil society movements around the world.
Yesterday we finally had the chance to witness COCAP in action, at a rally which they organized with other Nepali human rights NGOs to urge Nepal to ratify the Rome Statute which created the International Criminal Court. This rally marked the start of a collective campaign which will culminate during ICC week at the beginning of July (celebrating the anniversary of the drafting of The Rome Statute.) The rally was held in a park in the middle of Kathmandu, surrounded by honking horns and curious onlookers. Just as in America, there is the need to raise awareness in Nepali society about the ICC, and what it could mean for Nepal.
The young group of COCAP volunteers eagerly greeted us (we arrived slightly late) and gave us signs to pin to our shirts (Ratify the ICC!) As I struggled (in vain) to understand the activists speaking before me, I felt like a hypocrite. Here I was in Nepal, at a rally urging Nepal to ratify The Rome Statute, when it is my own country which has done the most to undermine the widespread acceptance of the court! I would love for Nepal to accede to the ICC to help end the culture of impunity that exists in Nepal. Moreover, Dinesh Prasain, the charismatic founder of COCAP, pointed out that if Nepal ever fell back into open warfare, it could take on an ethnic dimension that didn’t exist before. He fears it would be nasty and perhaps involve ethnically motivated violence.
Ratification of the ICC would help to hold individual leaders accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity (under which ethnic cleansing falls.) Heaven forbid that Nepal should suffer armed conflict again, but if it did, acceptance of the ICC might help to check or mitigate the decisions of individual military leaders, and keep armed conflict from spiraling beyond the norms of International Humanitarian Law.
America’s active campaign against the ICC does not take these factors into account. The American argument is that we don’t want our military leaders to be liable for prosecution by non-Americans, mostly fearing that such prosecutios could be used for political means by opponents of US policy. A few days ago as we struggled to explain to our curious Nepali colleagues why America is against the ICC, these were the reasons we collectively came up with.
These reasons seem quite weak to me in light of the impact that the court could have on a global scale to ensure that International Humanitarian Law is respected perhaps preventing some human suffering. The ICC helps to create and promote a global culture of human rights, and America should have no fear of the court. As an international court, it is only used when a state is unable (or unwilling) to prosecute its own nationals. It doesn’t trump American sovereignty, and as we have seen with recent military abuses in Iraq, America does punish its soldiers who are guilty of war crimes.
So sitting with activists in a country which has actually suffered though protracted armed conflict, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. America is out of step with the global community, and here I am, an American, sitting at a rally and calling on the Nepalese government to do what my own “free and democratic” country will not.
Posted By Jeff Yarborough
Posted Jun 11th, 2007