Ian Martin, the head of the U.N. human rights office in Nepal, says local elections scheduled for next week will do little to halt the rights abuses inflicted on the Nepalese people.
The elections are supposed to be a step toward the restoration of democracy, after King Gynanendra fired the government and snatched power one year ago. The king said he acted because the politicians running the elected government had failed to halt a 10-year insurgency that had already killed thousands of Nepalis.
But Martin says next week's polls have simply set the stage for further human rights abuses - in this case by political parties opposed to the elections, and communist rebels who have threatened to disrupt them.
"The elections are providing the context, unfortunately, for increasing human rights violations, both of those who are opposing the holding of elections by this government at this time, and also by those who are trying to intimidate candidates and others from participating in them," he said.
Martin says government troops are also to blame for the killing and abuse. He says both the rebels and the military accuse the common people or supporting the other side - and the people suffer at the hands of both.
"Ordinary people are vulnerable to the Maoists coming at one time, requiring them to feed them, tax them, extort money, perhaps accuse some of them of being collaborators with the government and the security forces," he said. "And then the security forces come and the people are equally vulnerable…to being accused of having supported the Maoists. So it's really been a terrible situation, I think, for ordinary villagers caught in the middle of that."
Martin's office, which opened last year, represents the largest U.N. human rights operation in the world. Its mandate is limited to pressuring the government, the rebels and Nepal's political parties to respect human rights.
King Gyanendra's takeover last year had an effect that the king did not intend, and one which Martin says the U.N. might be able to use to the people's benefit.
The king's action brought about a partnership between the rebels and the political parties. Both oppose the king, both are boycotting next week's local elections.
The Maoists have threatened to use violence to disrupt the polls, but in aligning themselves with the mainstream political parties, they have said that they would participate in national elections if democratic rights were restored. Martin says the new partnership could help him to put pressure on the Maoists.
"I think we are able to exert some real leverage, particularly in this period, where the Maoists have been wanting to form an alliance with the political parties and the political parties have been saying to them that that alliance can only be on the basis of respect for human rights," said Martin.
Both the political parties and the rebels have called for a greater role for the U.N. in Nepal, possibly to mediate a peace settlement. But Martin says the U.N. would only do so at the invitation of the government.