Instead of making genuine efforts toward vaccine procurement, the PM urged the public to gargle with guava leaves and drink turmeric-infused water to prevent COVID, saying even the vaccine does not guarantee total immunity. This was the time when cases had started increasing by 100%.
Indian author Arundhati Roy has described the catastrophe in India as a crime against humanity. As the second wave of COVID-19 seems to be subsiding in Nepal, the country ought to prepare itself for the third. In the past three months, the country has witnessed over 5,300 deaths and more than 330,000 new cases. The public health system was shattered at the peak of the pandemic, while the state organs were busy in their daily shenanigans. In Nepal, the grief and suffering caused to the people are enigmatic and cannot be comprehended in words.
In his book East West Street, Phillips Sands claims that the term “crimes against humanity” was coined by Cambridge professor Hersch Lauterpacht, which refers to the mass killing of individuals notwithstanding their membership of a group.
In the present circumstances, the most comprehensive definition of crimes against humanity is provided in the Rome Statute, 1998, which enlists several systemic attacks against a civilian population with knowledge of the same. However, a reading of the statute provides for three elements: physical, contextual, and mental. A systematic attack against the people cannot be made with all the three elements present in the present situation. Thus, in a strictly legal sense, the condition of Nepal cannot be termed as a crime against humanity. But, in this case, there is a gross amount of negligence on the part of the state for ramping up health services, procuring life-saving commodities and vaccinating a large chunk of the population.
Does this entitle us to call what is happening in Nepal a crime against humanity?
In my opinion, the answer is a resounding yes. First and foremost, it was the government’s duty to revamp the medical infrastructure and procure and store the necessary drugs to tackle the virus. But oxygen became the new gold in the nation, and Remdisivir its new gem, with all ‘intellectuals’ and elites in the country posting requests on social media to procure cylinders and vials. Gradually, beds in hospitals were a rare sight, with people being admitted in makeshift wards on public hospital premises. Leading hospitals of the country enforced new schemes like ‘bring your own oxygen’. Still, the politico-business gangs of the nation used this opportunity as a blessing in disguise, charging, more often than not, exorbitant prices for beds, oxygen and drugs. While some are prospering, most people in the nations are suffering as loss of lives and livelihoods have become the norm.
The government failed to ensure COVID compliant conduct in the post-first wave phase. When the first wave subsided, it was the government’s responsibility to ensure the people are well informed and restrain themselves from mass gatherings and events. But the government and the opposition were the most significant perpetrators in this regard. By organising mass events throughout the country, the political parties not only put their member’s lives in jeopardy but also exposed the nation’s health as a whole to the threat. A few weeks after the gatherings, results could be noted in the increase in the number of cases.
Instead of making genuine efforts toward vaccine procurement, the PM urged the public to gargle with guava leaves and drink turmeric-infused water to prevent COVID, saying even the vaccine does not guarantee total immunity. This was the time when cases had started increasing by 100%. Just a fortnight after his ‘expert advice’ cases had crossed the 1,600 per day mark, which went on increasing till mid-May. Although I do not have any objections against the ingenious home remedies of THE Nepali culture, a prime minister suggesting them as an alternative to vaccines is hazardous and reckless. There is no doubt that the vaccine does not ensure total immunity, but evidence suggests that it decreases severity. A decrease in severity provides a chance for survival; in Nepal’s case, this chance has been snatched away by the prime minister’s comments which have not only misled the people who chose him as their leader overwhelmingly but also escalated the numbers of no- vaxxers.
Although this created an atmosphere of vaccine resistance, which in turn resulted in more infections, the Nepalis, despite the deaths of their kith and kin, held themselves together with the motto “this too shall pass”. With the hope that immunization was the key to prevention, the people reinvigorated hope and patiently waited for immunisation. But the vaccine procurement, too, was a failure. This failure was due to two disconcerting reasons - failure of diplomacy and the rise of kleptocracy. The former constricted Nepal to depend on India for vaccines when the nation had reached the epitome of the pandemic. The latter restrained the import of vaccines due to the lower margin of profits for the business houses. At a time when innocent lives are at stake, should a communist/socialist government leave the survival of the people at the mercy of capitalists?
In times of distress, Nepal has always been assisted by the international community. But, when the people of our southern neighbour India were suffering through the peak of the second wave with cases crossing 400,000, Oli, in an interview with CNN, was busy highlighting the less than 1% mortality rate in Nepal. He was anything but remorseful in that address and other subsequent addresses to the nation. One of the most astonishing blatant misrepresentations was- “The COVID-19 situation in Nepal is under control now, we must say.”
This was at a time when daily new cases had risen by an alarming 1,200 % since mid- April. The dishonesties of the prime minister destroyed the hopes that the international community would come to the aid of Nepal. After this deceit, he wrote an opinion piece for the guardian requesting the international community for help. But what does it say about the integrity of a leader of a nation who had just a few days ago claimed that the “situation is under control”.
The term crime against humanity, in its legal sense, requires an act of active aggression. But, over the years, the term has evolved. The meaning of the word has transformed from a strictly legal word to an extra-legal one. The extra-legal sense of it requires mass death as an essential element. Although active aggression is not present in the Nepali scenario, the widespread loss of lives has filled sorrow and grief among the people who are vulnerable and helpless against this virus. Like in the case of active aggression, the consequence of this situation is also the destruction of life, livelihood and families. The state, although not an active aggressor, has been a silent abettor of the act.
The actors of the state, apart from those mentioned above, have been abetting these crimes. Like the Supreme Court, instead of taking suo moto cognisance on the issue, decided how to form a constitutional bench. Instead of suggesting constructive ideas to procure vaccines, the opposition was trying to form (has formed) governments. The provincial governments with exclusive jurisdiction over health services as per the constitution have failed in their duty as they were busy horse-trading.
A popular legend in Nepal claims that Lord Brahma, the Hindu God of creation, had once come to Kathmandu. On interacting with the people here, he was stunned by the state of affairs. He was exasperated when he finally confessed that this nation was not his creation but Lord Pashupatinath’s (Lord Shiva). In a country where all state organs are failing at every level, even the gods seem to have given up on the nation.