Letters to the editor in response to the February 3rd article in The Independent on the rape and sexual harassment of tourists in Nepal

'The Independent' is a respected English weekly newspaper in Kathmandu.

And... Can you trust the American Embassy?

Dear Sir,
The article on the rape of tourists shows how disgusting, sly and treacherous some in the tourism trade can be. A client should always be treated with affection and proper respect. Betrayal by one's host is a most shameful thing.

Nepal is renowned for its warm friendly people. Our hospitality has always been praised by visitors. Such unscrupulous individuals seriously tarnish the image of a country that is very much dependent on aid, foreign loans and tourism. Hence such activities must be deplored by all.
Tsering Tamang.

Dear Sir,
Anyone who knows the present state of Nepal must agree with the Comment on Law and Order that the Home Minister appears to be concealing the truth. (On March 31st the Independent published an Editorial: "Law and Order" that challenged the Home Minister's claim that Nepal was peaceful and well-ordered. It quoted specific cases of violence on an escalating scale, including serious misconduct by police.)

What about the thousands of girls sold to Indian brothels? What about the exploitation of countless women in Nepal through rape and violence? And what does the Women's Defence Pressure Group, do, if anything, apart from making empty noises while boosting their own prestige as leaders of the women's movement in Nepal by posturing with ministers in front of cameras? How would their leaders feel if they suffered the crimes committed against the victims they claim to represent?

Not only Nepalis suffer crimes. Westerners also are victimised in Thamel. Is the boss of the tourism company who was proved guilty of raping tourists in prison, or still in business, and if he is still operating, why? Do police realise how easy it is for a miscreant to learn though his contacts where a person is, then to pass the reception of many hotels unchallenged and enter a room unasked? Are cries even heeded? Do police even bother to take note?

Recently I witnessed a disgusting incident in Tridervi Marg. A foreign women was suddenly attacked in public without any apparent cause, then sexually molested by men in the crowd in front of police who did nothing to protect her. Shame on the Thamel Police! If they are so ineffective in public, their presence in Thamel is a farce!
Richard Brown

Dear Sir,
Recently a modestly-dressed Western lady was peacefully walking thorough Thamel ahead of me. As she passed a police post, a policeman jeered at her, "Pross!" There was no reason whatsoever to assume her to be a prostitute. This being her first visit to Nepal, she was understandably shaken and offended. She told me policemen had also accosted her friend with an insulting "Hello" of the kind associated with over- familiar street rowdies.

Cultural misunderstandings resulting from bad western movies are no excuse for such insults. These men degrade themselves. Women deserve the respect decent men show to their mothers and sisters. Consider the unfavourable image international society may form of Nepalese police if such undisciplined behaviour continues unchecked. Think also of the deeper implications of lawlessness in a society that needs foreign money.
Duncan John Preston. President, I.O.A, U.K

Dear Sir,
Two women friends and I were trekking in Solo Khumbu. Because I had injured my leg, we could not walk from Namche to Tengboche in a day, so we had to stop just after the turning to Khumjung. We asked for accommodation at Sangnasa Lodging and Fooding...

Once we were inside, a young man told us offensively that we could stay there only if we had sex with him. We naturally refused point-blank. His attitude became worse and when I objected, he beat me up, giving me a black eye. Then Sherpas living in the lodge intervened. After picking up my scattered possessions, they told us he had gone to Khumjung when in fact we could see him hiding. Then they rudely slammed the door on us. The neighbours, who took us in, told us he worked there. On our return we plucked up enough courage to enquire at the lodge. The wife of the owner pacified us with tea and gave conflicting stories about the man being a guide to other trekkers. Plainly she was worried because we had talked widely about the attack...

Knowing the attitudes of the Nepalese police, we saw no point in reporting the incident. Predictably the police at Tengboche, in ordinary clothes without identity badges, ignored the report. Language was not a problem as I speak Nepali. They jeered and played cards, then one of their number molested me.

These incidents completely marred our enjoyment of the trek. I have visited Nepal a dozen times and remember when it was a safe country, but may I ask how women are supposed to be sure of trekking safely if police are too ill-mannered and idle to deal with criminal offences?

Apparently it is no longer safe to trek with friends but, whereas I do not doubt that good companies exist, I have had various treks with registered companies manipulated by rude lazy rogues to their own advantage. It is possible these companies operate proper standards for men, but not neccessarily for women unaccompanied by men. At least one wealthy trek company owner actually rapes tourists. Presumably he maintains an appearance of respectability through influence with authorities who only pretend to understand the human rights of women.

Such a situation requires proper standards and discipline among the police and also firm, positive action in the tourist industry to sift out miscreants from genuinely trustworthy travel agents, who will only suffer because of offences committed by others. Otherwise what future can tourism have in Nepal if fifty per cent of its visitors come to anticipate harassment and danger?

An Open Letter to the Prime Minister.
Dear Sir,
When you attended the World Conference On Human Rights in Vienna, at which Women's Rights were especially discussed, you claimed that not one violation of human rights had taken place in Nepal in the last two years.

Yet I have been raped by the owner of a prominent trek company in Thamel. Since much of the economy of Nepal is dependent on the goodwill of Western tourists, I appeal to you, as an advocate of law and order, to uphold justice because, like many other women and girls in Nepal, I have suffered multiple violations of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

I hope you will agree that we have an absolute right, in all countries belonging to the United Nations, to remain totally unmolested and to expect law enforcement systems to offer full protection at all times. Yet such serious violations are dismissed as mere "family affairs" and the guilt of wealthy rapists kept secret so they can abuse other women and girls at will.

Even $20,000 could not compensate for outrages committed against the sanctity of our persons. If people are not prepared to believe, even after the event, that such outrages can occur in the circumstances in which I was victimised, then how can anyone expect us to realise the danger in advance? And yet, when a woman asserts her rights, all impartial evidence is disregarded in order to slander her as "crazy" and "immoral". This is merely a poor excuse to evade the very serious issues involved.

Men who earn respect are those who respect women, as I appeal to you to do. Rape shames immoral men, not women. Any woman, however virtuous, can be raped and no woman invites it.

Being blameless, I am proud of my stand for human rights. Prejudice against women is not to be tolerated. I can understand that whenever men deny women their rights, people are disconcerted by a woman of spirit who has the courage and integrity to expose evil. These issues are hidden by illogically blaming women for male offences. But if these rapes did not shame men, why keep them secret?

If the guilt of the man who raped me was already known, the Nepalese government is automatically guilty of criminal negligence. He had no right to be in business with a registered company, or even to be a free man. If I had enough money, Nepal would now face international lawsuits, resulting in lack of tourism. With the constantly growing awareness of women's rights in the West, it can only be a matter of time before this happens.

I have loved Nepal with all my heart and feel my trust and devotion have been viciously betrayed. The contant permitted rape of women and girls cannot shame the victims. It is the shame of Nepal.

Dear Sir,
A woman friend and I booked a trek through a reputable Western agent, dealing with a charming Nepalese tour operator who took us from the airport to a popular hotel in Thamel and arranged our trek, which was a success. On our last night in Kathmandu he suggested we should all eat at his favourite restaurant, but first he bought us a drink in the hotel. Then another client unexpectedly delayed him.

Ten minutes later we both felt totally giddy and uncoordinated. Half a pint of unadulterated Tuborg could never have had such a devastating effect. He tried to persuade us to enter his car, but not only did we feel far too ill, we were by then thoroughly suspicious. He appeared to have deliberately drugged us, but since he was a trusted agent and had already driven us as passengers, but for the chance delay we would have got in his car without hesitation.

We couldn't find a doctor until next day, when we had to fly home, still speculating. Was the motive robbery, or even worse, sexual assault? How could a registered agent attempt such crimes without jeopardising his reputation? Because law and order is poor and the police corrupt? Would we have achieved anything if we'd had time to complain? What, if anything, would our embassy have done about it?

But reporting the incident back home proved fruitless. The Western agent merely insisted arrogantly that there had never been another complaint. So it was still business as usual!

Soon after this the Independent stopped publishing letters of this kind that might jeopardise financial interests. However our contacts keep us up-to-date and, even though these letters were published in 1993, the situation is unchanged.

The following letter is from a thread on the newsgroup VS-onlinestrategies.
(not a letter to The Independent)
The American Embassy

Dear Maria,
A woman working in Kathmandu was conscious of the need for warnings for other Aid workers who could be at risk when on vacation. She contacted all the Aid organisations, of various nationalities, with well-documented legal evidence of a specific risk of rape.

When she telephoned USAid, a man told her they only took warnings from the American Embassy. She tried to reason with him for the safety of his female staff, to no avail.

A few days later she received a telephone call from a male in the American Embassy. He said he was aware she had been issuing warnings. She agreed she had. Why didn't embassies do it? The necessary information had been put in their hands. He told her officiously that it was his job to decide what warnings should and should be issued and he had decided against that particular one. Why not? He replied he didn't have to tell her. She was alarmed that vital information was being withheld from other women. [Remember it was proven fact, not hearsay.] He threatened her that if she carried on he had the power to stop her. However she was obliged to stop in any case for the time being, so she never found out what he proposed to do...

He had admitted to having been discussing her with her own embassy, which had done nothing to help her, beyond making excuses...

Not only will the warning he tried to suppress come out more publicly than would have been possible in Kathmandu at the time, but an Embassy lacking proper concern for the well-being of women travellers will acquire the reputation it deserves in the process!

Helen Brown

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For more information on the campaign to stop sexual harassment of tourists in Nepal please email comments, ideas and suggestions to:

Helen Brown freespirit_nospam_@gn.apc.org

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