Campaigning for human rights in Nepal
By Sharon Gray
Dr. Sharon Taylor (L) with team member Rebekah Wilson from the UK and interpreter Sontash (behind the two women) and two Gurkha soldiers in Nepal.
Dr. Sharon Taylor, School of Social Work, is a member of an international delegation of leading human rights lawyers and activists that travelled to Nepal recently to report on the living conditions of ex-Gurkhas and their families who are denied equal treatment by the British government. The delegation is a response to the announcement by the British government of a review of Gurkhas’ terms and conditions of service that will be completed by September of this year.
As part of the delegation, Dr. Taylor helped document the problems faced by ex-Gurkhas and their families. She has submitted her part of the report to the delegation and in September she will meet with the other members in London, England, to review the final document.
Gurkhas are well-known for their history of service as foreign soldiers in the British Army. “They are people who have had great loyalty to the British, but it is clear that the British army hasn’t taken care of them well or supported their families,” said Dr. Taylor. “They weren’t paid as much as other British soldiers so their pensions are low, and at the end of service they were automatically sent back to Nepal where health care services are very limited.”
Although some progress has been made by way of legal action over the past few years, for many ex-Gurkhas and their families, post-service life still means poverty. Years of service as a British soldier often from the early age of 17 leave them unwelcome strangers in their homeland with the scarce jobs not being offered to them. Often trained as highly skilled motor-vehicle engineers and paramedics, the ex-Gurkha finds these skills are worthless in a country with few cars. They usually end up seeking work in the country that they had served and seen as home for many years. But instead of being welcomed they are treated like criminals, with threats of deportation when they come to UK.
“Often born outside of Nepal, the Gurkhas hold Hong Kong identity cards with no citizenship, and British passports with no right to remain in the UK,” said Dr. Taylor. “The ex-Gurkha is in effect stateless and the growing humanitarian crisis in Nepal restricts their options even further.”
During her visit to Nepal, Dr. Taylor helped the delegation document the living conditions of the ex-Gurkha soldiers and their families; the plights of the widows and relatives who are still awaiting confirmation of their husbands fate, including Victoria Cross holders and World War II veterans; the redundant Gurkhas from East Asian and Falkland Wars with no pension or any benefits; the socio-economic condition in the areas from where the Gurkhas are mainly recruited; and the kinds of discriminations towards all the Gurkhas and their families, including those in service and those excluded from the right to enter and remain in UK retired pre-July 1, 1997.
Along with her work with the Gurkhas in Nepal, Dr. Taylor stayed two extra days with Edith Ballantyne, former secretary-general of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, to meet with Nepalese women. “Several women’s organizations asked if they could meet with us on a separate agenda to help them develop proposals for funding.”
In addition to Dr. Taylor and Ms. Ballantyne, the delegation includes six members from Nepal and six leading human rights advocates from the UK, Switzerland, Japan, India and the U.S. The Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen’s Organisation (GAESO) is supporting the delegation as part of their continuing campaign for fair and equal treatment to them and their families by the UK government. For detailed information, visit www.gaeso.org.uk.