HUMAN RIGHTS: Nepal making strides

- By KAMAL RAJ SIGDEL

 

Despite persistent challenges, Nepal’s transition to peace has been marked by significant progress on the human rights front. The country has undergone different phases of a radical political and social transformation following the democratic uprising in 2006 that put an end to the decade-long war and toppled a repressive monarchy.

Though the transformation is not yet complete, the country has put an end to the spectre of violence and initiated a process to build a more equal, peaceful and democratic society. Notably, what followed the 2006 political change has been a gradual enhancement in both the people’s and the leaders’ level of understanding that honouring people’s fundamental human rights is the basic norm of democracy and any infringement of these rights is unacceptable.

Human rights defenders with years of experience in the sector look back and feel exultant at the progress made. They recount the pre-1990 days when they had to celebrate the Dec. 10 Human Rights Day literally underground. “Things have, of course, changed a lot,” says Gauri Pradhan, Spokesman and Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). “There used to be a time when we would meet underground at the houses of Tanka Prasad Acharya or Ganesh Man Singh and come out in the field in disguise … we used to organise tree-plantation programmes. The police would then pull out all the plants after finding that they were planted by human rights activists.”

On the contrary, today protection of human rights is not only an agenda of civil society groups but also a priority of the state. They have been formally enshrined in the draft of the new constitution and integrated into the government’s policies and national plan (National Human Rights Action Plan 2004), in school- and college-level curriculum and in the working modality of the security forces. Nepal has made significant progress in securing the rights of women and children. The 33 percent representation of women in the House, “outstanding” progress in reducing the maternal mortality rate as per the target of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), repeal of almost all the laws and legal provisions that were discriminatory against women, and progress made in the net enrolment of children in schools are all worth celebrating.

The positive effects of all these changes on the lives of common people have been reflected in a number of recent annual indexes such as the UNDP Human Development Report (2010), which places Nepal as one of the world’s fastest movers in HDI, and the World Global Hunger Index and Democracy Index of the Economist, which show Nepal progressing in democracy.

Statistics of human rights watchdogs that have long been monitoring incidents of rights violations do show some positive signs. “The percentage of custodial torture has gone down from 57 to 16 in the last 10 years in the 20 districts we monitored,” says Mandira Sharma, Executive Director of the Advocacy Forum.

Rights activists attribute the progress to an increased sensitivity to human rights issues within state security forces, visible particularly after the 2006 democratic uprising. “The sensitisation that has come about within the security sector is a major achievement,” says Pradhan of NHRC.

 

THE MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS

Compensation, reparation distributed to almost all conflict victims

Gender friendly budget (17.3 percent to gender)

Increased HR awareness in security forces

Draft statute upholds civil-political, social-cultural rights

National Human Rights Action Plan adopted

‘A’ grade, ‘Independent, autonomous’ NHRC

Ratification of 7 out of 9 core international treaties on HR

A bill to criminalise torture in the offing

 

MAJOR HITCHES, CHALLENGES

Impunity for crimes committed during war

Weak enforcement of court judgments

Torture yet to be criminalised

New draft legislation renders NHRC toothless

Sexual and gender minorities highly discriminated

Refugees’ rights still unprotected

Delay in formation of TRC and Disappearance Commission

Draft statute has many conditions to curtail fundamental rights

As of now, all three state security apparatuses--Nepal Army, Armed Police Force and Nepal Police--have established their own separate human rights cells and have begun orienting their personnel on basic human rights issues. And each one has incorporated a “zero tolerance policy” against human rights abuses and launched a number of training programmes on human rights. One case in point is the human rights sensitisation programme launched by the Armed Police Force for its personnel in partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal.

“Unlike before, the security forces are more cooperative these days,” says Sharma, who has been monitoring the instances of rights violations, particularly torture and extrajudicial killings in 20 districts across the country.

Sharma, however, is dismayed at the government’s reluctance to institutionalise these achievements and at the lack of progress in addressing impunity. Ratification of the Convention Against Torture (CAT), says Sharma, would have helped institutionalise the progress by providing a framework to systematically end torture and other forms of inhuman treatment by security forces. Despite pressure from the international community and rights defenders, the government has refused to ratify the CAT. Ratification of the CAT and investigation into extrajudicial killings are two of the 15 recommendations made by the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that Nepal rejected.

The other challenges for the security forces that are often pointed out by rights defenders concern extrajudicial killings and impunity for past human rights violations.

 

Monitoring mechanism

Another barometer of a country’s human rights situation are the mechanism used to monitor violations and the government’s response to the recommendations of monitors. Nepal, in that case, stands out in the region, according to different indicators.

Statistics at the NHRC show that the government response to human rights concerns have been “satisfactory and positive”. The government has implemented around 90 percent of the NHRC recommendations, especially on policy issues, according to NHRC Spokesman Pradhan. There has been, however, very little progress in implementing recommendations that call for legal action against perpetrators.

STATUS OF NHRC RECOMMENDATION

Recommendations Complaints

Fully implemented 34

Partially implemented 138

Pending 214

Rejected 0

Total 386

Government officials argue there are some genuine reasons behind the government’s inability to initiate legal actions for human rights abuses committed during the conflict. “The CPA and the Interim Constitution have clearly stated that separate commissions on inquiry into enforced disappearance and truth and reconciliation would be set up to look into the incidents of human rights violations committed during the conflict period,” says Dilli Raj Ghimire, Joint Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). “Neither the government nor the court can challenge legal and constitutional provisions. But the government remains committed to address those cases once the laws are put in place.”

Responding to the concerns of the human rights community, the PMO has formed a committee to monitor the implementation of NHRC recommendations. “Our internal records show that almost all of the recommendations concerning compensation have been implemented. Only those that have asked the government to formulate laws have been pending as they have to go through a long process,” says Shankar B. KC, Under Secretary at the human rights cell in PMO.

 

Healing the war wounds

Distribution of reparations and compensation to the victims of conflict has been one important area where the government has made significant progress.

The government has distributed over Rs. 2 billion as relief to the victims of the war that took more than 13,000 lives, rendered hundreds of people physically disabled, ravaged properties worth millions of rupees and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Compensations distributed

Deaths:

13,964 (Rs. 1,396.40m)

Disappearances:

1,302 (Rs.130.20m)

Abductions:

717 (Rs. 17.925m)

Property loss:

1,238 (Rs.75m)

Disability:

1,633 (Rs. 84.904m)

Widows:

3,668 (Rs. 91.700m)

As part of its relief programme, the government has started distributing special ID cards to conflict victims (with disabilities and physical injuries) to systematise their access to state facilities and other rights. Around 4,305 people disabled during the conflict are expected to benefit from the card--which entitles them with free treatment for physical damage, Rs. 200,000 as a lump-sum compensation, and scholarships for their children. Besides this, there is a mechanism in place under the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction that distributes relief to victims on the recommendations of the NHRC and the peace committees set up in all districts.

[Sigdel is a news coordinator with The Kathmandu Post and reports on human rights issues.]

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