NHRC fate hangs in balance, ICC likely to downgrade the watchdog from A to B status

NHRC fate hangs in balance
ICC likely to downgrade the watchdog from A to B status
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The fate of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) hangs in balance with the government making no tangible progress in implementing its own commitment made at the UN forum in Geneva four months ago.

If the government does not amend the “toothless” draft NHRC bill in line with the recommendations of the international human rights community or “do something concrete” towards that direction within the next couple of weeks, chances are that the rights watchdog could be downgraded to B status, according to rights defenders.

The International Coordination Committee (ICC) of national human rights institutions is all set to decide whether or not to downgrade NHRC during its annual meeting in May 17-19, in Geneva. Any decision by the meeting will have a prestige issue for Nepal and if NHRC is downgraded, that will also reduce the commission to an “observer” status at UN forums.

ICC had warned the government of Nepal and NHRC in March 2010 that the commission could be downgraded from A to B status if certain corrections were not made within 12 months to make the watchdog meet the international standards spelled out in the Paris Principles. The UN General Assembly adopted the Paris Principles in 1993 as international standards for all national human rights institutions of UN Member States.

A sub-committee on accreditation of ICC had recommended amending the NHRC bill to ensure its financial and operational independence in line with Paris Principles, clearing the allegations of mismanagement, financial irregularities and divisions within NHRC and improving cooperation with other human rights stakeholders.

In response, the government expressed commitment during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva in January that it would, among other things, amend the draft NHRC bill to make it compliant to with the Paris Principles.

The ICC now awaits government’s response before taking a final decision at its May 17 meeting.

The May 17 meeting of ICC provides the last opportunity for NHRC to address the international body’s concerns. NHRC spokesman Gauri Pradhan said, “We have clarified some of the issues form our side but what matters is the government response. If the government could send a grin signal on the NHRC bill, that may help avert the downgrading. However, what we believe is the ICC should not grade NHRC based on the law which is yet to be enacted. The current NHRC Act has established the commission as an autonomous and independent constitutional body.” Pradha said the NHRC has already submitted its explanations on the six major concerns expressed by ICC about NHRC.

OHCHR Nepal Chief Jyoti Sanghera, however, is hopeful that NHRC could retain its ‘A’ status. “I am hopeful and I certainly wish NHRC will not be downgraded for reasons which are not under its control,” said Jyoti. She said it would be “unfair” to punish NHRC in that account. If the House fails to pass the bill before the ICC meeting, an assurance from the government to pass it within a fixed time should also avert the downgrading, she said.

The NHRC draft bill tabled at the House in August 2009 is now under review at a three-member sub-committee headed by NC lawmaker Radhe Shyam Adhikari. The committee is not sure when the bill will move forward.

“We are aware that the NHRC fate depends on this draft bill. But what can we do? This has been delayed for the last two years,” said Adhikari. “Let’s see what we can do next week. We have not been able to meet this week as most of the lawmakers have gone to districts after the regular House session ended last week.”

The Prime Minister’s Office, that made the commitment in Geneva, is almost cut off from the whole issue. “Once the bill is tabled at the House, it becomes the property of the House and we can do nothing except wait and see,” said a senior official at the PMO overseeing human rights issues.

Besides the lack of progress in the bill, there has not been any progress in addressing other areas of ICC concern, such as the internal division among NHRC commissioners and the staffing problem, which has made the situation worrisome.
[Originally published at The Kathmandu Post, www.ekantipur.com/tkp] 

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