TITLE: NEPAL HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993
DATE: JANUARY 31, 1994
AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Nepal is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of
government. Formerly an absolute monarch, the King in 1990
legalized political parties and invited formation of an interim
government that promulgated a new Constitution. Under the
Constitution, the King retains important residual powers but
has effectively dissociated himself from the exercise of
governing. The democratically elected Parliament consists of
the House of Representatives (lower house) and the National
Council (upper house). In multiparty elections held in May
1991, the Nepali Congress Party won a majority in the House of
Representatives and chose G.P. Koirala as Prime Minister.
Internal security is maintained by Nepal's National Police
Force, under the Home Minister, and, as necessary, by the Royal
Nepalese Army, of which the King is Commander in Chief.
Because communication links in Nepal are limited, local
officials have a great deal of autonomy and exercise wide
discretion in handling law and order. In 1993, as in previous
years, the police on several occasions used excessive lethal
force in quelling demonstrations, and police mistreatment of
criminal suspects continued.
Nepal is one of the world's poorest countries, with per capita
gross domestic product estimated at around $170. Over 80
percent of its 20 million people are supported by subsistence
agriculture. Carpet and ready-made garment sales and tourism
revenues are the major sources of foreign exchange, and foreign
aid covers more than half of Nepal's development budget. Under
the new Government, major efforts are under way to liberalize
the economy and provide a greater role for the private sector.
Progress has been achieved in the transition to a more open
society and greater respect for human rights since political
reform began in 1990; however, there was no significant change
in the human rights situation in 1993 from the previous year,
and substantial problems remain. During periods of
leftist-inspired unrest in June and July, groups of
brick-throwing youths clashed with police on several
occasions. Poorly trained police forces fired indiscriminately
into crowds in at least three instances and unnecessarily
resorted to the use of lethal force at other times. Overall,
at least 20 persons were killed. There were reports of torture
under detention and widespread reports of custodial abuse. The
Government's unwillingness to investigate or enforce
accountability for recent and past abuses remained a concern.
Some restrictions continued on freedom of expression.
Trafficking in women and child labor remained serious
problems. Discrimination against women and lower castes was
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
On several occasions, government security forces responded with
excessive force to demonstrations, some of them violent,
organized by the principal opposition party, the Communist
Party of Nepal/United Marxist-Leninist (CPN/UML). A number of
demonstrators were killed. On March 8, police fired into a
crowd that was violently protesting the Tanakpur agreement
between Nepal and India concerning water rights, after tear gas
and the firing of blanks failed to disperse the demonstrators.
One 15-year-old girl was killed, and two persons were wounded.
More serious political violence erupted in June after a
government commission investigating the deaths of two senior
UML leaders released its finding that the two died in an
accident when their vehicle plunged into a river. The UML
conducted its own investigation which claimed that their
leaders were the victims of a political conspiracy. However,
the party did not release its report or provide evidence to
support its allegations. Between June 24 and 28, a series of
protests were called by leftist parties to pressure the
Government into forming a new investigative commission. The
demonstrations turned violent in several places in Kathmandu
and its suburb Patan. In some instances, groups of young men
destroyed public and private property, attempted to set fire to
government buildings, and attacked police with stones and
bottles. Police initially exercised restraint, but by the
third and fourth day of the protests police fired
indiscriminately into crowds or at specific curfew violators.
At least 16 people were killed, including several innocent
Violence reignited on July 19-20, when a Communist-led call to
halt all transport led to violent clashes with the police. The
police killed three boycotters in Janakpur, Chitwan, and Jhapa
districts and two more on August 23 in Sarlahi district.
The Government compensated some of the families of those killed
in the demonstrations with approximately $500 each and paid the
medical expenses for some of those injured in the violence.
The Government compensated the families of 10 people killed in
the 1993 summer violence after the families made claims through
the Ministry of Home Affairs. Some families refused the offers
of compensation. However, the Government refused to initiate a
formal investigation into the events of June 26-29 or July
19-20 and did not initiate legal proceedings against the police
officers responsible for the killings. The Government claimed
the use of lethal force was justified on those occasions in
order to safeguard the police who were heavily outnumbered.
Independent human rights monitors faulted both sides for the
violence. The police overreacted in firing into crowds
indiscriminately and using deadly force before exhausting other
options, while the demonstrators resorted to violence and stone
Police also shot and killed a Tibetan monk and wounded several
others on June 15 when a group of about 60 Tibetans were
intercepted after crossing the border from China without valid
travel documents. The Government investigated the incident and
promised to punish those responsible but took no action, nor
did it release a report of the investigation by year's end.
On March 10, two policemen beat to death a man taken into
custody in Hetauda. They were arrested and now await trial.
On November 1, 1992, the police in Gorkha district beat to
death one of five persons arrested on suspicion of theft (see
According to numerous human rights groups, an 18-year-old male
was reportedly arrested and taken into police custody during a
demonstration in Bhaktapur on July 5. Another detainee later
reported seeing him in the Khaktapur police station and stated
that his body was covered with blood. After vomiting twice,
the 18-year-old became unconscious and was left unattended
overnight. The following morning, police brought him to
Kathmandu's Bir Hospital where he died. Apparently no
postmortem was conducted and police cremated the body soon
after death. One hospital employee later stated that the youth
died of head injuries. The Government denied this and claimed
the youth was found lying unconscious in the street and died
after authorities took him to the hospital.
Human rights observers also report that a 26-year-old male was
arrested by police on July 29 in Butwal. Reportedly drunk and
disorderly, he was detained overnight. On the next morning,
police took him to the hospital where he died later that day.
No postmortem was conducted, but witnesses say that the man's
face and feet were grossly swollen.
Numerous reports suggest that a student activitist may have
disappeared after being taken into police custody on June 25 in
central Kathmandu. During a crowded street demonstration,
several eyewitnesses claim they saw the student being beaten by
police. Jounalists later published photographs that appear to
show him being carried off by armed police. Police deny taking
him into custody, but family members say he has been missing
ever since. A local student group has petitioned the Supreme
Court to file a writ of habeas corpus in this case, but the
Court, without explanation, has postponed its decision several
times. Several international human rights groups have written
to the government to express concerns about this case.
The report of the Disappearances Commission, established to
look into all disappearances between December 1960 and the
political transformation that began in 1990, remains
unpublished. Human rights groups have expressed skepticism
about the Government's claim that the report's findings do not
warrant governmental action. They continue to express concern
that persons responsible for disappearances remain in positions
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
Although the Constitution prohibits torture, physical abuse by
police is reported to be a common means of punishing or
extracting confessions from those suspected of wrongdoing. The
Government rarely conducted investigations into allegations of
police brutality or punished police officers responsible for
abuses. The Constitution provides for compensation to those
subjected to physical or mental torture. However, a torture
compensation bill introduced in Parliament remained in
committee at the close of the session and was not passed in
1993 The bill, an initiative to provide quick monetary relief
to victims of abuse by the authorities, has been opposed by
some human rights groups for "putting a price on torture." It
remains in committee and is to be discussed in the next session
Information developed by local and international human rights
groups in 1993 shed light on several instances of torture that
occurred in late 1992. In one case, seven men and one woman
were taken into custody on October 29, 1992, in connection with
a murder in Sindhuli district. The police tortured six of them
in an attempt to force confessions; three were beaten until
unconscious, while two were threatened with death if they did
not sign confessions. Another incident took place in Kathmandu
on October 30, 1992, after five persons were charged with bank
fraud. The police tortured two persons by electrical shocks,
beat them with a pipe, and dragged them about by their hair.
On November 1, 1992, five persons were arrested on suspicion of
theft in the Gorkha district and severely beaten. Medical
doctors verified that all five received wounds consistent with
torture. One victim died 6 days later. On November 23, 1992,
five persons in Pokhara were arrested after a demonstration to
protest the dismissal of a school's headmaster and were
severely beaten by police with bamboo sticks. On January 13,
1993, the deputy superintendent of Pokhara's Kaski district was
discharged because of the incident. No criminal proceedings
are known to have been brought against him, and he has not been
disqualified from future government service.
On December 13, 1992, five policemen in Kathmandu, including a
subinspector, raped a young woman who had been detained for
questioning. As part of a government investigation, medical
evaluations indicated that her injuries were consistent with
sexual assault and severe beatings. The subinspector was
subsequently discharged in January 1993, but no criminal
proceedings were brought against him or others who participated
in the rape.
According to a number of human rights groups, during the
demonstrations that occurred in the Kathmandu valley June
26-29, there were instances when police administered beatings
indiscriminately to both adults and children in police
custody. The police beat 17 of the 60 children (15 years old
or younger) detained during the protests. Medical examinations
of the 17 indicated that their injuries were consistent with
beatings. The police reportedly denied food and water to all
60 children for 3 of their 7 days of detention. Human rights
groups report that they were denied permission to enter the
detention facility where the children were held.
In the incident in which a Tibetan monk was killed near the
Nepal-China border on June 15 (see Section l.a.), seven
Tibetans taken into police custody were severely beaten, two of
them to the point of unconsciousness. In September four
prisoners who tried to escape from an Ilam District jail
reportedly were beaten severely with clubs by four policemen.
On examination by doctors, one man was found to have 35 lash
marks on his back.
Overcrowding is common in Nepalese prison facilities, and the
use of handcuffs and fetters is sometimes reported. Women are
incarcerated separately from men, in equally poor conditions.
A provision in the 1992 Children's Act calling for the
establishment of a juvenile home and juvenile court for
children has not been implemented. Consequently, children are
sometimes incarcerated together with adults, both when they
commit crimes themselves or when a parent has committed a crime
and they have no other place of lodging. There were reports
that 6 infants and about 150 children below the age of 16 were
in prison in 1993.
Reflecting the low level of general medical facilities in this
developing country, facilities for care and treatment of the
mentally ill are inadequate. Such persons are often placed in
jails under conditions that are degrading and inhumane by
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
According to the Constitution, a suspect must be brought before
a court within 24 hours after arrest and informed of the
general grounds for the arrest or be released. Under the
Public Offenses Act of 1970, warrants are required for an
arrest unless a person is caught in the act of committing a
crime. For many offenses, the case must be filed in court
within 7 days of arrest. If the court upholds the detention,
the police are authorized up to 25 days, with a possible 7-day
extension, to complete their investigation. The Supreme Court
on occasion ordered the release of detainees held longer than
24 hours without a court appearance. However, in practice, the
police often violate this provision of the law. Under current
law, persons are permitted access to a lawyer only after they
are no longer in police custody. Lawyers report that family
members do not have a legal right of access to detainees.
Rather, the granting of access is haphazard and varies from
prison to prison. There is a functioning system of bail, but
bail is too expensive for most Nepalese.
The Public Security Act was often used to detain and arrest
persons during the 1990 Movement to Restore Democracy. The Act
was used primarily in 1993 to detain groups of youths and mob
leaders before scheduled demonstations. Most detainees were
released within 24-48 hours. Under the 1991 amendments, police
must present written notice to the Home Ministry to extend the
period of detention.
The district court must be notified of the detention within 24
hours. It may extend the period of detention once, for an
additional 6 months, before official charges must be filed.
The grounds for detention are open to broad interpretation: to
ensure the security of Nepal; order and tranquility inside
Nepal; amicable relations between Nepal and other friendly
states; or amicable relations among people of different classes
or religions within Nepal. Persons detained under the Act are
considered to be held in preventive detention and are not
brought to trial. Human rights groups report that persons
supportive of the CPN/UML and other opposition parties are
sometimes arrested and detained arbitrarily and are subjected
to unwarranted criminal investigations because of their
The revised Public Offenses Act and other laws allow for
arbitrary detention. It was under this Act that hundreds of
civil servants were detained in 1991 during a 55-day protest
strike against the Government. Despite the Act's revision in
1992, human rights monitors continued to express concern that
it vests too much power in the Chief District Officer (CDO),
the highest ranking civil servant in each of Nepal's 75
districts. In addition to a wide range of administrative
powers, CDO's are accorded the power to order detentions, issue
search warrants, and specify fines and other punishments for
misdemeanor crimes without judicial review. The Public
Offenses Act and its many amendments (the latest in 1992) cover
such crimes as disturbing the peace, vandalism, rioting, and
fighting. CDO's continue to act as magistrates in these cases
and are empowered to decide questions of guilt and to set
penalties. Their decisions may be appealed to appellate courts.
Exile is prohibited by the Constitution and is not practiced.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judicial system consists of three levels: district courts,
appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. The judges of all
three levels are appointed by the King upon the recommendation
of the Judicial Council, a constitutional body chaired by the
Chief Justice that makes recommendations and gives advice on
matters of appointment, transfer, disciplinary action against
judges, and other matters relating to judicial administration.
Military and civilian courts are separate. Military courts
generally deal only with military personnel who are immune from
prosecution in civilian courts. In 1992 the Supreme Court
ruled that civilians may no longer be tried in military courts
for crimes involving the military. In the past, cases of
terrorism or treason were often dealt with under the Treason
Act in closed trials held before specially constituted
tribunals. No such cases were tried in 1993, but the Treason
Act remains in effect.
The judiciary is legally independent. In 1993 the process of
judicial strengthening continued. Human rights lawyers in
Nepal report that the Supreme Court increasingly has
demonstrated its independence. For example, as the court of
final appeal, the Supreme Court has ruled important provisions
in the 1992 Labor Act and the 1991 Nepal Citizenship Act to be
unconsitutional. Further, the Supreme Court overruled the
ruling party's contention that the Tanakpur Agreement with
India was an "agreement" instead of a "treaty" requiring
Parliamentary approval. Appellate and district courts are also
becoming increasingly independent, although they still bend to
political pressures at times.
There is no articulated presumption of innocence under the 1990
Constitution. There is the right to a public trial except in
some security and customs cases. The Constitution provides for
the right to counsel, protection from double jeopardy, and
protection from retroactive application of the law. All lower
court decisions, including acquittals, are subject to appeal.
The Supreme Court is the court of last appeal, but the King may
grant pardons and may suspend, commute, or remit any sentence
by any court.
The Government declared that it has no political prisoners, and
there is no credible evidence that any political prisoners are
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Government generally respected the privacy of the home and
family. Search warrants are required before search and seizure
except in cases involving suspected security and narcotics
violations. The Police Act of 1955, as amended, empowers the
police to issue warrants for search and seizure in criminal
cases upon receipt of information about criminal activities.
The Chief District Officer in misdemeanor cases and court
judges in felony cases must approve warrants within 24 hours of
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution specifies that all citizens shall have freedom
of thought and expression; it also provides that no news item,
article, or any other reading material shall be censored.
However, Article 13 of the Constitution prohibits speech and
press that would threaten the sovereignty and integrity of the
Kingdom; disturb the harmonious relations among people of
different castes or communities; promote sedition, defamation,
contempt of court, or instigation to commit crime; or
contradict decent public behavior or morality. The Press and
Publications Act provides for the licensing of publications and
the granting of credentials to journalists and includes
penalties for violating these requirements. In August 1992,
regulations issued to enforce this Act further circumscribed
Nepal's journalists by setting specific requirements of
education and experience in order to hold particular jobs in
journalism. The Act also prohibits publication of materials
that, inter alia, promote disrespect toward the King or royal
family or undermine the dignity of the King; undermine the
integrity and sovereignty of the Kingdom; undermine the
security, peace, and order of the Kingdom; create animosity
among people of different castes, religions, etc.; or adversely
affect the good conduct or morality of the public. A similar
list provides a basis for banning foreign publications.
Two journalists were arrested in April for offending the royal
family. One writer quoted from a book that suggested the
King's brother may have been involved in drug smuggling. The
other published a retouched photo of the King's daughter and an
Indian movie star with an insulting caption. Both journalists
were released on bail after 3 days. They were charged under
the State Offenses Act and the Press Act for offending members
of the royal family. A trial has not yet been held.
The two Nepalese dailies with the largest circulation are
government organs. While their editors may on occasion publish
critical views and recommend alternative policies, their views
usually tend to reflect government policy. The Ministry of
Communication also has provided occasional guidance to editors.
There are scores, if not hundreds, of fully independent papers
representing points of view across the political spectrum. The
Government subsidizes newsprint materials to allow less
profitable papers to stay in business and is considering
allowing duty-free entry of computer and fax machines for the
registered newspaper "industry" in order to encourage further
the flow of information.
The Government owns and controls the sole radio and television
stations. Programming reflects a broader range of interests
and political viewpoints than before the political
transformation began in 1990, but it still follows the
government line closely. Access to foreign radio is extremely
widespread and is in no way controlled or restricted by the
Government. Access to television satellite reception is
limited only by the high costs involved; no government
restrictions exist. At the end of the year, the Government
moved towards the licensing of private radio stations and
discussed the entry of private television and cable services.
Academic freedoms are, in general, subject to the same
limitations as the media. However, no overt efforts by the
Government to enforce these limitations were reported in 1993.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and
association. However, freedom of assembly may be legally
restricted on such vague grounds as undermining the
"sovereignty and integrity" of Nepal or disturbing "law and
order." There were no reports of arrest or detention for
exercising the freedoms of peaceable assembly or association in
1993. However, hundreds of persons were arrested at violent
strikes and demonstrations organized over the summer by the
CPN/UML (see Section 1.d.). On several occasions, a few
opposition leaders were placed in preventive detention before
scheduled demonstrations. They were released within 48 hours.
c. Freedom of Religion
The majority of Nepalese are Hindu, and the Constitution
describes Nepal as a Hindu Kingdom, although Hinduism has not
been made the state religion. There is a large minority of
Buddhists, a smaller number of Muslims, and a small number of
Christians. The 1990 Constitution protects the functioning of
all religions but prohibits discrimination on the basis of
caste, except for traditional practice at Hindu temples.
Non-Hindus are allowed to practice their religion and to
maintain places of worship. Religious education is offered by
non-Hindus, including Muslims and Christians. Religious
publications are imported mainly from India and are widely
circulated. Religious groups may establish their own
organizations and acquire their own places of worship.
A 1992 law allows self-conversion but outlaws proselytizing.
It provides a maximum penalty of 6 years for converting a
person to another religion and a maximum sentence of 3 years
for attempting to convert someone. No arrests were made under
this provision in 1993. A number of foreign Christian
clergymen and religious workers reside in Nepal and are active
in various fields.
The current Government adopted relatively tolerant policies
which allowed Christians and other non-Hindu groups to freely
engage in a wide variety of religious activities. Christmas
and Id-Ul Fitr have been made legal holidays for Christians and
Muslims, respectively. There is continuing concern, however,
about the prohibition against religious conversion in the new
Constitution. Various non-Hindu groups proposed amending this
provision of the Constitution. They are concerned that it
represents an undue restriction on a person's right freely to
express his or her religious beliefs.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens of Nepal may move freely within the country and reside
where they wish, a right provided for in the Constitution.
Foreigners (including Tibetan residents) and journalists are
restricted from traveling to some areas on the Chinese border
unless they are part of a licensed trekking group escorted by a
police liaison officer.
Travel outside of Nepal is not restricted for Nepalese
citizens. Some Tibetans residing in Nepal have been prevented
from traveling by air to India due to a lack of travel
documents or a Nepali identification card. However, they may
pass freely into India by road. Travel to other countries is
restricted by the Tibetans' lack of valid travel documents.
For Tibetans to travel abroad, there is a complex process often
involving invitation letters from foreign governments and the
issuance of temporary travel documents. Some Tibetans do
travel beyond India but obtaining the necessary visas and
documents can take months of effort.
All Nepalese abroad are free to return home. Although not
explicitly prohibited by the Constitution, there are no known
cases of revocation of citizenship for political reasons.
Nepal has no official refugee policy and is not party to the
1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has maintained
an office in Kathmandu since 1989. The Government aids UNHCR
efforts by facilitating its access to refugees from both China
and Bhutan. In the past, Nepal accepted and assimilated
approximately 18,000 Tibetan refugees, who still reside there.
Over 12,000 Tibetan residents, however, are without legal proof
that they live in Nepal since the Government ceased issuing
identification cards in the mid-1970's. The Government is now
working with them to issue refugee identity cards to Tibetans
Border restrictions, tightened in 1986 by a joint
Nepalese/Chinese agreement, are observed haphazardly by both
sides. Some Nepalese border officials occasionally demanded
bribes from Tibetan refugees intercepted inside the country,
and in several instances fighting broke out between the police
and the refugees. On June 15, Nepalese police shot and killed
a Tibetan monk during an extortion attempt (see Section l.a.).
According to government policy, Tibetans intercepted inside
Nepal are to be conveyed to UNHCR facilities in Kathmandu for
refugee screening. However, as in previous years, Tibetans
continue to be repatriated involuntarily to China, especially
from remote border regions.
Ethnic Nepalese fleeing Bhutan continued to arrive after
suffering abuses or being expelled by Bhutanese authorities.
(See the report on Bhutan.) At the end of 1993, the camps in
southeastern Nepal housed 86,000 refugees, representing almost
one-fifth of Bhutan's estimated population before the exodus
began. The UNHCR monitors the condition of these refugees and
provides assistance for their basic needs. The Government
tolerates their presence on a humanitarian basis, although it
can offer them little except a place to stay.
Conditions in the refugee camps have improved dramatically
since 1992, and the contrast in living conditions between
UNHCR-housed refugees and relatively poorer local residents has
created tensions that occasionally result in violence between
the two communities. Relief organizations in charge of
day-to-day camp administration have begun distributing token
relief supplies to local communities in an attempt to defuse
In July the governments of Nepal and Bhutan formed a joint
committee to resolve the refugee problem. Its first task was
to determine different categories of refugees in Nepal in
preparation for the future repatriation to Bhutan of those
refugees found to be eligible. Little concrete progress had
been made by year's end.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Under the Constitution promulgated in 1990, Nepal is a
constitutional monarchy with sovereignty vested in the people.
The people, through their elected representatives, have the
right to amend the Constitution with the exception of certain
basic principles of the body politic which may not be changed--
sovereignty vested in the people, the multiparty system,
fundamental rights, and the constitutional monarchy.
Parliamentary elections are to be held at least every 5 years.
Midterm elections may be called if the ruling party loses its
majority, or loses a vote of no confidence, or if it calls for
elections. Universal suffrage by secret ballot is provided for
all citizens over the age of 18. On May 12, 1991, the people
exercised their franchise for the first time in 32 years in a
general election that domestic and international observers
described as basically free and fair. The Nepali Congress
Party won 112 out of 205 seats in the House of Representatives
(the lower house) and formed the Government. The King
appointed Girija Prasad Koirala, a leader in the Nepali
Congress Party, as Prime Minister.
The upper house comments on lower house bills (although it may
also introduce legislation and send it to the lower house for
consideration). If the upper house considers legislation
passed by the lower house and returns it with amendments (or
rejects it outright), the lower house may vote on it again and,
with a 50 percent or better majority, bypass the upper house
and send the legislation directly to the King for his assent.
The King exercises powers "with the advice and consent of the
Council of Ministers." These powers include exclusive
authority to enact, amend, and repeal laws relating to
succession to the throne. The King's income and property are
tax exempt and inviolable. No question may be raised in any
court about any act performed by the King. The Constitution
also permits the King to exercise emergency powers in the event
of war, external aggression, armed revolt, or extreme economic
depression. The emergency powers allow him to suspend without
judicial review many basic freedoms, including the freedoms of
expression and assembly, freedom from censorship, and freedom
from preventive detention. The rights to form associations and
of habeas corpus may not be suspended. The King's declaration
of a state of emergency must be approved by a two-thirds
majority of the lower house of the Parliament. If the lower
house is not in session, the upper house exercises this power.
A state of emergency may be maintained for up to 3 months
without legislative approval and up to 6 months, renewable only
once for an additional 6 months, if legislative approval is
granted. There were no known instances in 1993 in which a
political party was denied registration or participation in an
The Constitution bars the registration and participation in
elections of any political party that is based on "religion,
community, caste, tribe, or region," or that does not operate
openly and democratically.
There are no specific laws that restrict indigenous people,
women, or minorities from participating in the government or
political parties, but lingering conservative traditions limit
the influence of women and some castes and tribes in the
political process. The Constitution requires that at least 5
percent of the candidates for the House of Representatives from
each registered political party be women. In 1993, 5 percent
of party candidates were female and there were 7 female Members
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
Nepal has over a dozen local nongovernmental human rights
organizations, including the Human Rights Organization of Nepal
(HURON), the Forum for the Protection of Human Rights (FOPHUR),
and the International Institute for Human Rights, Environment,
and Development (INHURED). The Nepal Law Society also monitors
human rights issues. In addition, there are a number of
single-issue nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) which focus
on issues such as torture, child labor, women's rights, or
Human rights organizations contend that at times the Government
was uncooperative in 1993. For example, they report that the
Government has been reluctant to transfer funds provided by the
United Nations Center for Human Rights to appropriate
organizations which won the funds as financial awards for
programming. Several human rights organizations also claimed
that a few Chief District Officers seized documentation from
local human rights monitors that was to be used in a Nepal-wide
human rights yearbook.
However, the Government is working with foreign aid agencies to
initiate human rights and nonlethal crowd control training for
police, and it cooperates with international human rights
groups. Amnesty International (AI) visited Nepal in 1993, and
AI staff met with a large number of government officials.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution specifies that the State shall not
discriminate against citizens on grounds of religion, race,
sex, caste, or ideology. In practice, however, discrimination
against women and lower castes is widespread.
Women face gender discrimination, particularly in rural areas,
where the weight of religious and cultural tradition, lack of
education, and ignorance of the law remain severe impediments
to the exercise of such basic rights as the right to vote or to
hold property in their own names.
According to the 1991 census, the female literacy rate is 26
percent, compared to a male literacy rate of 57 percent. Human
rights groups report that throughout the country girls attend
secondary schools at half the rate boys do.
Over the years, women have benefited from various changes in
marriage and inheritance laws. The new Constitution
strengthened provisions regarding women, including equal pay
for equal work, although the Government had not effectively
implemented this provision by year's end. Moreover, many laws
remain discriminatory. Divorce law grants women the right to
divorce, but on narrower grounds than those available to men.
Likewise, the law governing property rights favors men in a
number of ways, including in the division of family property,
the disposition of property, inheritance, and land tenancy.
Women's rights groups report that wife beating is common.
Little public attention is given to violence against women in
the home, and the Government made no specific efforts to combat
it. However, human rights monitors, including Members of
Parliament, are working to teach women about their rights under
the Constitution, and several have offered free legal services
in court cases involving violence against women.
Abortion is illegal even in cases involving rape or incest.
Only when the health of the mother would be in jeopardy by
giving birth is an abortion legally allowed. Illegal abortion,
reportedly not uncommon, is one of the main reasons for
imprisonment of women in Nepal.
Trafficking in women is a deeply ingrained social problem in
several of Nepal's poorest areas. Estimates of the total
number of Nepalese girls and women working as prostitutes in
the red-light districts of India's major cities vary widely but
range between 150,000 to 200,000. A children's human rights
group in Nepal states that 20 percent of these prostitures are
younger than 16 years old. Coercion is usually involved,
although it is difficult to gauge its extent. Newspapers
occasionally report the arrest of persons attempting to abduct
young women or trick them into going to India. In January a
man was sentenced to 5 years in prison, and in March a woman
was sentenced to 3 years, for trafficking. In many cases,
parents or relatives sell women into sexual slavery. The
tradition of religious prostitution among the Badini and Devaki
of western Nepal is a continuing concern.
The Government prosecutes cases of coercive trafficking brought
to its attention, but has taken few active measures to stop
it. The spread of the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome
(AIDS) in India's red-light districts has discouraged the
Government from aggressively promoting the return and
rehabilitation of Nepalese prostitutes.
Government efforts thus far focus more on preventing voluntary
prostitution than on rehabilitation or prevention of coercive
trafficking. The Women's Development Division of the Ministry
of Labor and Social Welfare sponsors income-generating skill
training programs in several districts known for sending
prostitutes to India. Several nongovernmental organizations
have similar programs.
A growing number of women's advocacy groups are taking up
women's issues. Nearly all political parties have their own
women's groups which press for women's causes. In Parliament,
women members have begun working for the passage of tougher
laws for crimes of sexual assault but with little success.
The Child Act of 1992 establishes legal protections for
children in the workplace and in criminal proceedings. It
calls for the establishment of child welfare committees and
orphanages, although many of these facilities are not yet in
place. The Labor Act of 1992 prohibits employment of minors
under 14 years of age and provides that nurseries must be
established in workplaces with more than 50 people. Also, the
Government has worked closely with NGO's and the private sector
to create a "child labor-free" certification to be used in the
Nepal is still largely a traditional society wedded to the
caste system, and caste discrimination is common, especially in
the rural areas of western Nepal. Although the public shunning
of "untouchables" has been outlawed, an exception was retained
for traditional practices at Hindu religious sites. Economic,
social, and educational discrimination tend to be a function of
historical patterns, geographical location, and caste. The
spread of education and higher levels of prosperity, especially
in the Kathmandu valley, are slowly reducing caste distinctions
and increasing opportunities for lower socioeconomic groups.
Politics and senior jobs in the government administration and
army in Nepal continue to be dominated by higher and better
educated urban-oriented castes (Brahmin, Chhetri, and certain
elements of the Newar community). However, the representation
of other castes and ethnic groups is increasing slowly.
Nepal has over 75 ethnic groups speaking 50 languages. The
Constitution provides that "each community residing within the
Kingdom of Nepal shall have the right to preserve and promote
its language, script, and culture." Furthermore, the
Constitution specifies that each community has the right to
operate schools up to the primary level in its mother tongue.
Despite these constitutional provisions, the Government has not
enacted legislation or established programs to safeguard the
rights of ethnic groups that are not a part of the ruling
class. Most government administrators are Brahmin, Chhetri, or
Newar. Other ethnic groups and castes not in the governing
elite are unable to participate fully in decisions affecting
their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of
natural resources in the territories they inhabit. In remote
rural areas, school lessons are conducted in the native
language of the community. In less remote areas and in areas
with nearby municipalities, education at primary, secondary,
and university levels is conducted almost exclusively in the
Nepali language. Human rights organizations report that the
languages of the small Kusunda, Dura, and Meche communities are
nearly extinct and that non-Hindu peoples are losing their
culture over time.
People with Disabilities
Persons who are physically disabled normally rely on family
members to assist them. There are no government programs
specifically designed to deal with the problems faced by
disabled persons, nor has legislation been enacted to mandate
accessibility for the disabled to public buildings.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Article 12 of the Constitution provides for the freedom to form
and to join unions and associations. According to the
Constitution, unions may be legally restricted only in cases of
subversion, sedition, or similar conditions. Since the
political transformation began in 1990, there has been an
increase in trade union activity in every sector.
Nepal's trade unions were initially linked closely to political
parties. However, as the unions develop their administrative
structures, they are becoming increasingly independent of
political influence. Nepal's largest trade unions are the
National Trade Union Congress and the General Federation of
Nepalese Trade Unions. The first is associated with the ruling
Nepali Congress Party, the second with the opposition Communist
Party of Nepal.
Union participation in the formal sector is significant, but
this sector accounts for only a very small portion of Nepal's
overall labor force. Due to their recent formation and the
country's lack of experience with trade unionism, unions are
still developing effective structures for organizing,
collective bargaining, and education. The Parliament passed
new labor and trade union acts in 1992, and the Government
passed regulations to implement these acts.
Under the law, strikes are permitted except in "essential
services" such as water supply, electricity, and
telecommunications. The Government is legally empowered to
stop a strike or suspend the functioning of a trade union if it
disturbs peace and security or adversely affects the nation's
economic interests. Under the new Labor Act, a secret vote
must be held to determine whether to strike, and 60 percent of
the members must favor a strike for it to be legal. A number
of illegal strikes took place in 1993, especially to protest
retrenchment in public enterprises under the Government's
program of administrative reform. Most received little
publicity and were ineffective.
The 1992 Labor Act presents several steps to strengthen
workers' rights, but it specifies that an employee's wages may
be limited, or that he may be dismissed, if he "goes on strike
without fulfilling the legal formalities..." Similarly the Act
specifies that a manager may be fined up to approximately $100
if he illegally removes workers, continues a lockout, or
"provokes" workers. Labor officers and labor courts have wide
powers, in theory, to order managers to comply with their
The Trade Union Act of 1992 establishes the procedures and
requirements for forming and registering trade unions,
associations, and federations, including the provisions
required in all union constitutions. It also protects unions
and officials from lawsuits arising from any actions taken in
the discharge of official duties, including collective
There are no restrictions on forming confederations or joining
international labor bodies. Several federations exist, and
Nepalese trade union organizations maintain a variety of
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The Labor Act provides for collective bargaining and stipulates
that an organization must have the signatures of at least 51
percent of the eligible workers in order to negotiate
collectively. The Government has passed implementing
regulations, but the appropriate agencies must be funded and
staffed. Although the organizational structures (e.g. labor
courts) to implement the Act's provisions have not been
created, collective bargaining has been the primary mechanism
for setting wages since April 1990.
Other than the Trade Union Act (see above), there are no clear
legal provisions prohibiting discrimination against union
members or organizers by employers.
There are no special economic zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Article 20 of the Constitution prohibits forced labor in any
form. The Department of Labor enforces laws against forced
labor in the small formal sector of the economy. However,
bonded labor is an aspect of traditional Nepalese society and
is especially prevalent in agricultural work. Over 100,000
ethnic Tharus are estimated to be bonded laborers in the Terai
region of southern Nepal. (See also the discussion of
trafficking in women in Section 5).
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Constitution stipulates that children shall not be employed
in factories, mines, or similar hazardous work, and the law
establishes a minimum age for employment of minors at 16 in
industry and 14 in agriculture. Despite the law, child workers
are found in all sectors of the economy. According to a
children's rights group, Child Workers in Nepal, 57 percent of
children are employed. Most child laborers are employed in the
agricultural sector, though reports suggest that as many as
half of the workers in Nepal's growing carpet industry are
children. Under the 1992 Labor Act, minors aged 14 to 18 are
not allowed to work more than 6 hours per day nor more than 36
hours per week and are not allowed to work outside of the hours
of 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. For adults, working hours are 8
hours per day and 48 hours per week. Overtime for adults is to
be paid at 150 percent of usual wages.
The Department of Labor's enforcement record is spotty. It has
had some success in enforcing laws in the urban formal sector
relating to permanency, minimum wage, and holidays. In 1993
the Department fined 23 factories for employing child labor.
Discussion in a number of Western countries about banning
imports produced by child labor has had an impact in Nepal,
where carpet exports to the West provide the largest source of
foreign exchange. Concerned that Western countries might soon
begin to ban carpets produced by children, Nepali
manufacturers, NGO's, and government agencies announced a
certification program under which "child labor-free" carpets
are to be produced and sold. Overall, however, the
Government's action has been inadequate to reduce the incidence
of child labor. After raids and the subsequent fining of the
23 factories employing child labor, the Government charged no
other companies with violations in this area, despite the fact
that child labor is endemic.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Act sets a minimum monthly wage in factories and in
the organized labor sector. This wage is sufficient only for
the most minimal standard of living. Rates in the unorganized
service sector and in agriculture are often as much as 50
The Labor Act calls for a 48-hour workweek, with 1 day off per
week, and limits overtime to 20 hours per week. Health and
safety standards and other benefits such as a provident fund
and maternity benefits are also stipulated in the Act.
Implementation of the Act has been slow, as the Government has
not created the necessary regulatory or administrative
structures to enforce its provisions. The Act and its
implementing regulations spell out health and safety features
that employers must put in place, but the right of workers to
remove themselves from dangerous work situations is not
mentioned. Labor officers are empowered to order employers to
rectify unsafe conditions and to close facilities where unsafe
[US Dept of State]