Nepal is attempting to cripple the National Human Rights CommissionThe government’s introduction of the Amendment Bill is putting human rights, one of the pillars of democracy, at risk.
Chun Bahadur Gurung
People barely believe that a country which is often out of the limelight in international affairs can significantly contribute to global peace and security. The United Nations, General Assembly resolution 1628 (XVI) in 1961 entrusted Nepal to lead the UN Commission of Inquiry into the death of the UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold who was killed in a tragic plane crash in Lusaka. Nepal’s then Permanent Representative to the UN, Rishikesh Shah was unanimously elected as the chair of the UN Commission.
Nepal has made considerable manpower contributions to the UN peacekeeping missions since 1958. It is currently the fifth-largest troop-contributing country.
As for the promotion and protection of human rights, Nepal was elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) for 2018-2020 with 166 votes at the UN General Assembly concluded on October 2017 in New York. The Human Rights Council is an intergovernmental body responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. The result reflected Nepal’s ability to contribute to global human rights.
Nepal’s Permanent Mission to the UN released a statement stated that: ‘[The election result] reflects the international community’s acknowledgement of Nepal’s passionate efforts and accomplishments in the field of promotion and protection of human rights’. The result offered Nepal an unprecedented opportunity to globally contribute, showcase its contributions and garner international investments and support for the prosperity.
Unfortunately, the government is taking a wrong turn with the registration of a flawed bill that aims to amend the National Human Rights Commission Act 2012 at the federal Parliament. With the Amendment Bill, the government has severely impaired the autonomy and independence of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The Human rights-related Bill, which is a cornerstone of a democratic system, has been drafted paying no attention to the constitutional clauses and the principles relating to the Status of National Human Rights Institutions commonly known as the Paris Principles.
The Paris Principles, adopted by the UN General Assembly Resolution 48/134 in 1993, set out six main criteria such as a broad mandate, autonomy from the government, independence guaranteed by the constitution, pluralism and adequate resources. If the Bill gets enacted without amendment, the 19 years old NHRC will have to rely on the Office of the Attorney General for action against perpetrators of alleged human rights violations. The Attorney General constitutionally is the chief legal adviser to the Government of Nepal. Pursuant to the provision of the Amendment Bill, the Attorney General would have discretionary power in filing cases in court. The attorney general may ask the NHRC to furnish evidence and conduct investigations further. It undermines the constitutional status of the rights body and violates the criteria set out in the Paris Principles.
As for financial independence, the Paris Principles ensure NHRC’s smooth functioning with adequate funding. The finding should not be subject to the financial control of the government, as this might affect its independence. However, the NHRC, according to the Bill, would require consent from the ministry of finance to accept additional financial resources.
The human rights fraternity is wholly baffled with the repeal of a provision from the existing National Human Rights Commission Act which enshrined and ensured a legal foundation for the NHRC to set-up regional and sub-regional offices. Furthermore, the Supreme Court in the past has elucidated the NHRC as an independent body. The Bill breaches the constitutional clauses, undermines court verdicts, disrespects the Paris Principles and jeopardises a human rights-friendly environment.
One of the voluntary pledges Nepal made during the Human Rights Council election was ‘to strengthen the central role of the NHRC for the protection and promotion of human rights, with a mandate for independent investigation of cases of human rights violations’. Interestingly, the Amendment Bill does not subscribe to the statement delivered by the minister of foreign affairs at the HRC session in Geneva.
Human rights defenders, civil society organisations and general people at home continue to protest against the flawed Amendment Bill. They have urged for an amendment of the Bill in full conformity with the constitution, court verdicts and the Paris Principles. The international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Right Watch, Forum Asia and other agencies have joined in to support Nepal to have an independent and autonomous national human right body.
The Bill to Amend the National Human Rights Commission Act 2012 has now drawn the attention of the Special Procedure under the UN human rights mechanism. The Special Procedure of the Human Rights Council is a group of independent experts that report and advice on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. Bernard Duhaime, Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance, together with other five independent experts has, in July, intervened with a ‘communication’ to the Government of Nepal. Nepal now ought to officially respond to them. The Special Rapporteurs, while awaiting a response from Nepal, have also urged the relevant authorities in Nepal to take all necessary measures to ensure the full compliance of domestic legislation with international human rights norms and standards.
The government’s action with respect to the Amendment Bill is putting human rights, one of the pillars of democracy, at high risk and it has now undermined Nepal’s contribution in the past. Consequently, it contributes to deteriorate and damage Nepal’s human rights image internationally severely. While the human rights body within the current mandate has a long way to go to enhance its ability to reach out to the victims and vulnerable communities, the government has no legitimate ground curtailing constitutional clauses and undermining the independence of a constitutional body. Since Nepal is a sitting member of the Human Rights Council, the government should follow a consultative, participatory and inclusive approach to revise the Bill and seize an opportunity to continue contributing to the promotion and protection of human rights, peace and security across the world.
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