Nepali society will rise to ensure justiceAmnesty International is a global movement of more than 7 million people, campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. It has long been working in Nepal defending for human rights, rule of law and freedom of expression.
Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 7 million people, campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. It has long been working in Nepal defending for human rights, rule of law and freedom of expression. In this backdrop, Mukul Humagain and Binod Ghimire of the Post caught up with rights group’s Regional Director for South Asia Biraj Patnaik, who was in Nepal last week to oversee the works of AI’s Nepal Office, to talk about different facets of human rights movement and human rights situation in South Asia, particularly in Nepal. Excerpts:
Amnesty International has been working in Nepal for over four decades. How do you assess Amnesty’s presence in Nepal, considering the prolonged political transition and delayed transitional justice in the country?
Amnesty International in Nepal is one of the earliest sections working since 1969 and has a sustained presence over the years. Today, we have over 7,000 members from 42 districts in the country making it a grassroots movement. It has gone through, like any other orginisations, periods of transition and now we have a younger leadership that is taking on the challenges of human rights issue in Nepal. On a positive note, I have followed closely the constitution making process in Nepal and have no hesitation saying it’s one of the most progressive constitutions in South Asia, particularly in terms of political, economic and social rights. On the flip side, it’s the fact that the constitution doesn’t meet the aspirations of the many communities and that needs to be addressed. That’s the big gap on how Nepal moves forward from here in addressing the aspirations of the peoples who feel that their needs have not been addressed adequately through the constitution making process.
Amnesty’s position on transitional justice is that what is happening in Nepal is too little and too late. There are two commissions—Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission of Investigation on Enforce Disappeared Persons—in place. The reality is that they were set up nine years after the conflict ended, and little has been done since the formation of the commissions two years back. And, this is not the case typical to Nepal. If we look at the transitional justice process in Sri Lanka for instance, again there is the same story unfolding. Years after the conflict the parliament has just passed the legislation for transitional justice. In case of India, there isn’t even any durable mechanism for transitional justice despite having a long tradition of democratic practice. Indian track record on the transitional justice has been extremely poor.
Therefore, our view is that the victims have waited too long for justice and the process has to be smoothened.
The AI had reservations over various provisions in the law drafted to guide the transitional justice process in Nepal. However, the law are yet to be amended. How do you look at the works being done by the two transitional justice commissions?
Amnesty’s position has been very clear; we will engage with the process of transitional justice that Nepal is currently undertaking. We would support in every way we can to bring out the cases of human rights violation and to do facts finding that supports the process. Amnesty has spoken in the past on the issue of justice to the victims and we will continue to do so. Our record in South Asia has been to push for and support the government to set up a durable transitional justice mechanism across the region and Nepal is not an exception.
How hopeful are you that the war era victims will get justice in Nepal amidst political condition the Nepal is going through?
I would say it’s very tragic that the victims have paid a huge price for the political instability over the past few years. Their wait for justice seems unending even now. It’s the duty of everyone, including the international community, to build pressure on Nepal to smoothen the transitional justice process and ensure justice is delivered to the victims. The prognosis of transitional justice in Nepal is not looking good and the victims feel let down and they don’t see hope for justice being delivered. They don’t believe that these two mechanisms will deliver the justice. But I have faith in the Nepali society that it will rise to ensure the justice is done because the people have waited far too long. At the same time, Nepal has a fairly independent judiciary which gives hope that transitional justice doesn’t fall by the wayside.
What do you think is responsible for the pessimistic situation of transitional justice in Nepal?
One of the major preconditions for transitional justice to succeed is creation of the society’s will for forgiveness and reconciliation while ensuring that the perpetrators for the human rights violation are brought to book. But unfortunately in South Asia, the politics of the day determines what kind of mechanism is put in place. Therefore, transitional justice is not the issue of laws, technicalities or how it is crafted, but specifically is the issue of politics. Unfortunately, no government since the end of the war has proper intention for it. Therefore, the only hope now rests on the judiciary.
Amnesty has mentioned in its reports that Nepal government’s failure in enforcing the legislation was responsible for the migrant workers’ plight overseas. What do you think needs to be done in ensuring migrant workers’ rights?
So far as the migrants workers are concerned, rights violation has been done in two places: in the country of origin and the destination country. And the reality is, this not just specific to Nepal. South Asian labours, whether they are from Bangladesh, Nepal, India or Pakistan, face the situations which are equivalent to slavery in the destination countries. Since huge remittance flows from these destination countries, the countries of origin aren’t taking the issues seriously to the former in the fear of losing the money. On the other hand, what our report suggests that in Nepal recruitment agencies with deep political patronage have been ensuring that the policy of “free visa and free ticket” remains only on paper. Labours are forced to pay extortionist rate while receipts are given for much lower amount and the entire political system is united in not taking action against such recruitment agencies. Police don’t have adequate power to prosecute such cases. While I say this, I will also say it’s the role of human rights organisations like Amnesty to highlight the slave like conditions that exists for the labours from South Asia in the destination countries.
How can the slave like situation, as you mentioned, be improved?
The continuous pressure on Qatar, particular in context of the football World Cup, has yielded results. Big campaigns were organised by Amnesty, which have led to a gradual improvement in the situation there. But we still need to engage far more in the international forum to pressure for putting in place the system which ensures that the labourers across the world are treated fairly. We need more strategic litigation against companies which are based in the US and Europe and are working in the destination countries, be it Qatar or any other in the Gulf or South East Asia, to hold them accountable in their country of origin. We need to challenge the human rights violation of other countries in the international forum.
Of late the HR organisations have been criticised for producing biased reports on rights situation. What’s your take on this?
Unfortunately in Nepal, the position Amnesty is taking in respect to freedom of expression has been interpreted by some section as a support to secessionism. Let me state categorically, Amnesty cannot take position on secessionism whether it is in Kashmir, Gorkhaland or in Madhes. We don’t have mandate—which is determined by our 7 million members—to take position on secessionism. We however, believe that freedom of expression is absolute and it’s the fundamental right of every people to express themselves which is guaranteed by the constitutions in the region, including in Nepal. We would always come forward to protect such rights and condemn the heavy handedness by the security forces against those who are protesting as we have done in the case of Madhes or Kashmir. We even had a sedition charge in India for highlighting the use of unnecessary force by the security in Kashmir. Despite all that, we continue to take up the human rights issue. But we never support or take a position on any secessionist movement in this region or across the world.
But back in 2015, a team of six office bearers had resigned from AI in Nepal, categorically pointing that Amnesty’s headquarters supported secessionism here. Your comment?
That was based on misunderstanding. We stand by every individual’s right to expression and raise the voice if any unnecessary state force or arrest is done. If there is detention without trial we will stand by it irrespective of what the issue is. For us, freedom of expression, rule of law and human rights is absolute and we stand by it. Human rights organisations mostly speak out about the violation by the state and speak less about the violation by the non-state actors. The state is the principle duty bearers as far as human rights issues are concerned.
I think what we need to convey the message to public, which we have failed in Nepal, is distinguishing the position supporting freedom of expression from the demand of secessionism. I would like to put to rest what I feel that ill-founded rumour on Amnesty’s support to secessionism.