Human Rights Watch criticises the government’s move to undermine citizen’s rights to organiseThe current administration has been repeatedly criticised by national and international rights bodies for trying to curb dissent through laws and policies.
Weeks after non-government organisations in Nepal raised concerns over a Cabinet decision to authorise the Ministry of Home Affairs to prepare a draft of a new law to regulate and supervise social organisations, Human Rights Watch has asked the Nepali government to not undermine the fundamental rights of citizens to organise and stop treating activists, including critics as threats.
In a statement on Thursday, Human Rights Watch said the Nepal government has restricted social organisations through legislation.
“Nongovernmental organisations need to be independent so that they can hold the government accountable, criticise policies, propose alternative ideas, and represent different points of view,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of HRW in the statement. “The Nepal government’s recent attempts to place constraints on groups rings alarm bells for democracy and human rights.”
The Cabinet decision to authorise the Home Ministry to draft laws on social organisations instead of the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens, which is the designated agency to draft policies, laws, standards and regulations for non-government organisations has unsettled many.
In October, the Cabinet rejected the Ministry of Women Children and Senior Citizens’ proposal to draft regulations for non-government and social organisations arguing that the Home Ministry had already been given the approval to draft a new law regarding non-government organisations.
Earlier, both ministries were working independently on draft laws on social organisations, but the Home Ministry got the Cabinet approval, first.
Speaking to the Post earlier this month, members of NGOs and international NGOs in Nepal had expressed their growing uneasiness over the government's attempts to stifle civil liberties and organisations who champion such rights.
“We are concerned if the ministry is focusing on controlling non-government organisations, instead of regulating and facilitating them,” Jitbir Lama, president of NGO Federation Nepal, a grouping of local NGOs, told the Post in early November.
Their fear also stems from the government’s efforts last year targeting the NGO sector.
The government’s National Integrity Policy 2018 had courted controversy for it aimed tighter controls over non-government space. The proposed policy has provisions that the International Non-Government Organisations (INGOs) need to take approval from the Finance Ministry for their annual programmes, including funding. It also barred INGOs from sending reports about Nepal to countries where their headquarters are, without taking the government’s permission.
This is not the first time that human rights organisations have raised concerns about growing threats to civil liberties in Nepal.
Earlier this year, a report by the New Zealand-based Human Rights Measurement Initiative, said, “Nepal’s Empowerment score of 5.6, based on a detailed survey of human rights experts, tells us that many people in Nepal are not enjoying their civil rights and political freedoms.” The empowerment category in the report includes right to assembly and association, right to opinion and expression, and the right to participate in government.