Despite poor rights record, Nepal eyes another term on Human Rights CouncilNepal government has largely failed to uphold the promises it made in 2017 in the lead up to the election for membership for the 2018-20 period in the UN body.
Nepal is seeking yet another term on the Human Rights Council for the 2021-23 period, amid rising concerns over the country’s commitment to rights issues and criticism for failing to uphold its past promises, including those which it made before its election to the UN body for the 2018-20 period.
On Wednesday, while addressing the pledging session organised by Amnesty International and the International Service for Human Rights, Nepal’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Amrit Bahadur Rai, said that the Nepal government is committed to completing the transitional justice process based on victims’ concern respecting the directives delivered by the Supreme Court in 2015, international instruments that Nepal is a party to, the local reality and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Despite repeated promises at home and before the international community, Nepal has yet to investigate a single case of the transitional justice process, depriving thousands of conflict victims of justice even a decade and a half after the end of the fighting.
Ahead of its first term in 2017, in an eight-page aide-memoire, Nepal had pledged over two dozen commitments at the national and international levels.
Completion of the transitional justice process was one of the major commitments.
Nepal had promised to address human rights violations during the Maoist conflict, provide justice to victims, and ‘promote sustainable peace, harmony and reconciliation in society’.
The government’s treatment of the leaders and cadres of the Communist Party of Nepal led by Netra Bikram Chand too has drawn international attention, with rights bodies saying Nepal has failed to uphold human rights.
On June 20 last year, police in Sarlahi killed Kumar Poudel, a member of the Chand-led party, in what officials claimed was an exchange of fire with the armed outfit. However, an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission, launched after complaints from family members, found that Paudel died under suspicious circumstances and concluded that Paudel’s was an extrajudicial killing. The commission had recommended action against officials involved, but the Home Ministry has asked the commission to review its recommendations.
UN human rights experts in Geneva too had taken cognizance of Poudel’s killing.
Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch called on the Nepal government to punish rights abusers and protect the independent National Human Rights Commission.
On October 28, 2019, three United Nations special rapporteurs wrote to the Nepal government regarding Poudel’s killing as well as the alleged extrajudicial executions of Dipendra Chaudhary on January 23, 2019 and Saroj Narayan Singh on June 29, 2019.
Singh, an unarmed protester, had died when police shot him in head. Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa had said the bullet hit Singh because he was standing at an elevated surface.
Police had refused to register first information reports in all three cases.
Human Rights Watch also asked if deaths of two youths from marginalised communities will ever be credibly investigated as they had died after being abused in the custody of security forces. In July and August, Raj Kumar Chepang, 24, had died 22 days after he was arrested and freed by the Nepal Army and Bijaya Mahara, 19, had died at a hospital while undergoing treatment after he was arrested by police.
According to the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR), Nepal failed to play a leadership role at the Council, did not send standing invitations to the special procedures, did not respond positively to country visits requested by the special procedures, and only responded to 20 percent of the replies to the special procedure by the state.
The international human rights body also said that Nepal failed to submit midterm universal human rights periodic report, did not ratify nine international human rights treaties and related optional protocol, failed to have a mechanism for individual complaints, has not spoken about particular cases of reprisals and failed to sponsor Human Rights Council and third committee resolutions on human rights defenders, civil society space and reprisals.
Rights defenders at home also say Nepal’s human rights record has not been up to the mark and they are forced to protest on the streets demanding justice and guarantees of several rights.
“It has been almost five years since the promulgation of the constitution, but the National Human Rights Commission has yet to get its law,” said Mohna Ansari, a member of the commission.
“On transitional justice, we have not been able to take the process forward despite repeated promises,” Ansari told the Post. “The rights and authority of the National Human Rights Commission have been curtailed. It has been weakened by not providing financial resources. Strengthening of civil society is not happening and several of our recommendations to the government are gathering dust.”
For its election to the Human Rights Council in 2018, Nepal had also pledged to continue to strengthen the central role of the National Human Rights Commission with the responsibility of independent investigation into all human rights violations.
Despite human rights concerns, Nepal may, however, once again get elected to the rights council.
Nepal is contesting from the Asia-Pacific region where four other nations–China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan–are in the fray.
Nepal’s current term at the Human Rights Council ends on December 31. The election for the 2021-23 period will be held in October.
During an online event where representatives of prominent human rights organisations were present on Wednesday, Rai also reiterated that there will be no blanket amnesty in the cases of serious human rights violations committed during the decade-long conflict.
Nepal, however, is yet to amend the Transitional Justice Act as per the orders from the Supreme Court which had struck down around a dozen provisions aimed at granting amnesty to those who commit serious human rights violations.
In a statement earlier this month, Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the Nepal government has continued to foster a culture of impunity.
“Nepal is still trying to grapple with delivering justice for unlawful killings during the armed conflict, but instead of keeping its promise of reforms and pledges against repeat offences, the abuses continue to mount,” said Ganguly. “The government uses rule of law rhetoric to appeal to foreign diplomats and donors but actually fosters a culture of impunity.”
Gopal Siwakoti, a rights activist who heads Inhured Nepal, a rights organisation, believes that despite concerns, member states might vote for Nepal, since being a member of the Human Rights Council could help the country be more accountable.
“There are some landmark verdicts made by the Supreme Court, but we are failing to implement them,” said Siwakoti. “Nations, however, will vote for Nepal in Geneva also to ensure that Nepal does not make a U-turn on its commitments to protecting, promoting and advancing human rights.”
According to Siwakoti, Nepal’s human rights situation should have improved a lot by now but that has not happened.
“Rights defenders and victims of human rights abuses are forced to take to the streets to demand justice,” Siwakoti told the Post. “There is a lack of political will to address the challenges faced by the human rights community.”