National Human Rights Commission seeks political support to retain its ‘A’ statusOnly the country whose human rights commission has the coveted grade can express its views in deliberations at the United Nations Human Rights Council and take part in voting on any of its decisions.
As the National Human Rights Commission stands on the verge of losing its “A” status in the global ranking, cross-party leaders have said they’ll make every possible effort to retain its top category.
After holding a review for two consecutive years, the subcommittee on accreditation (SCA) of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) in October last year recommended downgrading the constitutional human rights watchdog to “B” status, with effect after a year, which means October. With two months to go, political leaders along with the Speaker of the House of Representatives have pledged to take every possible step to avert the downgrade.
“It is saddening to learn that the human rights commission could lose its ‘A’ status,” Speaker Devraj Ghimire said during an interaction organised by the commission. “As a Speaker, I am committed to taking every step needed to save its present status.”
The recommendation for downgrade primarily resulted from the appointments of chief commissioner and commissioners to the constitutional body without fulfilling the due process. President Bidya Devi Bhandari on February 3, 2021 had appointed the chair and four commissioners based on the recommendations from the Constitutional Council without facing parliamentary hearings as the House had been dissolved. The council recommended them after a controversial amendment to the Constitutional Council (Functions, Duties, and Procedures) Act through an ordinance on December 15, 2020.
The subcommittee had also raised questions over the commission's ability to demonstrate adequate efforts in addressing human rights issues such as discrimination against women, caste, indigenous, LGBTIQ and minorities in a timely manner.
However, the global alliance on several occasions in the past said the existing Act of the commission needs to be revised to ensure its autonomy, not just in investigation but also in managing its budget. The National Human Rights Commission Act, which came into effect in 2011, also needs revision in line with the Constitution of Nepal that came into force in 2015.
The commissioners and the commission’s officials say if a bill to amend the Act lands in Parliament, it will be a plus point for the commission in its attempt to retain its status. “The commission humbly requests the lawmakers in creating an environment for the government to present an amendment bill,” said Manoj Duwadi, a commissioner.
The KP Sharma Oli government in 2019 had registered an amendment bill in the House but it couldn't get through after a serious objection from the commission. The rights watchdog was dissatisfied with a clause that would give the Attorney General's Office discretionary powers whether or not to advance the cases recommended by the commission.
Seven months since the first meeting of the House of Representatives, the government has yet to prepare the amendments. “A downgrade will not just affect the commission, it will also negatively impact the country’s image,” said Subas Nembang, deputy parliamentary leader of the UML. It will send out a message that the human rights situation in Nepal is not satisfactory, he added.
While the government needs to use diplomatic channels to save the "A" status, lawmakers can build pressure for legal amendments on time.
“On behalf of the Nepali Congress, I commit every support the commission seeks to retain its top status,” said Ramesh Lekhak, chief whip of the largest party.
Only the country whose human rights commission has the “A” status can express its views in deliberations at the United Nations Human Rights Council and take part in voting on any of its decisions. Only such countries can contest or vote for the leadership of GANHRI or the Asia Pacific Alliance of Human Rights Institutions. Nepal will lose the privileges it has been enjoying since the formation of the commission if it slips to the "B" grade.