Laudable but inadequateNational Human Rights Action Plan might not be enough to ensure rights at the local level
A majority of the countries have agreed to respect and promote human rights through different mechanisms conceived under the UN system. One such commitment is the National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP), agreed and formulated in 1993. Based on para 71 of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted by the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, many countries have formulated their own national action plan for promoting and protecting human rights through different government line agencies. Nepal has faithfully continued to publish five-year NHRAP, the recent being NHRAP 2014-18. However, despite the commitment, the implementation of the past NHRAPs and the present one has hardly been satisfactory. According to former Chief Secretary Leela Mani Paudyal, only about 50 percent of the plans have been implemented in the past.
Only on paper
A recent study conducted in Karnali about the NHRAP raises serious concerns and demands immediate attention. Only about 30-40 percent of the planned actions are articulated (intentionally or unintentionally). Almost no government agencies at the district level were aware of the existence of the NHRAP, let alone its implementation. Thus, not a single district meeting on the implementation of NHRAP 2014-18 was observed since the action plan was formulated three years ago.
It is appalling to learn that the national action plan on the promotion and protection of human rights in the country exists only on paper. And we cannot assume the situation to be different in other districts or regions. Almost all other districts in Nepal face a similar situation. According to a letter issued by the regional office of the National Human Right Commission (NHRC), Nepalgunj, the government line agencies at the district level were unaware about being members of district implementation and coordination Committees.
In the study, a few domains were evaluated in Karnali: education; health; food security; human rights education; inclusive development; legal reform and judicial administration; women, persons with disability, senior citizens and sexual or gender minorities. On a positive note, some of the activities planned (about 30-40 percent) in NHRAP 2014-18 have been carried out by the district offices unknowingly, without referring to the action plan.
The NHRAP is not an additional burden to offices; they are regular duties focusing on a human rights-based approach and good governance. The main problem is that the central government has failed to localise the national plans through local human rights action plans. It clearly has not worked efficiently and effectively to implement the NHRAP. Some may feel that having local plans is not necessary. But advocates of a rights-based approach to development strictly denounce such claims and prioritise good governance and accountability as key to development.
There are many consequences of not having a local human right action plan (LHRAP). First, the NHRAP is broadly defined and vaguely constructed for national evaluation. Having a LHRAP would mean contextual activities and measurable indicators, which are missing in the NHRAP. It also means allocation and estimation of budget at the district level. Likewise, protecting and promoting human rights is better achieved through unified efforts of civil society organisations and political leaders at the local level. The progress should be measurable at the local level to progressively realise the action plans at the national level. Without specific indicators and activities, measurement is not possible. Consequently, a LHRAP is essential for monitoring and evaluating human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights. If indeed we seek to work for marginalised, excluded and backward communities, it is essential that we give importance to a LHRAP.
There is a wide range of issues and themes incorporated in the NHRAP 2014-18. It is formulated at the national level with key responsibilities handed over to the line ministries. According to this action plan, a decision of the Council of Ministers is responsible to make necessary financial arrangements from the Finance Ministry or even to seek foreign assistance if deemed necessary for the implementation of the plan. The Chief District Officer (CDO) is held responsible for coordinating and monitoring the implementation of the programmes included in the action plan at the district level. Accordingly, all concerned authorities should work hand in hand to ensure better implementation of the NHRAP. Similarly, it should not be limited to a national plan. The plan should be localised and implemented accordingly in various districts.
Magar is a visiting faculty at the Kathmandu University School of Arts