Undermining democracyMore importantly, the government is increasingly looking like it is moving towards a dictatorship by undermining the norms and values of democracy.
A majority communist government has been ruling the country for more than a year, but it has failed to provide a sense of justice and security to the general public. Instead, we have experienced massive corruption and the undermining of the justice system and the constitution. Distrust in public institutions is increasing, leading to a weakening of social harmony. The Ncell tax issue, public land grabbing, murder and rape cases, and the citizenship and transitional justice issues have increased popular resentment and led to a public outcry against the government.
More importantly, the government is increasingly looking like it is moving towards a dictatorship by undermining the norms and values of democracy. It has totally misused the power of its two-thirds majority, and it is undermining basic human rights by controlling press freedom and restricting social sites. And now, it intends to bring the most important constitutional organ—the National Human Rights Commission—within the orbit of the central government, specifically under the Office of the Attorney General. The National Human Rights Commission is an independent and autonomous constitutional body established in 2000 as a statutory body under the Human Rights Commission Act 1997. It enjoyed guaranteed independence and was to operate with a broad mandate based on universal human rights standards.
Recently, the government registered a bill to amend the Human Rights Commission Act 2012. The bill aims to close the regional and sub-regional offices of the National Human Rights Commission. Most importantly, any recommendation and decision regarding human rights issues made by the National Human Rights Commission would now go through the Office of the Attorney General. This means that if the Office of the Attorney General feels that an investigation is unnecessary, the case might go unaddressed or even be dismissed. In addition, the bill requires mandatory consent from the government for any financial support needed by the National Human Rights Commission to carry out its human rights related activities.
The government’s intention is clear—to weaken the National Human Rights Commission by curtailing its constitutional powers and mandates. Is this why the people of Nepal fought for years to secure their personal freedoms? An important question: Why is the government so fearful of the National Human Rights Commission? The proposed bill indicates many things.
First, the communist government is not sincere about human rights and the rule of law. Its evil intention is clearly to establish a controlled society. Second, the proposed bill is unconstitutional. It goes against the Supreme Court verdict which says that the government must implement and respect the decisions and recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission. The constitution clearly states that the National Human Rights Commission must act as an independent and, most important, constitutional body with the power to conduct inquiries and investigations. How can the government alter a fundamental provision of the constitution by just making a law? Finally, the proposed bill is clearly against international standards of human rights, United Nations guidelines and the Paris Principles.
The National Human Rights Commission is even more important at this time when the country is in political transition, every sector of governance is instable, and state institutions have become excessively politicised. First, lawlessness is widespread, and there is a practice of impunity, a dismal record of governance, and, most importantly, there appears to be no commitment or political will to protect and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. The perpetrators of the 10-year civil war have not yet been punished. Conflict victims have been victimised again and again. The Truth and Disappearances Commission does not function, and a culture of impunity, lawlessness and gross violation of human rights has become an established phenomenon.
Second, no government can ignore basic human rights and fundamental freedoms in the 21st century. The National Human Rights Commission is one of the core institutions in the protection and promotion of human rights. Today, concern for human rights protection does not stop at state borders—it is a universal commitment. National Human Rights Commissions are the key link between international and domestic systems of human rights protection. Finally, human rights, political stability and prosperity are interconnected. There can be no peace and prosperity without institutional protection of human rights. The government must be cooperative, helpful and strictly implement the recommendations and decisions of the National Human Rights Commission.
The government must allow the National Human Rights Commission to work independently and transparently. What we must understand is that democracy is not only about voting and choosing representatives. It is more than that.
It is about working together. It is about establishing a combination of all state institutions, the media, civil society, the armed forces, and the political forces operating within a constitutional and legal framework. But these values have received scant regard in our context. Personal interests, petty political interests and the monopoly of a few individuals have dictated the outcome of important national issues. We must change our way of thinking and our attitudes if we wish to achieve political stability and economic prosperity in the real sense.
The National Human Rights Commission is supposed to be the supreme constitutional body for upholding the rule of law and for promoting and consolidating human rights. However, our National Human Rights Commission has already been forced to operate in a hostile political and legal environment. The government must respect the constitution, human rights and the integrity of the National Human Rights Commission. We must vehemently oppose the proposed unconstitutional bill regarding the National Human Rights Commission. The values of democracy, the rule of law, fundamental freedom and human rights for which we struggled so hard must be preserved and protected. No citizen should lose the sense of justice. Truth and justice are uncompromisable.
Basnet holds a PhD in international human rights law from Lancaster University, UK.