House committee assures to revise ‘controversial’ bill to amend human rights lawHuman rights committee chair says he will also work for revising Media Council Bill
Following widespread criticism of the bill to amend the National Human Rights Commission Act-2012, a parliamentary committee has pledged to revise the controversial provisions in accordance with the spirit of the constitution and international practice.
The constitutional human rights watchdog and various human rights groups have been criticising the bill, which reduces the administrative and financial autonomy of the commission and makes it mandatory to recommend the cases it has investigated to the attorney general. The attorney general, according to the revision bill, bears full authority over whether or not to proceed the case. The existing Act authorises the commission to write directly to the respective agency to execute its recommendations made after the investigation.
The draft contradicts Article 293 of the constitution, which says constitutional commissions are accountable and answerable only to the federal parliament. Even parliamentary committees cannot give directives to the human rights commission. However, clause 17 (3) of the new bill proposes that the attorney general can request the commission for further investigation or collection of more evidence, if necessary, before deciding to register the case.
During a press meet at Singha Durbar on Friday, Krishna Bhakta Pokharel, chairman of the Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee of Parliament, said the bill will be revised after consultation with officials from the commission.
“The bill will have the same wording as in the constitution regarding the function, duties and powers of the commission,” Pokharel said. “I want to assure that the bill will be revised after seeking consensus with every stakeholder.”
The amendment bill, which has been registered in Parliament, will be sent to the Pokharel-led committee for finalisation. It will then be tabled for endorsement once the Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee gives it a final shape following a discussion with lawmakers and the stakeholders concerned.
The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions lists the commission under category ‘A’. Nepal is among three countries in South Asia to receive the status. The revision process has begun while Nepal sits as an elected member in the United Nations Human Right Council and is eying a second term.
“We welcome the commitment of the parliamentary committee and now want to see its execution,” Govinda Sharma Paudyal, a member of the commission, told the Post.
The bill has got into a controversy since the Cabinet last month approved and registered it in the federal parliament secretariat for endorsement. The Cabinet finalised the bill by completely ignoring the 17-point recommendations from the commission despite repeated requests to incorporate them. Anup Raj Sharma, chairperson of the commission, in his meeting with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, had requested him to consider their recommendations. But Oli ignored them.
During his interaction with the media on Friday, Pokharel, who also is a central committee member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), said he would also take steps for revising the Media Council Bill.
“Media Council Act shouldn’t contradict with the spirit of the statute, which ensures full freedom to the press,” he said.
According to Pokharel, Subas Nembang, the deputy Parliamentary Party leader of the ruling communist party, has already assured that the bill will see necessary changes and the ruling party is committed to revising it.
The bill, which will replace the existing Press Council Act, aims to create a media council, providing it more authority to impose hefty fines on journalists and give the government more say in the hiring and firing of the council members.
Journalists and information rights activists have said the new council could increase direct attacks on the press. The Federation of Nepali Journalists has been protesting against the bill, demanding that the government immediately withdraw it from Parliament