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Nepal: Human Rights Concerns for the 61st Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights

Objective  
 
The Commission should call on the Government of Nepal to immediately restore all fundamental human rights, to ensure protection of human rights defenders, journalists and political activists and to release or charge all political detainees. The Commission should appoint a Special Rapporteur under item 9 of the Commission agenda to monitor the human rights situation in Nepal. The Commission should call on the Government of Nepal to allow the United Nations to deploy human rights monitors throughout the country.

Background  
 
On January 29, 2003 a ceasefire was announced by the Nepalese government and the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-Maoist), bringing some hope that Nepal's long civil war was reaching an end. This was one reason why the Commission had not adopted a resolution on Nepal before. But those hopes were dashed when the CPN (Maoist) withdrew from unproductive negotiations and resumed fighting in late 2003. Both parties have engaged in systematic human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law with impunity. Reports suggest that hundreds and perhaps thousands of civilians have been killed by both sides.  
 
The Nepalese government has failed to uphold much of the pledge it made during last year's Commission hearing to abide by its human rights and humanitarian law obligations. The Nepalese army has carried out extra-judicial executions of villagers and suspected Maoists, arbitrary arrests, "disappearances," and harassed and intimidated press and NGOs, and interfered in the work of the judiciary. According to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances in 2003 and 2004, Nepal recorded the highest number of new cases of "disappearances" in the world.  
 
Nepal's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has received reports of 1,234 cases of "disappearances" perpetrated by security forces since May 2000. Human Rights Watch's recent research in Nepal (October 2004) indicates that the actual number of "disappearances" may be significantly underreported.  
 
The other side to the conflict, the CPN Maoist forces, has a dismal human rights record. The Maoists have killed civilians, recruited children as soldiers, executed party cadres suspected of disloyalty, and engaged in widespread extortion and abduction against the civilian population.  
 
On February 1, King Gyanendra and the Royal Nepalese Army seized executive power in Nepal and imposed a state of emergency. The King has suspended fundamental constitutional rights including freedom of assembly and expression, the right to information and privacy, the right to property and the prohibition against arbitrary detention. The King has ordered that the media only print information approved by the National Security Council, and has formally banned for the next six months, under threat of arrest, any information criticizing "the intent and spirit" of the state of emergency. The government has detained nearly two hundred local political leaders, human rights activists, journalists and student activists throughout the country. Because the constitution does not allow the King's actions to be challenged in court, Nepal's population is effectively at the mercy of the security forces, which have a history of widespread and serious violations of human rights.  
 
The Maoists responded to the state of emergency by imposing a nationwide strike since February 10, banning all motorized road traffic, commerce, and school attendance. Human Rights Watch researchers in Nepal documented serious abuses by Maoists enforcing this ban, including attacks on ambulances, targeting civilian vehicles, and bombing of schools.  
 
The U.N. Secretary General has publicly expressed his concern about the situation in Nepal (for example in a press statement of August 29, 2003). His spokesman also issued a statement calling for the restoration of democratic freedoms and institutions (Press Release February 1, 2005). Nepal's neighbors and other U.N. member states have also expressed concern. India canceled its participation in the summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation because of the expected participation of King Gyanendra, calling for an immediate restoration of democracy and suspending military aid. The United Kingdom and United States have also condemned the King's seizure of power. But thus far there has been no formal statement by the international community or any concerted action specifically for the protection of human rights.  
 
Support for the Human Rights Accord and investigation of violations. The National Human Rights Commission has proposed that the parties sign a Human Rights Accord that would allow for independent and professional investigations into alleged human rights violations, particularly extra-judicial executions and "disappearances" and contain detailed and explicit commitments to respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law. It is envisioned that the OHCHR would offer technical assistance to the NHRC and relevant parties and institutions. Serious and notorious cases such as those in Ramechap, Siraha, and Panchtar districts must be investigated as a priority, and the results of the investigations made public. If a ceasefire is re-established, the Code of Conduct signed by the parties in early 2003, which included a monitoring mechanism, could be revived with more explicit and detailed commitments by the parties to respect human rights while negotiations proceed.  
 
Support for the National Human Rights Commission. The NHRC has helped investigate human rights violations and inject human rights as a core component of civil life in Nepal. The Commission should urge the government of Nepal to strengthen the independence, effectiveness and legitimacy of the NHRC in line with the Paris Principles on national human rights institutions. The NHRC has been engaged in a brave effort to investigate human rights violations and inject human rights as a core component of civil life in Nepal. The current term of the NHRC expires on May 25, 2005, and in light of the royal takeover, institutional requirements for appointing new commissioners cannot be followed. There are legitimate concerns that the King will let the commission fade away or fill it with ineffectual or partisan supporters. The Commission should urge donors to support the NHRC's work as an independent, effective, and legitimate institution.  
 
Reform of the judiciary. The Nepalese judiciary lacks independence, professionalism, training and resources. The OHCHR and other internationally recognized organizations should urgently embark on a training program for Nepalese judges and prosecutors. The Nepalese government and army must allow such persons to carry out their duties without pressure or threats.  
 
Rights training for the army, police and the CPN (Maoist). All participants in the conflict urgently need appropriate training promoting respect for international human rights and humanitarian law. This training requires a commitment by both parties to respect international norms. The International Committee of the Red Cross, OHCHR and others could provide this training.  
 
Recommendations  
 
The Commission on Human Rights should adopt a resolution under item 9 that would:  

  • Condemn ongoing abuses by both sides to the conflict and specifically call on the Nepalese Government to end the practice of enforced disappearances by security forces;  
     
  • Call on the King of Nepal to immediately restore all fundamental human rights and the government to release or charge all political detainees;  
     
  • Call on the government of Nepal to take all steps necessary to bring to an end the widespread practice of "disappearances," including investigation of all cases of enforced disappearances and holding perpetrators accountable in a credible and systematic manner;  
     
  • Call on the CPN (Maoist) to observe international human rights and humanitarian law and, in particular, to cease attacks on civilians;  
     
  • Appoint a Special Rapporteur to monitor the human rights situation in Nepal;  
     
  • Call on the parties to revive a Human Rights Accord with commitments to respect international human rights and humanitarian law norms and provisions for effective monitoring, investigation and training components;  
     
  • Call on the government of Nepal to strengthen the structural and operational independence of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and allow the current commissioners to continue in their posts until the proper procedures can be followed for reappointment;  
     
  • Call for the creation of an office of the HCHR in Nepal to monitor the human rights condition throughout the country and provide technical assistance to the NHRC in monitoring and investigations, as well as human rights training to the police, army and judiciary;  
     
  • Encourage the government to issue a standing invitation to the thematic mechanisms of the Commission to visit Nepal.  

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