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Nepal: Backsliding on Rights

Fears Over Amnesty for Wartime Abuses, Closure of UN Office

(New York) – Nepal’s political and peace processes remained stalled in 2011, resulting in instability, weak governance, and a lack of progress on accountability for human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2012.

The government and political parties consistently failed to establish accountability for serious abuses during the conflict with Maoist insurgents, which ended in 2006, Human Rights Watch said. Instead, they further weakened an already dysfunctional justice system by ignoring court orders and appointing people allegedly guilty of serious rights violations to senior government positions.

“Successive governments since the peace agreement of 2006 have demonstrated no political will toward tackling these difficult but important issues,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Neither the previous government nor the new Maoist-led government have kept their promises to ensure justice for tens of thousands of victims of the conflict. Justice and reconciliation have become catchphrases that parties use when it suits them while in opposition, but then conveniently forget when in power.”

In the 676-page World Report 2012, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including popular uprisings in the Arab world that few would have imagined. Given the violent forces resisting the “Arab Spring,” the international community has an important role to play in assisting the birth of rights-respecting democracies in the region, Human Rights Watch said in the report.

In Nepal, no one from the security forces or among the Maoists has been held criminally responsible for abuses during the conflict, and many of the accused have been protected by the security forces or political parties, Human Rights Watch said. On August 28, just days before the expiration of the mandate of the Constituent Assembly, Baburam Bhattarai, a senior member of the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) was finally elected prime minister. Bhattarai immediately struck a deal with coalition parties calling for the withdrawal of criminal cases against people affiliated with the Maoist party and the Madhesi, Janajati, Tharuhat, Dalit, and Pichadabarga movements, and declaring a general amnesty, which could include serious crimes and human rights abuses.

The proposed withdrawals and amnesties are prohibited under international law and standards if the amnesties concern crimes under international law such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, enforced disappearances, torture, and ill-treatment. The agreement between UCPN-M and its coalition partners, if applied, would also violate Supreme Court directives. The prime minister sought to back away from the fury that this agreement generated by saying he only intended to withdraw “politically motivated” cases, but he didn’t say what exactly that would mean or who would make that determination.

Long promised draft bills to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Disappearances Commission have been introduced in parliament but await debate by the Statute Committee. While the bills are a step toward justice for war victims, several provisions are inconsistent with international law, such as some that may allow compensation to victims to be contingent on an agreement to pardon those responsible for the violations.

In a positive development, the government agreed to an integration and rehabilitation package for former CPN-M combatants. Under this agreement, the former combatants could choose whether to join non-combat units of the army, or seek rehabilitation and compensation. A high-level committee was formed in November to oversee this process.

In a particularly disturbing development, the government in December refused to extend the mandate of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The OHCHR office was mandated, among other things, to ensure effective implementation of the human rights components of the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, a task that has not been completed, in part due to political wrangling among the parties and a lack of commitment to human rights. No clear reason was given for denying the mandate.

“The refusal to extend the mandate of the UN human rights field office is a major step backward and calls into question the commitment of the main political parties in the government and opposition to protect the rights of Nepalis,” Adams said. “Nepalis know firsthand what the army and Maoists are capable of. The government should reverse this decision and show the Nepali people that they welcome the additional safeguards a UN presence offers.”

The government made little progress in 2011 toward realizing people’s economic, social, and cultural rights, Human Rights Watch said. Reports of lawlessness persist in many parts of the country, especially in the southern plains of the Terai and the eastern hills. Allegations that armed groups and ethnically based organizations have been involved in killings, kidnappings, and extortion have not been investigated by the Nepali authorities.

Dalits (“untouchables”) suffered from discrimination in virtually all spheres of life, including housing and education. In a positive move, the government announced in May the passage of a Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability (Crime and Punishment) Bill. But the legislation needed to carry out the measures outlined in the bill has not yet been passed.

Although the Nepal government has made significant strides toward ensuring legal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in recent years, progress remained tenuous. Promises to draft a constitution that would address longstanding political, social, ethnic, and economic inequalities and create a federal state have languished in the wake of political instability.

“Nepal is no closer to fulfilling the lofty rights-focused commitments spelled out in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement now than when it was signed five years ago,” Adams said. “If anything, current developments indicate that there is a trend to back away from these commitments for the sake of political expediency.”


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