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Nepal: A Year of Backsliding on Rights Commitments

Concerns over Amnesty for War Crimes, Impunity, and Women’s Rights

(London) – Nepal’s government failed to take significant steps toward fulfilling numerous key human rights commitments in 2012, Human Rights Watch said today in its annual World Report 2013

In its 665-page report, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including an analysis of the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

In Nepal, those failures included a lack of movement on measures to improve the rights of women, children, and Tibetan refugees. A May deadline to draft a new constitution lapsed, and since then the country has been left with a caretaker cabinet and without an elected legislature, with only vague promises of fresh elections. Despite policy initiatives aimed to ensure equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people as well as an inclusive education system for children with disabilities, government rhetoric for those initiatives exceeded actual implementation.

“2012 was a sorry replay of Nepal’s past seven years of impunity and government unwillingness or inability to deliver on its commitments to human rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “There appears to be collective amnesia among Nepal’s policymakers about the inequities and injustice that helped fuel the conflict in the first place.”

In 2012 the Nepal government again ignored its human rights obligations built into the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord. At least 13,000 people were killed and over 1,600 became victims of “disappearances” during the decade-long conflict from 1996-2006 between government forces and Maoist rebels. Instead of seeking justice for serious abuses, the government has consistently promoted to senior positions officials and military officers linked to serious rights violations.

In March 2012, the government refused to extend the tenure of the Nepal office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The government also failed to respond to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)’s request to place a human rights officer in Kathmandu’s United Nations Development Programme office. The caretaker cabinet attempted to establish, through an executive ordinance, a Commission of Inquiry on Disappeared Persons, Truth, and Reconciliation with powers to grant amnesty for suspects implicated in war crimes, in violation of international laws. The ordinance remains stalled in the President’s office.

In September, the government promoted Kuber Singh Rana, a suspect in ongoing criminal investigations concerning enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings, from additional inspector general of police to inspector general. A month later, the cabinet approved the promotion of Col. Raju Basnet, accused in dozens of cases of enforced disappearance and torture, to the rank of brigadier general.

“The government is making a mockery of the suffering of the victims and their families by promoting rather than prosecuting those against whom there is evidence of serious abuses,” said Adams. “The leadership in Nepal appears to be in permanent disagreement – except in their failure to tackle difficult issues of justice.”

The constituent assembly was dissolved in May after it failed to meet yet another deadline to draft a new constitution. Promises to hold fresh elections to establish another constituent assembly remained stalled as parties bickered over the formation of a cabinet to lead the country through elections.
The government completed the integration of a total of 1,450 former Maoist combatants into the Nepali army in October.

In a positive development, the government has made significant progress in ensuring equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, although there are gaps in implementation. Similarly, despite promoting an inclusive education system for children with disabilities, in practice, many schools remain inaccessible and the current curriculum is inadequate for students with different learning needs.

In a troubling development, in August the government banned young women under 30 from traveling to Gulf countries for work because of numerous cases of abuse of Nepali domestic workers, including unpaid wages, excessive work hours, and physical or sexual abuse. National and international rights groups called for the ban to be revoked, afraid that it may push women to migrate through irregular channels, increasing risk of exploitation, and instead recommended that the government put in place accessible protection mechanisms for migrant labor.

Women continued to face violence in various forms in Nepal; rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence remained serious concerns. Also, without the assistance of male family members, the citizenship law makes it difficult for women to secure legal proof of citizenship – a sure way to deny them rights to marital property, inheritance, or land. The current law continues to deny citizenship to children born to non-Nepali fathers, effectively leaving them stateless. A draft law aimed at rectifying this problem only makes matters worse by granting citizenship only to children born to a Nepali mother and a Nepali father. The citizenship laws have a discriminatory impact on Nepal’s sizeable and long-term refugee population as well, Human Rights Watch said.  

The government also increased restrictions on Tibetan refugees, under pressure from the Chinese government. It continued to deny Tibetans the right to openly celebrate their holidays, including the Tibetan New Year and the Dalai Lama’s birthday. In March, 100 Tibetans were arrested during protests in Kathmandu to mark the 53rd anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. The government also continued to make it difficult for Tibetans to use Nepal as a passageway to India.

“The government in Nepal has a shameful record of broken promises on human rights and justice,” Adams said. “For any lasting peace process, politicians of all stripes must take decisive action against impunity and make justice a priority.”

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