(New York) – The Nepali government should expeditiously appoint qualified, independent, and new members to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Human Rights Watch said today. On September 16, 2013, the government allowed the terms of all commissioners to lapse, leaving the commission leaderless and Nepali citizens with even less protection than before.
The government should appoint an independent body to nominate new commissioners.
“Effectively dismantling the National Human Rights Commission is a deliberate blow by the government to human rights at the most critical time since the end of the civil war,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “With political parties publicly opposing investigations and prosecutions into rights abuses, it is enormously important for the one government body dedicated solely to protecting human rights to be able to operate.”
The commissioners had drawn attention to the end of their terms months ago and had called on the government to find a solution so the country’s chief human rights body would not be left without leadership. In spite of repeated reminders, including from citizen groups, the government chose to let the terms expire. Although the commission’s staff remains in place, it can do little without leadership from appointed commissioners.
At least 13,000 people were killed during a decade-long armed conflict that started in 1996 between Maoists and government forces. The violence ended with a 2006 peace agreement that also assured justice for serious human rights violations during the fighting. But there has been no accountability for abuses committed by either side.
The commission has backed calls to prosecute those responsible for gross human rights violations and has identified over 1,000 unresolved cases of disappearances during Nepal’s civil war. However, the government has not successfully prosecuted any soldiers or Maoists for their involvement in disappearances. The government has also failed to publicize the names and whereabouts of those who disappeared during the armed conflict as the commission had recommended.
In August, the government finally ordered an investigation into one case: the murder of Krishna Prasad Adhikari, who was allegedly abducted and killed by the Maoists. The government acted only following a recommendation from the commission, backed by a directive from the Supreme Court.
Adhikari’s parents had been on hunger strike to demand justice and faced immense pressure from the authorities to end their protest. The investigation has begun but the Maoists warned of a “revolt” if it continued.
The commission has repeatedly warned that the government’s failure to carry out its recommendations has fostered a culture of impunity. It contends that fewer than 9 percent of 386 recommendations regarding human rights violations it made to the government over a decade from 2000 to 2010 were fully implemented, while more than 55 percent were not implemented at all.
Lack of leadership at the commission will undermine the ability of the institution to function effectively as envisioned under the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions and the international guidelines known as the Paris Principles. The government of Nepal should comply with the Paris Principles to ensure that the commission functions as a truly independent and empowered protector and promoter of human rights.
“A strong and independent NHRC is essential to fight Nepal’s deeply entrenched culture of impunity and to ensure justice for victims of rights abuses,” Adams said. “A commission without strong and independent commissioners is voiceless and powerless.”