Protesters chanting slogans take part in a general strike organized by the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) criticizing the draft of the new constitution in Kathmandu, Nepal, on August 23, 2015. 

© 2015 Reuters

(New York) – Violence between protesters and security forces escalated in western Nepal on August 24, 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should order an independent and impartial investigation into all protest-related deaths and ensure that security forces deployed to restore order remain disciplined and respect basic rights. Leaders on all sides of the debate over increased autonomy should refrain from further violence.

Protests in the Kailali district over provisions in the country’s draft constitution have led to the reported deaths of up to 3 protesters and 17 members of the security forces deployed to contain the protests. Unknown numbers are being treated for injuries. The protesters apparently targeted police officers, who were outnumbered.

“Nepal’s government is squarely to blame for its failure to engage with the local community and address its concerns, which led to this horrific escalation, but violent attacks on police can only be deplored,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to take immediate steps to restore order and prevent retaliation by the police.”

Large parts of Nepal have been rocked by violent protests over the last few weeks, as indigenous and disenfranchised groups took to the streets to demand that the new draft constitution address their longstanding grievances and include them in an equal and participatory democratic state. At least four protesters died in previous protests when police responded with seemingly disproportionate force, although the police contend that they were responding in self-defence. After the protests turned violent, the government responded by deploying the army across Kailali and two neighboring districts.

“The violence in Kailali and the deployment of the army threatens to further increase tensions in an already charged situation,” Adams said. “It is critical for leaders on all sides of the political divide to call on their supporters to act peacefully.”

The army and police should abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which provide that security forces shall as far as possible apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, the authorities should use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Lethal force may only be used when strictly unavoidable to protect life.

Under the basic principles, in cases of death or serious injury, appropriate agencies are to conduct a review and a detailed report is to be sent promptly to the competent administrative or prosecutorial authorities. Governments should ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense.

The authorities should not repeat the abuses of Nepal’s decade-long civil war between 1996 and 2006, in which at least 13,000 people died. Government forces engaged in arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances to contain an armed conflict led by the United Communist Party (a Maoist coalition). Those crimes are yet to be prosecuted.

After the 2006 ceasefire agreement, Nepal’s many disenfranchised and impoverished communities had hoped for a more rights-respecting state. The peace deal contained a promise, enshrined in the ceasefire agreement and the interim constitution, that the new constitution would provide equality and fairness in governance for Nepal’s traditionally marginalized communities.

The new constitution has been stalled since then, however, in a bitter stalemate among the main political parties. Following the devastating earthquake of April 25, the main parties hammered out a draft constitution without genuine public consultation, which has been criticized widely both by domestic and international human rights groups.

“Nepali citizens have long demanded the right to be treated as equal before the law,” Adams said. “The government should not force a constitution through parliament, but consult with these communities and other interested groups.”