Villagers wait to vote at a polling station during the parliamentary and provincial elections in Sindhupalchok district, Nepal, November 26, 2017.

© 2017 Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters

(New York) – The Nepali government held local, provincial, and national elections in 2017, following longtime political instability and debate over new provinces, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018. However, despite some halting progress on transitional justice for abuses during the country’s 1996-2006 civil war, victims saw little by way of justice or reparations.

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

Nepal’s political leadership has long been divided on most issues except to deny justice and accountability for conflict-related abuses.

Meenakshi Ganguly

South Asia Director

“After years of political instability that led to stalled human rights reforms, Nepal’s elections may lead to fresh hope for justice and due process,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “Nepal’s political leadership has long been divided on most issues except to deny justice and accountability for conflict-related abuses, which should now change.”

Nepal’s transitional justice mechanisms, focused on truth-telling and disappearances, held hearings throughout 2017 and received more than 60,000 complaints from across the country. Flaws in the commissions’ mandates were not remedied, in spite of several Supreme Court directives. Due to these shortcomings, the international community chose to remain silent on the transitional justice process until the laws were brought into line with international norms.

Quarrels among political leaders led to long delays in establishing a mechanism charged with distributing the estimated US$4 billion in aid generated for victims of the April 2015 earthquakes. Victims, many still living in temporary shelters, were further affected by harsh winters and floods during the monsoon season.

Nepal has the third highest rate of child marriage in Asia – 37 percent of girls are married before age 18, and 10 percent before age 15. Progress toward ending the practice has stalled. In 2016, the government launched a national strategy to end child marriage by 2030, but has yet to announce or implement any practical action plan.

In positive news, in line with a 2007 Supreme Court decision, the government has gradually introduced a legal third gender on various documents, including citizenship certificates and passports. In 2017, the court issued a new judgment emphasizing the government’s responsibility to issue such documents. Nepal also outlawed chaupadi, a practice that effectively removes menstruating women and girls from their homes.