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Nepal: Impunity Reigns, Fueling New Rights Violations

16 Years Since Conflict Ended, No Accountability for Wartime or Ongoing Abuses

Youth protest against rising rape cases and domestic violence, Kathmandu, Nepal, May 21, 2022. © 2022 Abhishek Maharjan/Sipa USA via AP Images

(Jakarta) – The Nepali government has yet to pursue justice for conflict-era rights abuses or continuing abuses by security forces, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2023.

The government has not investigated cases of torture, enforced disappearance, or extrajudicial killing; has blocked conflict-related cases from proceeding in the regular courts; and has failed to credibly investigate or prosecute continuing allegations of abuse by the security forces. Women and members of marginalized communities, including Dalits, are disproportionately the victims of rights violations, and also find it hardest to seek redress.

“Lack of justice for conflict-era violations has contributed to a general state of impunity in post-conflict Nepal, undermining respect for human rights and governance across the board,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The newly elected government should amend the transitional justice bill to address its shortcomings, bring it back to parliament, and finally move forward with delivering truth, reparations, justice, and guarantees that the abuse will not recur.”

In the 712-page World Report 2023, its 33rd edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in close to 100 countries. In her introductory essay, acting Executive Director Tirana Hassan says that in a world in which power has shifted, it is no longer possible to rely on a small group of mostly Global North governments to defend human rights. The world’s mobilization around Russia’s war in Ukraine reminds us of the extraordinary potential when governments realize their human rights obligations on a global scale. The responsibility is on individual countries, big and small, to apply a human rights framework to their policies, and then work together to protect and promote human rights. 

A new transitional justice bill, to address abuses committed during Nepal’s 1996-2006 civil war, was presented to parliament in August 2022. It raised some hopes among victims and families who have waited over 16 years for justice, but it had significant flaws. These include wording that makes it possible to grant an amnesty for certain gross violations of human rights, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In addition, verdicts from a new special court would not be subject to judicial appeal, in violation of international fair trial guarantees. The bill was neither amended nor brought to a vote before parliament was dissolved ahead of November elections.

The continuing impunity for conflict-era violations is matched by impunity for ongoing abuses by law enforcement and security forces. Deaths caused by the use of excessive or unnecessary force while policing protests, as well as deaths in custody allegedly as a result of torture, are rarely if ever credibly investigated.

On May 18, a 20-year-old Dalit man, Sundar Harijan, died in Rolpa jail in suspicious circumstances while serving another person’s sentence in an apparent case of corruption by prison officials. On June 6, police killed an 18-year-old woman, Nabina Tharu, in Bardiya district, when they opened fire on protesters who were blocking a road using live ammunition.

A series of high-profile rape allegations led to repeated protests and calls to address widespread sexual violence in Nepal. Official statistics show that the number of recorded rapes has risen in recent years. A statute of limitations was extended from one year to two (or three years if the victim is a child), but the limitation remains an obstacle to justice. Victims of conflict-related sexual violence are among those affected.

The rate of child labor increased as a result of the Covid-10 pandemic, and UNICEF found that one in five families struggles to feed their children. These problems could be eased if the government fulfilled a commitment to extend the Child Grant social protection program to all districts.

Parliament passed a new citizenship act, but President Bidya Bhandari refused to sign it. If it becomes the law, the act could provide citizenship documents to thousands of people who were excluded under the previous law. However, it still contains provisions that discriminate against women, making it harder for them than for Nepali men to pass Nepali citizenship to their children, leaving millions of people effectively stateless.

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