The NHRC is looked upon as an enemy, they have to understand that we are partners
Prime Minister KP Oli’s spat last week with senior functionaries of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has sent alarm bells ringing about the interference by the executive into an independent body responsible for upholding post-conflict transitional justice.
“It was embarrassing. He delivered a lecture for more than one hour on human rights,” said Mohna Ansari, the NHRC member whose recent presentation in Geneva critical of provisions in the constitution seems to have irked Oli.
The Prime Minister summoned Ansari and NHRC head Anup Raj Sharma to discuss three issues: the human rights situation in Nepal, reconstruction after earthquake including the NHRC building, and the Geneva speech. Sharma, Ansari, three members, and a secretary attended the meeting with the Prime Minister and eight members of his office on 3 April.
“Prime Minister tore apart the NHRC’s statement in Geneva line by line,” Ansari told Nepali Times.
The one-page statement presented by Ansari at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva summarised the commission’s concerns on basic human rights situation after the earthquake, women’s rights to transfer their nationality to their children, excessive use of force in Tarai, and the current state of impunity in Nepal.
“His first remark was ‘Look, this is an NGO statement, not a NHRC statement’ and his last was ‘Don’t issue the statement, just call us’. We couldn’t believe anybody would comment on the NHRC like that,” said Ansari.
The NHRC is an independent state body to monitor and safeguard the human rights of the citizens according to Nepal government’s commitment to the various international treaties on human rights. The commission is responsible to undertake field research of human rights and evaluate the existing human rights situation of the country.
Nepali Times: What happened at the meeting with the prime minister?
Mohna Ansari: It was embarrassing. On 3 April, he called us at 10, he came at 11.15 and it went on till 1.25pm. It was one-way with the Prime Minister giving us a lecture about human rights. This is like I know everything about human rights. I know he is an executive. We trust and believe and we know how to balance power-sharing so the executive has the right to talk to us but not with this attitude.
What were his main points?
He said ‘I’m here to discuss three issues, situation of Human Rights, reconstruction after earthquake including NHRC building, and Geneva visit. And his first remark I remember was, ‘Look, this is an NGO statement, not a NHRC statement.’ I couldn’t believe anybody commenting on the NHRC like that. This is our jurisdiction. And whatever we speak we speak on the basis of our report.
Did it surprise you?
We were surprised because this is not personal but things turned on the personal level which I don’t like. I’m speaking on behalf of the commission, not on behalf of Mohna Ansari. And my chairperson also said ‘Look Prime Minister, I have different opinion with you. I came from the judiciary, I’m the ex-chief justice and this is not the way to talk.’ He said that directly to the Prime Minister.
What else was the Prime Minister angry about?
The Prime Minister was angry with every line (of the NHRC statement in Geneva). He asked questions about every line in the statement. He was angry particularly with two issues: how could the NHRC say that about fundamental rights and the mention on women’s rights, and why I shifted the issue to the citizenship. However, if you see the constitution clause of article 47 on the fundamental rights, it says Dalit have rights to participation in every state mechanism after the law is passed in three years. What it means is the fundamental rights are controlled by the law.
How did you react?
This is the first time that the PM has summoned the NHRC. If he called me alone the situation could have been much worse. After the meeting he even told us ‘don’t go to the media’. He could have sent a letter to us, he could have said ‘I want to discuss’. But we stand on the principles of human rights and NHRC is an autonomous and independent body. I’m worried about transitional justice and accountability. The NHRC is looked upon as an enemy, they have to understand that we are partners, we want justice in society, we want the rule of law, no one is above that.
Could you have worded the Geneva statement differently?
Actually there is nothing wrong in our Geneva statement, we have done our job. His last question was about recommendations or proper investigation and prosecution to excessive use of force in Tarai, and I said ‘read the statement carefully, it says 55 people, including security personnel were killed during the political protest in Tarai due to the dissatisfaction with new Constitution’. We did mention the killing of police. His concluding remarks not to go to the media and saying that we needed a line-by-line approval was unacceptable. I am not a child to be spoken to like that.
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