Government inaction leads to impunity

New HRW report highlights human rights abuses in post-conflict Nepal

On 18 May 2022, Sundar Harijan, a 20-year-old Dalit inmate at Rolpa jail died under suspicious circumstances in prison where he was serving a sentence for organised crime in place of another prisoner. A subsequent investigation into Harijan’s apparent suicide pointed towards police corruption, but the probe yielded no report or punishment for those involved. 


18-year-old Nabina Tharu was killed in June last year when police opened fire on protesters demanding protection of locals from wildlife in the nearby Bardia National Park. A committee formed to investigate Tharu’s death did not come to any conclusion.


These are notable instances of human rights abuses in Nepal highlighted in Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) World Report 2023, —which reviewed human rights practices in close to 100 countries— published this week.


The report emphasised the Nepal government’s failure to pursue due process and justice for conflict-era rights abuses including cases of torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and abuse by law enforcement.


“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 of Human Rights Watch. 


In August, an amendment to the 2014 Act on the Commission on Investigation of Disappeared Persons, Truth and Reconciliation was presented before Parliament. However, the amendment threatened to narrow the scope of criminal accountability for injustices committed during the decade-long armed struggle. 


The amendment classified torture as humane and inhumane, categorised murders in a way that would make it possible for perpetrators to bypass criminal accountability for war crimes, made it so that verdicts from a new special court would not be subject to judicial appeal, and included provisions that would exempt or provide immunity to perpetrators.


The bill was ultimately not brought to vote, and Nepal’s parliament was subsequently dissolved to make way for the November general election.


“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,” added Ganguly.


But given that the new government is led by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal who waged the decade-long Maoist insurgency and with families of 1,400 disappeared still waiting for truth, rights activists are not very hopeful.


The HRW report also brought to attention the discourse surrounding citizenship in Nepal. 


In July, both of Nepal’s upper and lower Houses endorsed the amendment to the 2006 Citizenship Act. The new bill cleared the way for the thousands of children of parents who got citizenship by birth to become citizens by descent and allowed Non-Resident Nepalis to acquire citizenship.


But activists and experts had expressed concerns that the bill’s restrictions on citizenship for children born to single mothers, and the process of obtaining naturalised citizenship were discriminatory towards women.


Issues with the amendment notwithstanding, President Bidya Bhandari refused to authenticate the bill, rendering it null and void— effectively barring hundreds of thousands of Nepalis from obtaining their citizenship papers.


Additionally, the report also cast a spotlight on the government’s negligence towards addressing sexual violence across the country, its failure to extend child protection programmes to curb child labour that has increased post-Covid, and noted Nepal’s inconsistent record when it comes to upholding the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. 


The report emphasised that members of Nepal’s Dalit and indigenous communities, women, and sexual minorities are often disproportionately the victims of human rights abuses, while also being less likely to get justice.


HRW Executive Director Tirana Hassan also noted that individual countries must take the responsibility to apply a human rights framework to their policies and work together to protect and promote human rights.


‘Governments that fail to live up to their legal obligations to protect human rights at home sow the seeds of discontent, instability, and ultimately crisis,” wrote Hassan in the report. “Left unchecked, the egregious actions of abusive governments escalate, cementing the belief that corruption, censorship, impunity, and violence are the most effective tools to achieve their aims.’