End impunity, protect rights: HRW

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has once more urged the government to address allegations of recent extra-judicial executions and deaths in custody, as well as to respect the independence of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

The NHRC has filed reports of continued human rights abuses by Nepal’s security forces, and HRW pressed the government to end impunity and be accountable for the abuses.

“Nepal is still trying to grapple with delivering justice for unlawful killings during the armed conflict, but instead of keeping its promise of reforms and pledges against repeat offenses, the abuses continue to mount,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW’s South Asia director. “The government uses rule of law rhetoric to appeal to foreign diplomats and donors but actually fosters a culture of impunity.”

Last June, police in Sarlahi killed Kumar Paudel, 47, a member of the Biplav faction of an underground Maoist splinter group in what appears to be an encounter killing. An investigation by the NHRC said police officers responsible should be prosecuted, but the Home Ministry rejected the report.

The NHRC has also called for an investigation into the deaths of Raj Kumar Chepang, 24, after being detained and allegedly beaten by the Army in Chitwan National Park, and Bijay Mahara, 19, after being taken in by Police for questioning.

The human rights violations have continued mainly because earlier heinous crimes committed during the 1996-2006 conflict have gone unpunished due to the government’s insincerity in pursuing transitional justice, rights groups have said.

Responding to the government’s request to the NHRC to reconsider its recommendation in the case of Kumar Paudel, secretary and spokesperson for the commission, Bed Bhattarai, told HRW: “The Home Ministry is asking the NHRC to rethink the recommendation of the commission but actually we have clear evidence…. The NHRC has investigated and concluded it as an extrajudicial killing.”

Following the death of Bijay Mahara on 26 August, Police initially said he died of kidney failure, but two officers were subsequently suspended after a video emerged of Mahara claiming that he had been tortured in detention.

Research by Advocacy Forum found that despite the end of the conflict in 2006, torture is still widespread in Police custody in Nepal, and members of the Dalit and other marginalised groups are far more likely to be tortured than those of the ‘upper’ castes.  Torture became a crime under Nepali law for the first time in 2018, but there have been no successful prosecutions.

According to the NHRC, the government has fully implemented only about 12% of 810 commission recommendations in the eight years to 2019. The terms of the current members of the NHRC expire in October.

HRW is also critical of Nepal’s donors for not addressing impunity and rights violations in the country, citing assistance from the UK, US and Norway for the Nepal Police and judicial reform.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that donors which fund the Nepal Police ‘should publicly and privately insist that Nepal meets its basic obligation to investigate and prosecute grave violations’.

When the country was elected to the current United Nations Human Rights Council, Nepal had said that it guaranteed the independence of the NHRC and the judiciary, and it was genuinely committed to pursue transitional justice for conflict-era crimes.

Six UN special rapporteurs have warned that the Nepal government has tried to ‘severely undermine’ the NHRC’s independence and authority, and the government had failed to comply with repeated Supreme Court rulings to amend the transitional justice law to meet international standards, and instead has ignored numerous court orders relating to conflict-era police investigations and prosecutions. Nepal is now standing for a second term at the Council, and its record is coming up for review.

Said Ganguly: “Nepal’s authorities love to speak of their commitment to human rights and good governance … and diplomats and donors should insist on measurable progress on rights protections if they hope to see their financial and technical support bear meaningful results.”

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