Nepal saw a year of poor human rights protection in 2018. The government was instead seen to further restrict people’s rights by introducing harsh laws to control the functioning of human rights NGOs and INGOs with its National Integrity Policy (NIP). The NIP places tighter controls over non-governmental space and is currently under discussion, while the Foreign Nationals Monitoring Directive 2018 provides greater surveillance and intervention over foreigners residing in Nepal and has already been passed by the Home Ministry.
As it stands, the NIP will create unnecessary hurdles for the NGO and human rights community in Nepal. In fact, one of the key aims of the policy is to rein in the NGOs and INGOs working in Nepal. At a time when Nepal is implementing a new Constitution with so many grievances from the vulnerable and marginalized communities, it is particularly important that human rights groups and civil society are given space to raise the voices of the vulnerable and marginalized. NGOs should be allowed to research problems, raise awareness and assist with legal provisions to access justice. The proposed NIP will likely curb much of this work.
According to NepalMonitor.org, the trend of pressuring victims to reconcile with perpetrators continues to be of significant concern. At times, police officers and elected local officials have been found to be involved in suppressing the prosecution of crimes. Following the successful completion of the 2017 elections, there was a drop in political violence. However, the first quarter of 2018 saw a rise in governance related incidents.
Strict media regulations were also enacted in 2018, and the government is now also controlling the use of Facebook and Twitter; several persons have even been arrested for writing against the government and politicians on Facebook and Twitter. Most recently, the government has directed media houses to stop writing about 13-year-old Nirmala Pant, who was found raped and murdered on July 27. Nirmala went missing on July 26, but the police showed an unwillingness to search for her that same night. Since then, while senior police officers investigating the case have been recalled and suspended, there has been no progress in uncovering her murderers. The police were found to destroy evidence, including washing her trousers in muddy water. They have also been questioning innocent people, even those with mental disabilities, instead of going after the real culprits. Nirmala’s case has shaken the whole country, and people from all walks of life have come together seeking justice for her.
In the name of different cultural practices, Dalits are not allowed to enter temples and some religious centres. Ill-treatment of Dalit and Madhesi detainees in police custody continues unabated. For years, NGOs have documented that detainees from these communities are proportionally more likely to be subjected to torture or ill-treatment than those of the privileged communities. The Nepalese Police remained notorious in 2018, as the following cases reveal, with a morale boost-up from the government, which is trying to keep everything under its grip:
Fifteen-year-old Muni Paswan Das became a victim of the reckless actions of a policeman on duty. While attending to some work near their cowshed on 21 January 2018, Muni was struck by a Police Officer with a bamboo stick, resulting in a serious injury to her left eye with possible total loss of vision and surgical extraction.
Similarly, Mr. Santosh Shah was stopped by plain-clothed Assistant Sub-Inspector Bal Kanhaiya Thakur while he was on his way to Rautahat District to deliver sweets at around 7 am on 15 March 2018. The police officer demanded a bribe of NPR 500. When Santosh denied having the money, and instead offered him some sweets, the officer started scolding and beating him in public.
Additionally, the police have illegally arrested and tortured innocents like 25-year-old Mr. Bikki Mehtar, in order to obtain a confession regarding the murder of Ms. Asha Dev, who was found murdered on October 18. The police took Mehtar into custody without proper investigation. In fact, incidents of police arresting innocent persons without clear evidence have been increasing in the country. Police have been particularly engaged in arresting mentally unstable persons, menial laborers and the poor, implicating them in crimes committed in nearby areas.
The past year also saw much political drama within the country’s judiciary. The Constitutional Committee led by Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli recommended Deepak Raj Joshee for the country’s Chief Justice position on 2 June 2018, despite evidence that Joshee was unfit to lead Nepal’s judiciary. Although Joshee was not endorsed as Chief Justice, there was considerable pressure and instigation surrounding his nomination and the subsequent debates discussing the nomination. It was a clear indication of how vested interests were trying to influence the independence and integrity of the judiciary. This is hardly a good sign for a country on the path to development and rebuilding its institutions.
On the occasion of International Human Rights Day, the government must work towards better protection and promotion of human rights, and justice for victims like Nirmala Pant.