NEPAL: For the ordinary folk, limited progress in liberties, opportunities and income in recent years
A group of human rights lawyers and activists gathered for a two-day seminar on the Rule of Law and Criminal Justice in Dhulikhel, Nepal. This seminar was organized by Advocacy Forum and the Asian Human Rights Commission.
Reviewing liberties, opportunities and income, the participants discussed a large number of issues relating to the recent developments in Nepal. While several participants appreciated the expansion of freedoms since the 1990s, particularly in the area of freedom of expression and association, they also had reservations about the extent to which the ordinary people have benefited from the recent developments relating to democratization. One participant observed that in the past people suffered violations of rights in silence; however, now they are able to express their protest against such violations and to let other know about what they have experienced. However the same participant underlined that in the ground realities, no substantial progress has been made in terms of redress for such violations and the elimination of the causes of such violations.
Observing the situation in terms of opportunities, several participants observed that new opportunities may have risen for the small group of people in power and those close to them but that the ordinary people only marginally benefited from new opportunities. Their situation remains difficult.
Observing the situation in terms of income, hereto the rich, the powerful and the politically influential may have made gains but the ordinary folk continue to depend on foreign remittances. In the rural areas, young people have left, putting the work in the fields in serious crisis. Overall, there has been no improvement in the income level of the people.
The participants observed that while some democratic achievements have been made in the area of development of the basic institutions, there is no attempt at all to bring about comprehensive reforms. The talk of the democratic reforms has not translated into efforts to improve the basic institutional structure of justice in Nepal.
There were lengthy discussions on the situation of the police. The participants concluded that in Nepal there is hardly any discussion focusing on improving the policing system in the country. It remains very backward and human rights abuses form an integral part of its functioning. This includes, the routine use of torture, abuse of arrest and detention, abuse of power and extrajudicial killings in particular districts. There is no independent system of investigation into the complaints of abuses by the police. The existing system of investigations is restricted to internal inquiries done by the police authorities themselves, in spite of political promises to bring about an independent investigation system.
Several lawyers felt that they are not being respected by the police when they make interventions on behalf of their clients. Instead, political or other influence is needed to get anything done. Their work is often being obstructed and some lawyers reported having faced physical assault. Much improvement is needed in building a professional relationship that respects the rights of the clients as well as the lawyers.
Institutional reforms, including police reforms, have not yet become significant part of discussions and debates in the political discourse. Several participants felt that action is required to trigger public discussions on the issue of such reforms.
The participants discussed many related matters and the discussions continued into many other aspects of reforms that are needed in order for people to be able to participate in the political process and to benefit from these exchanges.