Does Nepal deserve 2nd term at UN Human Rights Council?


A general view during the 23th Session of the Human Rights Council. 27 May 2013. Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré

Here’s a comprehensive article by Nepali Times. Nepal has been a member of the UN Human Rights Council since 2018 and is now running for a second term; the vote will likely take place at the General Assembly in October. However, many people in the human rights community argue that Nepal shouldn’t be re-elected because of its poor record, both in respecting human rights in Nepal itself and in its work as a council member. This is one issue to follow:

Nepal is running for re-election at the UN Human Rights Council, but has not done enough to protect rights

On 20 June 2019 Kumar Poudel was found dead, reportedly shot in the head, in Lalbandi-1, Chandranagar Forest in Sarlahi district, in what Nepal Police said was a shootout. He was in charge of the Netra Bikram Chand (‘Biplab’)-led Communist Party of Nepal in Sarlahi, and a probe by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) called it an extrajudicial killing, recommending criminal charges against three police officers.

The incident was taken up by United Nations human rights experts based in Geneva. Working under special procedures, each expert focuses on a specific country or mandate, such as minority issues, violence against women, and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. On 28 October, three of those experts wrote to the Government of Nepal for clarification on the killing of Poudel.

Communications from ‘special procedures’

How governments respond to communications from special procedures is one measure of whether they are cooperating with the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). For aspiring members of the HRC that cooperation can affect whether they get elected. Nepal became a member of the council for the first time in 2018, its mandate expires on 31 December and in October it will run in an election for a second term, 2021-23. Many human rights activists believe the government does not deserve a second mandate. 

When it was contesting for the seat it won in 2017, Nepal issued a series of pledges, both in a document and at an event in New York organised by Amnesty International and the International Service for Human Rights. Among the pledges were to:

  1. Address human rights violations during the Maoist conflict, provide justice to victims, and ‘promote sustainable peace, harmony and reconciliation in society’
  2. ‘Continue to strengthen the central role of the National Human Rights Commission with the responsibility of independent investigations into all HR violations’
  3. Foster the growth and diversification of free and competent media and ‘preserve and further promote the right to freedom of expression and other freedoms provided for in the Constitution’.

Women’s rights activist Renu Adhikari says Nepal’s performance on the HRC has been too passive but at home “in terms of violence against women the effort made by the Nepal Government is quite satisfactory. There is a national plan of action, zero tolerance and several laws have been changed.”

Adhikari, who is Chairperson of the National Alliance of Women Human Right Defenders added in an interview: “Definitely there are issues — rape, trafficking in different forms, violence is increasing, and police are not responding the way we expected. At the same time the government is acting sincerely on certain issues.”

“I will support another (HRC) term, but I would say that they need to be a little more serious, a little more proactive.”

— Renu Adhikari, Chairperson, National Alliance of Women Human Right Defenders

“I will support another (HRC) term, but I would say that they need to be a little more serious, a little more proactive. They also have to be more serious within the country, especially on Madhes issues — the rights of Madhesi people keep getting violated,” she  said.

At the NHRC, Commissioner Mohna Ansari asks: “What progress have we made after being elected to the Human Rights Council? That is the question. Extrajudicial killing is ongoing. Our outgoing IGP (Inspector General of Police) deployed a special mission to assassinate the Biplab cadres. Can you imagine? Being a member of the HRC and having such a crime happen?”

“When you are championing human rights you need to produce an extraordinary example as a member state,” added Ansari in a phone interview. “After being elected I hardly see progress: in the past year how many incidents have happened? Violence against women is also high, as is caste-based discrimination.”

‘No comment’ from government

Contacted by a reporter for the government’s side, joint secretary and spokesperson at the ministry of foreign affairs, Bharat Raj Paudyal, asked: “Why do you have to write about this at this particular time? Who is instigating you to write about this? Someone is inciting you, I am not going to comment.”

On 27 April the Supreme Court of Nepal rejected the government’s appeal of its 2015 decision that said the Transitional Justice Act must be amended because it included amnesty for serious crimes committed during the 1996-2006 Maoist conflict. Observers say that the government has now run out of reasons to delay transitional justice and must act.

According to the UN General Assembly, when they are electing HRC members UN member states should take into account how candidates have contributed to the promotion and protection of human rights as well as to their voluntary pledges and commitments.

It says elected members shall ‘(1) uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights; (2) fully cooperate with the Council and (3) be reviewed under the universal periodic review (UPR) mechanism during their term’.

Nepal’s UPR review is scheduled in the HRC later this year. As to point 2 above, cooperation with the HRC includes participating in meetings and other events of the council and responding to communications from special procedures as well as requests for visits.

‘Unacceptable’ to not cooperate with HRC

“We consider that stuff to be important because it’s an indicator of how you live up to your obligations, of a broader willingness and commitment by the state,” said Eleanor Openshaw, New York Director of International Service for Human Rights in a Skype interview. “If you don’t cooperate (with the HRC) that is unacceptable.”

UN member states, which vote for HRC members at the annual General Assembly meeting, are interested in the indicators, added Openshaw. “As Nepal receives aid from the international community they have an interest in looking as if they’re attempting to cooperate.”

Nepali Times reached out to a number of member states for their opinions on Nepal’s candidacy. None who responded would comment on the upcoming vote.

Via the website YourHRC.org, the international organisation Universal Rights Group, along with Norway’s ministry of foreign affairs, produces an annual analysis of the HRC and its members. It shows Nepal’s participation (in debates, panel discussions and dialogues) growing from 51 in 2018 to 70 in 2019. The most active government (Qatar) in the HRC’s Asia-Pacific group participated in 207 events. 

“Transitional justice processes and institutions continue to be subordinated to short-term political interests. Government after government, including the current one, fail to respect judicial decisions and even actively seek to compromise judicial independence.”

— Frederick Rawski, Asia-Pacific Regional Director at the International Commission of Jurists

But the government’s response rate to communications from special procedures fell from 24% to 20%, tied with India, and in the AP-group better only than Afghanistan (10%). Nepal responded to the last 3 queries sent from special procedures (in 2019) but at press time had not responded to the 6 previous communications (4 sent in 2018, 2 in 2017).

A later communication, about consultation with victims of the Maoist conflict concerning truth and reconciliation, dated 16 March 2020, was posted online on 15 May.

According to Frederick Rawski, Asia-Pacific Regional Director at the International Commission of Jurists, “substantial improvements have been made in Nepal’s legal framework — with the progressive human rights jurisprudence of the Supreme Court particularly worthy of praise,” since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006.

“However, Nepal suffers from a chronic problem of non-implementation of human rights protections. Laws get passed but go unenforced. Transitional justice processes and institutions continue to be subordinated to short-term political interests. Government after government, including the current one, fail to respect judicial decisions and even actively seek to compromise judicial independence,” adds Rawski.

“Until the government takes genuine measures to improve the implementation of the human rights commitments that it made when it stood for election to the HRC three years ago, it will continue to be subject to international criticism regardless of whether or not it retains its seat in the next cycle,” he added.

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