Two international rights groups have called on Nepal’s government to promptly carry out recently released recommendations made by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) about abuses committed, especially, during a decade-long conflict in the Himalayan nation.
In their call, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) emphasized those recommendations concerning Nepal’s obligation to investigate and, where justified by the evidence, prosecute those accused of serious abuses.
On Oct. 15, the NHRC published data, naming 286 people, mostly police officials, military personnel, and former Maoist insurgents, as suspects in serious crimes.
In a statement, HRW and ICJ said the information relates to cases where its investigators concluded there is evidence warranting investigation and prosecution for abuses including torture, enforced disappearance, and extrajudicial killing.
Particularly serious violations and abuses were committed between 1996 and 2006 during an armed conflict between government security forces and Maoist rebel forces. The former Maoist party in now part of the government.
Since the conflict ended, the former enemies have effectively joined ranks to successfully shield their supporters from accountability, fostering a culture of impunity that continues to protect those responsible for ongoing extrajudicial killings and deaths in custody allegedly resulting from torture, the groups stated.
The NHRC said in its report that the government had mostly failed to act against suspects, despite being informed of the commission’s findings. Altogether the NHRC has recommended action against 98 police officers, 85 soldiers, and 65 members of the former Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).
The NHRC presented and analyzed its findings and recommendations spanning two decades, since its establishment in 2000. It has registered 12,825 complaints and reached conclusions in 6,617 cases, making 1,195 recommendations to the government.
HRW and ICJ said that the recommendations have been carried out fully in only 13 percent of cases, partially carried out in 37 percent, and not carried out at all in the remaining 50 percent. The government has often carried out recommendations to make payments to victims or their families but has very rarely investigated or prosecuted abuses.
“While releasing this report is an important step toward addressing entrenched impunity in Nepal, it has exposed the fact that the commission has struggled with a lack of investigative capacity, failing in many cases to summon alleged perpetrators or demand documentation,” said Mandira Sharma, senior international legal advisor at the ICJ.
“Had the NHRC used its authority to request prosecution from the attorney general where it has gathered sufficient evidence, it would have made a real contribution in tackling impunity and in addressing police failures in investigating ongoing cases of rights violations,” Sharma said.
The NHRC has long been dogged by political interference in the appointment of commissioners, and a widely perceived reluctance to confront the government or other powerful institutions, such as the army and political parties, that oppose accountability for rights abuses. In 2019 the government proposed amendments to the 2012 National Human Rights Commission Act that would further undermine its independence.
The rights groups said that the government’s often-stated commitment to uphold human rights should be assessed in the light of its failure to carry out the NHRC’s recommendations, including at Nepal’s forthcoming Universal Periodic Review at the UN.
The HRW and ICJ statement said that culture of impunity in Nepal is contributing to ongoing serious human rights abuses.
There have been numerous credible allegations of extrajudicial executions, torture, and ill-treatment, sometimes resulting in custodial deaths, and deaths resulting from the unlawful and excessive use of force in policing demonstrations in recent years, the groups said. In many such cases, the authorities have refused even to register complaints, much less carry out effective investigations or prosecutions.
“While impunity prevails, the rule of law and accountable governance are a pipe dream,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for HRW. “Fourteen years since the conflict ended, little has changed to prevent the recurrence of abuses, while Nepal’s development is held back by a culture of impunity.”
Vetting Nepali security forces
In addition to domestic use, the rights groups said that the NHRC’s data should provide important guidance to the UN in vetting Nepali security forces for peacekeeping missions, and to other countries for efforts to ensure international justice.
They will also be of use to the United States in carrying out vetting requirements under the “Leahy laws” that prohibit military assistance to military and security forces implicated in serious human rights abuses, they said.
“The National Human Rights Commission has taken an important step in publishing this information, which will be an essential tool for the UN and foreign governments in their engagement with Nepali security forces,” said Ganguly. “The report highlights just how little progress there has been to establish meaningful human rights protections to address conflict era violations and ongoing abuses.”