Nepal’s resounding victory at Human Rights Council reflects international community’s acknowledgment of our commitments and accomplishments in human rights
On October 16, 2017, Nepal was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) for the term 2018-2020. HRC is the world’s apex body assigned for monitoring human rights situation and promoting universal respect for protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.
World leaders gathered at the World Summit 2005 at the UN headquarters acknowledging the three pillars of the United Nations: development, peace and security, and human rights and resolved to strengthen the UN human rights machinery, as recommended in the report by the UN Secretary-General, “In Larger Freedom: Towards Security, Development, and Human Rights for All.” They suggested the establishment of a smaller HRC, as a principal organ of the UN or subsidiary body of UNGA, as a successor to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that had confronted the declining credibility and professionalism, casting shadow on the reputation of the UN system as a whole.
HRC and Nepal
UNGA elects HRC members. Nepal’s resounding victory (with 166 votes out of 193, the highest in the Asia Pacific group) at the 47 member HRC for the first time since its creation on March 15, 2006, reflects international community’s acknowledgement of Nepal’s commitments, efforts and accomplishments in the promotion and protection of human rights, and growing signs of increasing trust and confidence in its capacity and credibility of its leadership to contribute to defend and advance liberal values in pursuit of human rights.
The win came during the government led by Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba. As in national elections, candidate countries make voluntary pledges and commitments before the international community on how they plan to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights. During his address to the 72nd UNGA, Deuba expressed Nepal’s commitment to the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity, and non-selectivity, and remain constructively engaged with all member countries and UN human rights mechanisms to defend and advance human rights.
He informed the world body that Nepal’s constitution, written by people’s representatives and promulgated through Constituent Assembly, accommodates aspirations of its citizens, providing for an elaborate set of 31 fundamental rights including the right to employment, food, housing, social security, and education in the native language.
Constitution establishes powerful commissions to promote and protect rights and interests specific to women, Dalits, Muslims, Madhesis, indigenous people and other disadvantaged communities.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) acts as an independent constitutional body with overall responsibility of monitoring the human rights situation, investigating into the cases of violations, and recommending respect for rights.
Nepal is a state party to 24 international human rights conventions and protocols, including seven out of nine core international human rights instruments. Death penalty is banned in all circumstances. Nepal sets an example of managing huge diversity with great tolerance and harmony. Unique unity in vast diversity and remarkable resilience of its people has been Nepal’s national strength.
Message to the world
With its HRC membership, Nepal has a great and exemplary story to tell the world about the transformation of violent conflict into a peaceful democratic constitutional politics through dialogue and negotiation, and share experiences of national reconciliation through unique peace and transformation process.
Nepal, in recent months, demonstrated great capacity by holding elections of local, provincial and central levels in a free, fair and impartial manner under the new constitution despite several domestic constraints and vulnerabilities. This capacity needs to be firmed up at home and show performance accordingly at the international level.
The world will also benefit from Nepal’s experiences as UN peacekeeping and civilian protection partner since 1958. Nepal’s important constituent of foreign policy Panchsheel—five principles of peaceful co-existence that are derived from teachings of Lord Buddha—should be of widespread interests for an uncertain, confused and messy world that looks for an enduring alternative for regulating conduct between nations and creating sustainable foundation of a new world order.
Nepalis have undergone unspeakable sufferings and hardships for the establishment of inclusive democracy and fundamental freedoms. They have firmly rejected violence as a means of political power and rejected all forms of authoritarianism. Nepal’s election to the HRC on the 70th anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 25th anniversary of Vienna Declaration and program of action on human rights carries special significance in acknowledging its commitments to the framework principles espoused in these declarations.
This is recognition of Nepal’s achievements in securing fundamental human rights by transforming armed conflict into democratic constitutional politics and establishing safeguards for human rights. The winding up of UN offices—Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), set up during the decade-long Maoists’ armed conflict and UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) after the start of the peace process—demonstrates the progression towards creating culture of human rights in the country.
Poverty remains as the greatest threat to full enjoyment of human rights. Adequate resources will have to be provided for programs in areas of gender equality, freedom of expression, human rights for minorities and disadvantageous groups. Government should show its commitment to strengthen human rights and democratic institutions, institutionalize the rule of law for good governance, protect pluralism and promote right to development.
Top leaders of political parties have displayed common commitment to development, which also stands as a part of the implementation of SDGs and other internationally agreed development goals. For this, greater flow of ODA, technology transfer for enhancing development shall have to be fully aligned with national priorities.
Transitional justice remains a touchy and tricky issue. It is essential to leave the violent past behind and bring families and society together through an indigenous process to promote greater national unity and reconciliation in the spirit embedded in peace accords and the constitution. There should be no impunity or amnesty to individuals involved in crimes against humanity including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and rape.
NHRC reportedly asked the government to come up with laws to amend Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act taking into consideration the Supreme Court’s ruling to criminalize torture and disappearance and remove the statute of limitations for registering conflict-era cases and also international human rights law. NHRC warns: “If the laws are not amended to ensure justice within the country, the conflict-era victims will be forced to seek justice from beyond the borders. It won’t do any good to the country.” Inviting a situation to seek justice with outside involvement will have grave implications for national interests and security. This warning needs to be taken seriously.
World community will be closely, carefully and critically watching Nepal’s role at the HRC and other international forums in delivering commitments, providing justice to the conflict victims including reparations and compensations. Government’s ability to further enhance the trust and confidence-based relationship with neighbors and international community will be yet another test. Leadership will have to work hard to translate rhetoric into realities to strengthen the existing credibility and enhance the multi-level trust building set in motion in Nepal and beyond national borders.
The author was foreign affairs adviser to former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba