KATHMANDU, Nov 3: The Nepal government should act without delay to carry out the National Human Rights Commission’s recommendations, particularly those concerning Nepal’s obligation to investigate and, where justified by the evidence, prosecute those accused of serious abuses, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the two leading international human rights bodies, said on Tuesday.
On October 15 this year, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had published 20 years of data, naming 286 people, mostly police officials, military personnel, and former Maoist insurgents, as suspects in serious crimes.
In particular, 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.
In addition to domestic use, the data should provide important guidance to the United Nations in vetting Nepali security forces for peacekeeping missions, and to other countries for efforts to ensure international justice, including in their obligations to prosecute or extradite individuals suspected of responsibility for crimes under international law, according to a joint press release issued by HRW and ICJ.
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.
“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,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch has been quoted in the press release as saying.
“The report highlights just how little progress there has been to establish meaningful human rights protections to address conflict era violations and ongoing abuses.”
The culture of impunity in Nepal is contributing to ongoing serious human rights abuses, the rights groups said. 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. In many such cases, the authorities have refused even to register complaints, much less carry out effective investigations or prosecutions.
International and foreign authorities, including prosecutors and judicial authorities, should be aware of the commission’s data when considering targeted sanctions for people accused of serious violations, or preparing criminal cases under the principal of universal jurisdiction against those allegedly responsible for crimes such as torture and enforced disappearances, they said.
The two human rights group said that serious violations and abuses were committed particularly between 1996 and 2006 during an armed conflict between government security forces and Maoist rebel forces. The joint press release quoted the NHRC report saying that government had mostly failed to act against suspects, despite being informed of the commission’s findings.
“Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists have not independently investigated all the cases documented, but the Nepal government is under an obligation to thoroughly and impartially investigate the allegations in the report with a view to bringing those responsible for these crimes to justice. Altogether the NHRC has recommended action against 98 police officers, 85 soldiers, and 65 members of the former Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist),” the press release said.
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.
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.
In a March 6, 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court decided that the NHRC has the authority to refer these cases to the attorney general and prosecutors for investigation and prosecution, yet the NHRC has been unwilling to use that authority. The NHRC has also chosen not to use its prerogative to name those allegedly responsible for the abuses until now, waiting until the last days of the outgoing commissioners’ terms to publish the report.
“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,” Mandira Sharma, senior international legal advisor at the International Commission of Jurists has been quoted as saying.
“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.”
The two human rights groups have claimed that Nepal’s 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.
The HRW and ICJ also pointed out that the proposed amendments to the 2012 National Human Rights Commission Act will further undermine NHRC’s independence.
“While impunity prevails, the rule of law and accountable governance are a pipe dream,” Ganguly has been quoted as saying. “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.”