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Nepal: Human Rights Defenders are a Target for Non-State Actors

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FORUM-ASIA’s member in Nepal, Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), reported that four human rights defenders (HRDs) have been killed this year, while in 2007, a journalist, three social activists and eight teachers were killed. In the same year (2007), a total of 378 HRDs were victimised by the state and non-state actors; while in 2006, there were 3,286 cases, and in 2005, 2,451 cases.

However, neither legislative nor administrative steps have been taken to address the issue of HRDs and the violations committed against them.
HRDs in Nepal are engaged in monitoring and building pressure on the authorities to investigate alleged human rights violations committed by state and non-state actors including criminal groups.

Their activities include monitoring conditions in jails, investigating killings and “disappearances”, investigating reported cases of rape, and cases of intimidation and torture.
HRDs sometimes assumed the role of negotiators in cases of abductions and arrests and also advocate and promote human rights at national and international level through educational activities, peaceful demonstrations, legal work and campaigns for civil disobedience.

During the armed conflict from 1996 to 2006, the HRDs face several challenges.
They were trapped between the state and the Maoists for speaking for or against rights violation or abuses.Despite the end of the conflict, the situation has not really improved for HRDs.

Government officials continue to harrass journalists for reporting corruption, the armed outfits of southern plains threatens the journalists when the media do not carry news on general strikes the groups had called.
At times, the groups torch the newspapers or the vehicles carrying journalists for ‘not reporting their activities’.
Nepal does not have specific national mechanisms to protect the rights of HRDs.

However, several national legislations and international standards can be applied for the purpose. Nepal has ratified seven out of nine core international treaties and has signed one.
The Interim Constitution 2006, the Civil Rights Act 1954, the State Cases Act 1992, Trade Union Act 1992, Legal Professional Council Act 1993, Social Welfare Act 1992, Association Registation Act 1978, Press Council Act 1992, Press and Publication Act 1992 and Labour Act 2000 can address the rights and responsibilities of professional groups as lawyers, journalists, trade union activists and NGOs.

The Interim Constitution has upgraded the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) from a statutory body to a constitutional body.
The NHRC Act provided it to work jointly and in a coordinated manner with civil society to enhance awareness on human rights.
Former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani had requested an invitation for country visit in 2003 and again in 2004 but the requests remained unanswered.
Jilani had sent many communications regarding the cases of Nepalese HRDs but several of them did not receive any response.

The SRSG, in her reports, regretted the significant delay in the government’s responses on the communications.
Government’s failure to implement effective measures to protect HRDs despite demands by concerned organisations can be viewed as a disregard to those demands.
The state’s responsibility with regard to human rights violations includes not only those committed by public officials, but in certain circumstances, also the abuses perpetrated by individuals.

The government has the obligation to take measures against persons who obstruct or threaten the work of HRDs, independently of whether these abuses were committed by any state authority or with its connivance or consent.
It should, therefore, take initiative for full investigations into cases of threats and violations against members of HRDs and social organisations, raise awareness about UN Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders 1998 and support the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other Special Procedures.

NOTE: This article was adapted from a paper presented by Bijaya R Gautam, Executive Director, INSEC at 3rd Human Rights Defenders Forum in South Asia, organised by FORUM-ASIA in Trivandrum, India, 18-20 September 2008.