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Nepal NHRC Chief Executive’s Appointment: State Groundwork to Systematise Impunity!

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The appointment of Chief Executive Secretary of the NHRC by the Government of Nepal demonstrates the government’s intention to systematise impunity. Human rights defenders formed a task force to pressurise government for the immediate appointment of competent commissioners.
The Government of Nepal designated Dr. Kul Ratna Bhurtel, Secretary of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, to shoulder the administrative responsibilities of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on 17 July 2007. A recent cabinet meeting took the decision to this effect after the outgoing Acting Secretary Dhruva Nepal asked the Prime Minister in writing to "do something" to address problems of the NHRC when complaints filed against him by NHRC employees.

Human rights activists accused the eight-party alliance government of trying to weaken human rights institutions by appointing a government official as the executive of the NHRC. Mr. Sushil Pyakurel, former member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), said "the government wants to weaken human rights institutions so that it can work in an autocratic manner," alleging that the government had no intention to end impunity. He further said, "the rights body does not need an administrator; it needs a chairman and members to protect rights of the individuals,"

NHRC staff said the decision was not acceptable to them as the appointment of a government secretary would affect work at NHRC as well as its independence and autonomy. In May 2007, NHRC staff approached the Chief Justice, Speaker, ministers, lawmakers and leaders of the political parties to take initiative towards the immediate appointment of the Commissioners, insisting on the consideration of the Paris Principles as a guiding factor in the appointment process in order to maintain the status of the autonomous and independent constitutional body.

The Government of Nepal NHRC staff, human rights organisations and civil society at large have been seriously concerned about the delay in filling the vacant post of the Chairperson and Commissioners for more than one year, with adverse effect to the Commission's decision-making process. In the absence of Commissioners, the NHRC is essentially unable to perform its functions. They are unable to act on human rights investigations and cannot send recommendations to the concerned authorities to take necessary actions. As a result, perpetrators are not getting their due punishment while victims and their families do not receive justice. The Comprehensive Peace Accord signed by the Government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) on 12 November 2006 provides a mandate to the NHRC to monitor and investigate on the issues and incidents of human rights violation and abuses.

This recent appointment by the government demonstrates its reluctance to protect human rights, maintain rule of law, clearly indicating systematic promotion of impunity. Such an attempt may be seen as acting in conflict with the Paris Principles, Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007 and the Human Rights Commission Act 1997.

A 13 member task force called Save National Human Rights Commission Campaign has been formed on 20 July 2007, comprising of human rights defenders in Nepal. The taskforce has decided to launch a series of protest programmes to end such interventions upon the independence of the Commission and to compel the government for the immediate appointment of the Commissioners as per the Paris Principles.
The NHRC of Nepal is without office-bearers after the former commissioners resigned from their posts on 19 July 2006. As a result, decisions on more than 80 complaints of human rights violations and excesses, for which investigation has already been completed, are pending.