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Human Rights in Nepal
Amnesty International Report 2007
The political transition, cessation of hostilities and relaunching of a peace process following popular protests in April led to major improvements in the human rights situation and raised expectations that long-standing issues, such as caste-, ethnic- and gender-based discrimination, would be addressed. The new coalition government and the armed opposition Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) (Maoist) pledged their commitment to human rights in a series of agreements, culminating in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in November. Key challenges remained, including holding both parties to their promises and ensuring accountability for past human rights violations and abuses.
The year began with growing opposition to the rule of King Gyanendra, who seized executive authority in February 2005 and imposed increasingly severe restrictions on freedoms of assembly, association and expression. More than 3,000 people were detained between mid-January and mid-February for involvement in political demonstrations, including senior political leaders and prominent peace activists. Police used excessive force against demonstrators and ill-treated activists in custody.
A renewed protest movement gathered strength in April, known as the People's Movement (Jana Andolan). The demonstrations, initiated by the coalition of major political parties known as the Seven Party Alliance (SPA), eventually included a broad cross-section of the population and also had the backing of the CPN (Maoist).
The royal government again imposed undue restrictions on freedoms of assembly and expression and the security forces used excessive force in efforts to suppress the protests. The security forces used batons, live and rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, fired at close range, to control the crowds, resulting in the deaths of at least 18 people and injuries to more than 4,000. Hundreds of peaceful political and civil society activists were among those arrested.
On 24 April, King Gyanendra announced the reinstatement of the House of Representatives. Nepali Congress leader Girija Prasad Koirala was appointed Prime Minister, heading an SPA coalition government. Within days, the House convened for the first time since 2002 and endorsed a proposal to hold elections for a constituent assembly to rewrite the country's 1990 Constitution and decide the fate of the monarchy.
The CPN (Maoist) announced a three-month ceasefire on 26 April. The SPA government reciprocated with an indefinite ceasefire on 3 May. Negotiations, starting on 26 May, resulted in a series of agreements that paved the way for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on 21 November. The Peace Agreement ended Nepal's decade-long armed conflict and included provisions on political, social and economic transformation. It committed both parties to the establishment of an interim government, including representatives from the CPN (Maoist), and to constituent assembly elections by mid-June 2007.
An agreement in late November established procedures to ensure that CPN (Maoist) combatants would be confined to temporary camps and lock their weapons under UN supervision while the Nepal Army would remain in barracks and store an equal number of arms.
Both parties requested the UN to provide assistance in election observation and continued human rights monitoring.
Peace process and human rights
All the agreements signed in the course of the talks included human rights commitments. However, many of the pledges were vaguely worded and few had been fully implemented by the end of the year.
In May the SPA government and the CPN (Maoist) agreed a Code of Conduct for the ceasefire. By mid-November, the National Monitoring Committee established to oversee compliance said it had found violations of the Code of Conduct in 913 cases out of 1,425 complaints, but no further action was taken and the Committee was dissolved at the end of that month.
The role of Nepal's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) remained unclear. The NHRC's reputation for independence was damaged in 2005, when new Commissioners were appointed by the King. In July, the Chairperson and Commissioners resigned; new appointments had not been made by the year's end.
The Peace Agreement signed on 21 November contained significant human rights commitments, including an end to impunity for human rights abuses and guarantees of the rights to food, health and education. It provided for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate "serious violations of human rights and crimes against humanity" committed during the armed conflict and a National Peace and Rehabilitation Commission to provide assistance to conflict victims. The Peace Agreement also included pledges to publicize the whereabouts of victims of enforced disappearances within 60 days and to create an environment conducive to the return of internally displaced people.
Marginalized groups were under-represented in the peace process. Neither the SPA government nor the CPN (Maoist) leadership included women in their peace talk teams. The 31-member National Monitoring Committee included only two women, and a six-member, all-male Interim Constitution Drafting Committee was expanded to include four women and a Dalit representative only after widespread protests.
Abuses by the CPN (Maoist)
Despite the CPN (Maoist)'s public commitments to respect international human rights standards, there were continuing reports of unlawful killings, abductions, torture and ill-treatment, extortion, threats and harassment by members of the CPN (Maoist). Investigations by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal found that many of the abuses were committed in the context of the "law enforcement" activities of the CPN (Maoist) and its "people's courts". In November, the CPN (Maoist) pledged to dissolve the "people's government" and "people's courts" on the day the interim parliament was formed.
There were reports of ongoing child recruitment after the ceasefire, particularly in the days and weeks preceding the Peace Agreement. Under the Peace Agreement, both parties pledged not to use children aged 18 or below in military activities and to provide assistance for their rehabilitation.
Abuses by other armed groups
Other armed groups, in particular the anti-Maoist "village defence forces" and the Terai Janatantrik Mukti Morcha (TJMM), were responsible for human rights abuses, including unlawful killings and abductions. In July, the CPN (Maoist) declared "war" against the TJMM, a splinter group advocating self-determination for the Madhesi people of the southern Terai region. By the year's end, there had been no systematic effort to disarm the village defence forces, which had gained strength in 2005 with the support of the security forces.
Human rights violations by the security forces
The security forces were responsible for unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and the widespread use of torture, including rape, in the context of the decade-long conflict. The army regularly resorted to indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks in its battles with the CPN (Maoist), resulting in the deaths of civilians and damage to homes, schools and other civilian objects.
Throughout 2005 and early 2006, the King increasingly used the security forces to control peaceful political opposition. The Nepal Police (NP), Armed Police Force (APF) and the Royal Nepalese Army (renamed the Nepal Army in May) were deployed to curb political demonstrations in early 2006 and were all responsible for the use of excessive force, according to OHCHR investigations. The NP and APF arbitrarily detained thousands of people during the demonstrations.
With the cessation of hostilities in May, conflict-related violations ended almost completely. The Army Bill adopted by the parliament in September contained provisions to bring the army under civilian control but did not adequately address concerns regarding jurisdiction for violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by the military.
Measures to address past violations and abuses were inadequate.
In May, the SPA government appointed a Commission of Inquiry chaired by a former Supreme Court judge to investigate human rights violations committed in the context of suppressing the People's Movement. The Commission delivered its report to the SPA government in November but its findings were not made public. The Commission reportedly recommended action against more than 200 people, including King Gyanendra, senior ministers and security officials. The SPA government formed a committee to study the report.
In early June, the Home Ministry established a one-person Disappearances Committee without the capacity to investigate the hundreds of unresolved cases of enforced disappearance.
Authorities were reluctant to proceed with criminal investigations into past human rights violations, even when presented with detailed reports by local human rights defenders and the OHCHR. Neither the security forces nor the CPN (Maoist) took concrete steps to strengthen accountability within their ranks.
Violence against women was not widely recognized as a human rights issue. Gender-based violence was under-reported, partly due to fear of retaliation and to the scarcity of shelter and other support services. Widows and single women were particularly at risk of violence and harassment.
Many women human rights defenders believed that the political transition presented an opportunity to secure more equitable representation in government and press for legal reform. Lawyers estimated that there were at least 118 discriminatory provisions contained in 54 different laws, including the 1990 Constitution.
Internally displaced people
Between 100,000 and 250,000 people were displaced during the conflict. Following the cessation of hostilities in May, some internally displaced people (IDPs) began to return to their communities, but prevailing security concerns discouraged large-scale returns. Despite the repeated commitments of both parties to ensure the safe return of IDPs, there were no comprehensive policies to provide necessary assistance and protection.
Toward the end of 2006, there were moves to resolve the plight of around 106,000 Bhutanese refugees living in camps in south-eastern Nepal after their forced expulsion from Bhutan in the early 1990s. The SPA government attempted to reopen talks with the government of Bhutan, suspended since 2003. In October, the USA offered to resettle up to 60,000 refugees and other countries said they would provide resettlement. Refugees were reportedly divided about the offers, with some fearing that accepting resettlement would end all hopes for repatriation to Bhutan and legitimize "ethnic cleansing".
AI country visits
AI delegates visited Nepal in February, March and December.