If parties allow human rights problems to fester, new issues will crop up

  • Interview Mohna Ansari

Oct 23, 2017-Last week, Nepal was elected as a member to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the first time since the Council’s establishment in 2006. Though a great honour, this election is accompanied by a number of responsibilities that Nepal will be hard put to realise in the present context. With a lamentable performance in regards to the transitional justice process, Nepal has already attracted criticism for its approach to the post-conflict regime and overall human rights issues. Mukul Humagain and Binod Ghimire spoke to Mohna Ansari, a vocal member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and a lawyer by training, about the recent induction of Nepal to the UNHRC, the bearing this will have on Nepal’s position on human rights and transitional justice, and the necessity of  nurturing human rights practices from the grass roots through political advocacy. 

Nepal has been elected as a member to the United Nations Human Rights Council. This is obviously a step of great significance, but it comes with a host of responsibilities. 

That Nepal has been elected as a member to the UNHRC should be seen as an opportunity. It gives us access to an international platform where numerous institutions and organisations put forth their approach to human rights. Nepal’s progress in terms of human rights and rule of law too can be shared on this platform. Nepal has been elected as a member for two years, from 2018 to 2020, and this time period should be utilised in the best ways possible. 

The new constitution has mandated that citizens have the right to information, freedom of expression, and the right to guarantee life.

Also, from the total 11 countries that have been elected to the UNHRC, two countries—Afghanistan and Pakistan—are from South Asia. Nepal could share what we have learnt in the post-conflict period  with these nations and the larger international community.

But of course, Nepal can only do laudable work as a member of the UNHRC if its own human rights conditions are good. 

But our human rights records have come under international scrutiny, particularly regarding our continued failure to close in on outstanding human rights violations during the war years. Won’t this prove detrimental to Nepal’s image in the UNHRC?

While the role of the civil society is also important, the state is responsible for providing an enabling environment for the protection and promotion of human rights. If the state works to achieve the benchmarks as set by the new constitution, then we will be in a position to help and set an example internationally. Nepal has been making progress in some issues, but we need to continue on this path and make institutional changes so that we have the experience and the moral stature to be able to offer concrete and sound advice to other member states in the UNRHC and the larger international community. 

Nepal has made some strides in increasing our human rights monitoring. Over a period of three years, you can see a great change in the functioning of the NHRC. We are neither completely supportive nor totally critical of the government. We monitor the state apparatus 

and provide constructive criticism. For example, we have been critical of the government’s work in the post-earthquake scenario, and we have voiced our criticism of government’s role in the Madhes movement, particularly in regards to the casualties. At the same time, we also seek to provide support to state organs through monitoring activities so we can help them do better in the 

future. For example, the NHRC monitored elections through local observers, before, during and after the recent polls. 

According to the NHRC, of the recommendations they put forward  for action against rights violation, only 14 percent were implemented by the government. The common perception is that the Nepali state has become insular to human rights issues. Do you think membership to the UNHRC will push Nepal to increase its human rights efforts?

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) made recommendations that would strengthen all of Nepal’s organisations. For example, the UPR has recommended access to justice, but our state has failed to perform in accordance to this recommendation. Nepal also ratified the Convention Against Torture (CAT) in 1991, yet it still has not formulated any laws in this regard. Membership to the UNHRC now gives Nepal a push to work to formulate laws as per the UPR and the CAT, among others. We should see this membership as a turning point. There has been progress made on a number of things. A great example would be the new constitution. We need to continue on this path. 

Obviously there are issues at hand. For example, the work done by the NHRC is seldom acknowledged or appreciated by the state. The government claims that they will fully adopt and implement the recommendations made by the NHRC, yet further down the line they refuse to do so. However, slowly an understanding is dawning within the state apparatus. Now, government officials seem to realise that the state cannot function properly and develop without upholding human rights. 

Neither the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) nor the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), two key transitional justice bodies, have been allowed to function according to their mandate. What bearing does this have on Nepal’s  overall political transition?

Unless we can conclude the transitional justice process, the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement will never be realised. And in order to conclude this process, the TRC and the CIEDP have to function in accordance to their directives. Nepal’s commitments to the transitional justice process have to be upheld within the stipulated time frame. The TRC and CIEDP  are not merely for show. The state created these bodies, and it is the state’s responsibility to create a conducive environment for these bodies to carry out their mandated tasks. Peace cannot truly be achieved if conflict victims are forgotten, for example.

The state is, in some ways, almost nervous. If transitional justice is fully practiced, a great number of people will be brought to book. International justice stipulates that victims should be at the core of the transitional justice process, but in Nepal, it is the state that is the focal point.

There is a fear that the TRC and CIEDP may not carry out their mandates by the stipulated time of February 2018, in which case the cases of victims will be forgotten.

There is definitely this fear that the TRC and CIEDP may not carry out their mandates and that cases of outstanding human rights violation will eventually disappear because people will get tired of waiting. But the longer these violations are allowed to fester, the more difficulties will emerge. There’s a perception that the political leadership want to tire out the victims. But I do not believe this will happen. 

What bearing do human rights have in the election manifestos of the parties in the upcoming elections?

Party manifestos are extremely important in  pushing human rights practices and in making Nepal an inclusive state. NHRC in fact has sent parties various public statements and memorandums that they can follow while preparing their election manifestos. Parties have been following these suggestions to some extent. The problem is that simply including these suggestions in the manifestos is not enough.The information included in the manifestos aren’t always understood by the cadres at the ground level. Therefore, some statements that were included in the manifestos don’t reach enough people. Some political parties have been developing curriculums that advocate for human rights, child rights, and respect for one another. This is a positive step. Political parties should realise that political agendas are not always the most important, the social agenda should also be afforded great regard.

Nepal is preparing for provincial and federal elections. What reports have you received from NHRC’s monitoring bodies?

These elections provide a number of opportunities for citizens to stand up and vote for those who they believe in. However, there are a host of challenges that have to be dealt with. For example, during the local elections, NHRC monitors asked locals what they thought a vote was and why they were voting. With that in mind, we made them think about the elections, resulting in a deeper political understanding of the election. With enhanced understanding in regards to the importance of elections, the chances of human rights violations are expected to decrease. When people don’t understand why they are voting, polls could be negatively affected. This is one approach that could be used to make the elections successful. 

Of course, the provincial and federal elections present a different, and larger picture. There are a number of challenges, of which potential violence and problems of topography and weather  conditions present formidable complications. Security awareness is critical to ensure that such violence  does not occur. The NHRC, as a monitoring body, and other institutions like it, can share information with the state immediately. And it is the state’s responsibility to act on this information and address the issues raised by NHRC in a timely manner. There are numerous challenges to the elections, but they should not be allowed to hamper polls.

 

Published: 23-10-2017 07:48

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