Bill to amend Human Rights Commission Act raises fierce debate

  • The powers of national rights watchdog are being curtailed, say opposition MPs
- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu

May 1, 2019-

A meeting of the parliamentary Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights on Tuesday saw a heated exchange of words between opposition lawmakers and Minister for Law and Justice Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal over the bill to amend the National Human Rights Commission Act-2012.

While the opposition lawmakers, along with officials from the commission, demanded revision of the bill, arguing that it curtailed the authority of the national human rights watchdog, Dhakal refused to budge.

The amendment bill, which is being discussed in the House committee, has proposed making it mandatory for the commission to recommend the cases it has investigated to the attorney general with an authority for him/her whether or not to proceed the case. It also authorises the attorney general to request the commission for further investigation if s/he finds the case incomplete. The Act authorises the commission to write directly to the respective person or agency to execute its recommendations based on an investigation.

Commenting on the bill, Nepali Congress Chief Whip Bal Krishna Khand said no attempts to undermine the authority of the constitutional commission are acceptable. “We will make every effort possible to ensure the independence of the commission,” he said, adding that allowing the attorney general to decide on the recommendation of the constitutional body is against the spirit of the statute. Other opposition leaders said the government must withdraw the bill and revise it incorporating provisions to empower it, rather than undermining its authority.

Anup Raj Sharma, chairperson of the commission, asked the government to respect the Paris Principle, which envisions that human rights institutions should have autonomy. He also said it was unfortunate that the government has come up with the bill aimed at curtailing the authority of the commission while Nepal holds an elected membership of the Human Rights Council. “We urge the government to reconsider it,” he said.

Dhakal however, said the bill was formulated keeping in mind the spirit of the statute. Therefore, there was no point withdrawing it from the House. The bill was registered at the federal parliament two weeks ago after approval from the Cabinet.

“The government won’t revise the bill,” he said. Hinting at the reservation over the bill from different quarters, he further said that the laws are not made from Maitighar. “Let Parliament discuss and finalise it,” he added. The ruling alliance holds a two-thirds majority in the federal parliament. This means any of its bills can easily get through if the government remains adamant. Dhakal said that the government needs to be appreciated for initiating the process to amend the Act as per the

constitution, a task that should have been done three years ago.

Min Bishwokarma, a Congress lawmaker, said he was saddened to see the way Dhakal defended the bill. “We must not forget that the human rights commission has an important place in democracy and it needs to be fully autonomous,” he said. Bishwokarma said that the government was taking one step after another to weaken the institutions of the country. The bill was a continuation of it. This is not the first time the KP Sharma Oli-led government has attempted to attack the autonomy of the commission. During his first stint as the prime minister, Oli had summoned the commission’s team to his office and censured them for their statement during the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva in March 2016, in which the commission had raised the issues of citizenship, fundamental rights and the use of excessive force by the state.

Different international human rights organisations had expressed serious reservations over the government’s act. Recently, on April 21, a Nepal Police team tried to forcibly enter the regional office of the commission in Nepalgunj. The police were trying to nab a cadre of the Netra Bikram Chand-led Nepal Communist Party, Dan Bahadur Fadera, who was released by the Banke District Court. The commission’s regional office had given refuge to Fadera after he was released by the court on a general date, following suspicion that the police wanted to arrest him yet again.

Officials at the constitutional watchdog say they were told by senior members of the House committee that they would work to revise the bill before it is tabled in the full House for endorsement. “Even ruling party lawmakers have assured us of a revision. “We are left with no option but to wait and see,” said a member of the commission, seeking anonymity because he feared being dragged into a controversy.

Published: 01-05-2019 11:27

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