Current Human Rights Situation in Nepal
On February 1, 2005, Nepal's human rights situation deteriorated as King Gyanendra initiated the greatest threat to Nepal's fledgling democracy by assuming all executive control and suspending most civil rights. During this time, he claimed that he was destroying democracy in order to save it, saying that the civilian government was unable to resolve the conflict with the Maoists. Some of the worst human rights violations were committed when the King ordered the detention of thousands of political activists, journalists, human rights monitors, and when he imposed severe restrictions on civil liberties. The King's coup provoked strong international condemnation, especially since Nepal is a legal signee of several different United Nations Human Rights documents.BACKGROUND: International Human rights Law
The International Bill of Human Rights consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols (UNHCHR). During the creation of the bill of rights, the UN Drafting Committee prepared two documents: one in the form of a declaration, which set forth "general principles or standards of human rights" and one in the form of a convention (now called a covenant), which defined specific rights and their limitations. When the UN General Assembly ratified the declaration, it was setting forth a document that outlines the "human rights and fundamental freedoms to which all men and women, everywhere in the world, are entitled, without any discrimination". The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become a measure for the degree of respect for, and compliance with, international human rights standards. It is one of the most important international documents that has helped prevent human rights abuses and improve human rights situations in many countries.
The first article of the Declaration outlines the basic assumptions of the Declaration: that the right to liberty and equality is a birthright and cannot be alienated and that man is different from other creatures on earth and entitled to certain special rights and freedoms. Article 1 says, "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood" (UNHCHR).
Article 2 defines the basic principles of equality and non discrimination and it forbids "distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status". It also states that there are "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war,...", thus making it virtually impossible for any defense of these actions to take place.
Article 3 is a cornerstone of the Declaration because it proclaims the right to life, liberty, and security of person, which are essential rights needed for the enjoyment of all other rights. Article 3 also introduces Articles 4-21, which cover other political and civil rights, such as freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and freedom of opinion and expression, all of which have been broken at some point in Nepal's conflict.
Nepal's participation in almost all aspects of the Declaration of Human Rights would lead one to believe that the country is committed to preventing and punishing actions that threaten the rights of the citizens. Yet, both the Maoist rebels and government forces (and the Royal Party itself) have participated in a variety of activities such as arbitrary arrests, "disappearances", intimidation of the press, and judicidial interference, all of which are not compliant with the standards set forth by the Declaration.Nepal's Conflict and the Declaration of Human Rights
Human rights abuses have been documented since the beginning of the conflict, yet with the King's seizure of power and his subsequent declaration of a state of emergency, a human rights catastrophe could be looming because of the heightened militarization and lack of democratic institutions. During this time, it is essential for the international community to monitor and work with Nepal so that the Declaration is upheld as thoroughly as possible. While the takeover of the government and the state of emergency have helped attract international attention, it is the daily violence and terror on ordinary communities that should be the most serious human rights concern. The conflict had already eroded the security and human rights of the rural population and now the actions of the King have undermined the freedom of the urban population, who were often untouched by the violent abuses taking place in the countryside. Under the state of emergency, a large number of fundamental rights, all of which are protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, have been suspended.
-Freedom of expression and opinion
-Freedom of assembly
-Freedom to form unions and associations
-Press and Publication rights
-Right against preventative detention
-Right to information
-Right to privacy
-Right to constitutional remedy
The state of emergency is further eroding any institutional safeguards that had once protected against human rights abuses, which means that the Articles outlined in the Universal Declaration are not being upheld. The judiciary have been reluctant to take a definitive stance to uphold human rights because they too have been threatened with violence and reparations by both sides. The other institution whose role it is to protect human rights is the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a group created to carry out investigations and report on human rights actitivities. Since the state of emergency, the NHBC's ability to effectively monitor human rights abuses has been limited by obstruction by security forces and the restrictions on freedom of expression.
Another casualty of the state of emergency and subsequent loss of freedom was the proposed Human Rights Accord, which would have committed both the Maoists and the government to clear human rights standards and human rights monitoring. The Accord was created by the NHRC and was promoted by both the international and human rights community. The Accord would have set a standard for future peace negotiations, but with the takeover of power by the King, a greater rift was formed between the two sides and the Accord was subsequently declined by both. At this point in the conflict, it has fallen on the shoulders of the international community to monitor and influence Nepal's human rights abuses.
Clearly, the government and the Maoist rebels are not interested in peaceful resolution and they continue to deny political rights and civil liberties to large portions of the population. In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community must hold Nepal responsible for its continual lack of regard for the rights of its citizens and its non-compliance with the standards of the Declaration. There are several actions that could be taken by members of the international community to punish and persuade Nepal into changing its human rights situation. India, the U.S., and the U.K. are Nepal's largest arms suppliers and they should continue to deny any military assistance to Nepal until the government complies with international human rights and humanitarian law. Interested states should also provide the necessary financial and political support to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner in Nepal so that the organization has better resources to tackle the human rights abuses being committed. The UN should also exclude all Nepali military units and individual military personnel implicated in human rights violations from participating in peacekeeping missions around the world. The international community also needs to call on and pressure the King to restore all fundamental human rights and the government in order to work towards a peaceful solution. Nepal's political situation has deteriorated even more in the last few years and it is essential that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be defended in order to keep Nepali citizens safe and free.