OHCHR-NEPAL withdrawal questioned: Deteriorating human rights situation is not conducive for withdrawal

New Delhi. The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) today in a new report, The Withdrawal of OHCHR-NEPAL:Agreeing an Alibi for Violation?,  expressed deep concern over the motives behind government moves to end the mandate of the UN human rights field mission to Nepal (OHCHR-NEPAL). ACHR warned that ending the mandate risked the peace process, would contribute to an already deteriorating human rights situation and presented real threats to the protection of civil society. 

“The killing of two journalists, Arun Singhanyia on 1 March 2010 and Jamim Shah on 7 February 2010 underline that human rights situation have been measurably deteriorating in Nepal, following the improvement brought about by the end of the conflict. The central cause remains a failure to address impunity.” - stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights.

“Maoist violence remains a central problem. There are growing reports of other political party’s involvement in violence. But of particular concern is the mounting evidence of rising state extra-judicial killings particularly in the Tarai. Nepal is entering another period of heightened political instability.” - further stated Mr Chakma.

Most worryingly, the drafting of the constitution by the May deadline now appears unlikely. This instability will create an environment adding momentum to the downward path of human rights. When human rights violations with impunity are part of state responses to insecurity, ‘Special’ or otherwise, they tend to add momentum to violence.

A withdrawal or weakening of OHCHRs mandate would leave Nepal’s dysfunctional National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) with primary responsibility to address the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation. Even Commissioner’s have stated that the institution is incapable. Moreover there is compelling evidence that the government intends to further weaken the NHRC.

The consequences of OHCHR-Nepal withadrawal are troubling. A strong field presence of the OHCHR provides political protection for Nepal’s human rights defenders – including the NHRC. As dissent is increasingly silenced human rights will inevitably deteriorate. There are heightened risks that Nepal will see a repeat of political violence designed to end the peace process. One of the most important examples of this occurred on 17th August 2003 when the Royal Nepal Army massacred nineteen people in Doramba.

But there is waning support for OHCHR. Civil society has justifiable concerns over OHCHR. They repeatedly warned OHCHR that its move into economic social activities was premature. They have equally expressed concerns over the credibility of OHCHR-NEPAL awareness training programme for the Nepal police and Armed Police when the problems required structural, legal and institutional reforms. The emerging human rights situation would appear to confirm both these concerns.

Donors and diplomats too need to reconsider their support to human rights – not least the ambiguous position of the UK. International donor pressure to change OHCHR-NEPAL’s strategic direction (most particularly the agreement between OHCHR-NEPAL and NHRC in 2009) appears premature. The recent announcement by UNDP and OHCHR of more support to the NHRC, effectively proposes to continue the same modalities and strategies of support that have been failing for years. These are all problems but point to a ramping up of human rights as a national and international priority.

The absence of credible evidence for a withdrawal of OHCHR and the deliberate weakening of the National Human Rights Commission suggests real concern over government motives. The Prime Minister’s threat of a 'Sri Lankan solution' was not accidental. It articulates in public, a discussion which had been ongoing in private particularly in royalist and military circles. Clearly, a sine qua non would be weak domestic protections and a marginalised international community as Sri Lanka has so successfully done.For NepaltThis would include an end or weakening of OHCHR and national mechanisms such as the NHRC’. said Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights.

The report makes recommendations to strengthen national human rights mechanisms to provide an exit strategy for OHCHR as well as a strategic review of OHCHR-Nepal. [Ends]

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