The country’s human rights situation was predictably appalling during the decade-long civil war. At least 13,000 people lost their lives, 150,000 were displaced while 1,500 still remain unaccounted for from the conflict period. With the formal end of the war in 2006, it was hoped that the human rights situation would improve, considerably. It has not. Yes, the number of extra-judicial killings has plummeted and people are no longer being displaced by acts of violence, but the country’s overall rights record remains dismal. In this backdrop, the Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), a human rights watchdog, has come out with a withering criticism of the incumbent government for the deteriorating law and order situation and entrenched culture of impunity. According to INSEC’s Nepal Human Rights Year Book 2013, there were 3,521 cases of rights violations in 2012. Most were related to violence against women, followed by incidents of ‘beatings’ and child abuse. Chillingly, more than six years since the end of the civil war, there were 423 incidents of killings in a single year.
As the INSEC Year Book suggests, it will be impossible to improve Nepal’s rights situation without first putting the country’s political house in order, which in turn will not be possible without electing a more accountable and authoritative government through new Constituent Assembly polls. As things stand, an unaccountable executive, thorough criminalization of politics, and the state’s failure to impose its writ are steadily eating away at people’s confidence in their government. Thanks to their inept politicians, Nepalis find themselves without a legislature, and with a severely crippled judiciary. The caretaker government under Baburam Bhattarai has time and again tried to exploit this political, constitutional, and legal vacuum by riding roughshod over the justice delivery system, most egregiously by seeking amnesty for even those convicted of grave rights violations in a court of law. The latest attempt of the caretaker government to push through the flawed ordinance on transitional justice mechanisms (which seek blanket amnesty) in a ‘package’ deal for new government is egregious in its audacity, and could set a dangerous precedent. Not just that, it could irreparably mar the country’s standing in the international arena. The latest debacle over the UK arrest of NA colonel Kumar Lama and murder investigations of Dekendra Thapa amply illustrate the dangers of sitting on rights abuse cases.
But the parties in the ruling coalition cannot be singled out for Nepal’s poor rights record. In the past, there have been attempts to pardon criminals across party lines through ‘political consensus’. The INSEC Year Book points out how almost all political parties, including the big four, have been involved in 250 cases of victimization of common people in 2012 alone. This culture of unaccountability and impunity is sure to get worse the longer the period of transition drags on. No wonder people’s belief in state institutions is at an all time low, as reflected in the yearly Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) survey. This is a dangerous sign for a budding democracy. It is vital that the people’s belief be restored through timely resolution of the protracted political and constitutional crisis and renewed political commitment to uphold rule of law and end impunity.