Status: Public and civil society discussions
Nepal is currently debating a draft law regarding the Security and Protection of Human Rights Activists. A draft law on human rights defenders has been developed by civil society actors and has remained under discussion since 2019. In April 2022, government authorities expressed a commitment to adopt the draft law, but no further steps have been taken since.
Since 2009, an organisation known as the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) has been developing and advocating the Human Rights Defenders’ Protection Bill Draft 2078 for the Nepali authorities’ consideration. Several civil society organisations advocated for including the protection of human rights defenders in the new constitution of 2015, without success. In 2021, the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) submitted the draft law to the Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee. A Minister, a Chief Justice and lawmakers have committed to the adoption of this draft law in 2022, but no further steps have been taken so far (as of January 2023, the date of this publication).
Although Nepal falls within the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, the office has not yet paid a visit to Nepal, nor have they requested to visit the country. At the national level, all matters related to human rights defenders are monitored by the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal. There have been concerns, however, about the independence of this commission, as pointed out in this UNHRO 2021 report.
The situation in Nepal is monitored by the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. In the last country report, published in 2020, the State expresses strong optimism regarding the situation of human rights defenders in the country. The report states that human rights defenders are able to function “freely and independently across the country”, and points out that the Penal Code “explicitly prohibits and criminalizes use of criminal force to any person”, and that “all cases of threats and attacks against journalists and human rights defenders are investigated and prosecuted under the prevailing Penal Code”. The working group report also ended on a very positive note, noting that “Nepal regarded civil society and the media as indispensable partners in the promotion and protection of human rights and had forged partnerships with 237 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and more than 51,000 NGOs affiliated to the Social Welfare Council” (par. 32). The reports do not provide many details regarding the concrete protection of human rights defenders. Other countries provided several recommendations to improve the protection of human rights defenders in the country (par. 159.75, 159.77, 159.78, 159.85, 159.83), all of which were supported by Nepal. This includes the recommendation to “introduce and implement measures to protect lawyers and human rights defenders, including investigating and prosecuting all forms of attacks against them” (par. 159.85). This means that Nepal commits to implementing these recommendations in the coming four years (before the next UPR review).
It is important to note that in contrast with the optimistic tone in the reports, civil society organisations paint a very difficult reality for human rights defenders. CIVICUS monitor 2022 categorises Nepal as “obstructed”, which means that civic space “is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights”. The Freedom House Democracy Index rates Nepal as “partly free”, noting “sporadic outbursts of political violence, as well as by security agents who have cracked down on political demonstrations.”, as well as “harassment and detention” faced by journalists in the country.