The International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International today warned that the independence and integrity of the judiciary in Nepal was being jeopardised by the crisis in the Supreme Court.

To uphold human rights and the rule of law, it is essential to resolve the crisis in a way that maintains and enhances the court's credibility and independence, they suggested.

In an unprecedented move, 18 out of 19 justices have refused to sit on SC benches unless Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana steps down. Boycotting a full court meeting called by Chief Justice Rana on October 35, the justices demanded Rana's resignation for allegedly undermining the integrity and independence of the judiciary. The justices pointed specifically to allegations of a relationship between Rana and the executive branch. They also cited allegations concerning the allocation of cases for hearing to specific justices, and the failure to list for hearing a number of writs against constitutional appointments that he had participated in making.

"The SC has a crucial role in upholding human rights and the rule of law in Nepal, which makes this crisis extremely worrisome for the justice process," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch in a joint statement.

Following the boycott by the Supreme Court justices, the Nepal Bar Association also called for the chief justice's resignation. The NBA said it would call a nationwide protest if the chief justice did not resign.

The current crisis comes amid increasing calls for judicial reform. In July, a committee established by the Supreme Court and led by Justice Hari Krishna Karki submitted a report identifying a number of problems in the judiciary However, the SC is yet to make the full version of the report public, or to present a plan to carry out its recommendations.

"Without judicial integrity and independence, the role of the SC will be weakened significantly, making it unable to uphold its constitutional obligation to protect human rights and the rule of law," said Mandira Sharma, ICJ senior international legal adviser. "The allegations against the CJ must be investigated and addressed through fair process consistent with the rule of law."

"An independent judiciary is the foundation of a rule of law-based system and respect for human rights," said Nirajan Thapaliya, director of Amnesty International Nepal. "As envisioned by the constitution, the Parliament should ensure a robust, transparent, and effective investigation on the allegations faced by the chief justice to protect the integrity of the SC and to ensure public trust in the judiciary."

A version of this article appears in the print on November 13, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.