KATHMANDU, MARCH 1
At least three international bodies have sought immediate withdrawal of an ordinance, saying it undermines the independence of constitutional bodies.
They have also demanded that the recent appointments made by the government in these bodies be rescinded as they were made without consultation or parliamentary approval.
Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, and Amnesty International, issuing a press release, said that these government actions undermined public trust and confidence in the integrity of the judiciary and constitutional bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission and the Election Commission.
Calling the government's appointments 'illegitimate' the international watch dogs have warned that such appointments could lead to ineffective and weak implementation of critical mandates to protect human rights and other rule of law objectives.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at Human Right Watch, said in the press statement, "These government actions are a severe dent in Nepal's long struggle for a rule of law-based constitution, which was finally adopted in 2015 to guarantee human rights." She further said that it was sad to see some of the same politicians who drafted the constitution playing fast and loose with the charter just a few years later.
President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, on 15 December 2020 had endorsed an executive ordinance upon recommendation of the government to amend the law governing the Constitutional Council.
The law paved the way for making appointments to the judiciary, the NHRC, and other constitutional bodies, including the EC.
The Constitutional Council Act requires five out of six members to be present while making appointments of members of any constitutional body, but under the ordinance, a simple majority is sufficient. Because one seat on the council is vacant, the quorum has been reduced to three.
The Constitutional Council meeting on December 15, with three council members, made 38 nominations to vacant positions in constitutional bodies in that meeting.
They had included all five seats on the NHRC and other constitutional bodies established to protect the rights of Dalits, women, and marginalised minorities.
The Constitution requires that appointments to these key institutions be vetted by Parliament. However, the government later abruptly dissolved the House of Representatives on December 20, five days after the appointments of the office bearers.
The nominees were sworn in on 3 February 2021, despite legal challenges in the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the nominations.
Mandira Sharma, senior international legal adviser at ICJ said, "In a context where repeated calls for institutional reforms have gone unheeded for decades, this move of the government further weakens the effectiveness of constitutional bodies that are supposed to be beacons of hope for victims of human rights violations and abuses."
Similar comments were made by Dinushika Dissanayake, deputy South Asia director of Amnesty International.
"The doubts over the independence and integrity of the NHRC and other commissions will endanger the protection of human rights in Nepal,"
Dissanayake said, adding, "The government must immediately reverse these appointments and start a new process in consultation with civil society and rights holders in Nepal."
Meanwhile, the Accountability Watch Committee, a group of prominent human rights defenders in Nepal, had on February 12, issued a statement saying they would not 'cooperate and engage with the NHRC and other constitutional bodies until the Supreme Court's decision.' It had also asked the United Nations, diplomatic missions in Nepal and international organisations not to give legitimacy and cooperate with this appointment process, which is currently sub-judice at the Supreme Court of Nepal.
A version of this article appears in the print on March 2, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.