Inadequate and unequal access to health care in Nepal was exacerbated in 2021 due to the government's poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report, 2022. The government's failures led to many preventable deaths, while a pervasive culture of impunity continues to undermine fundamental human rights in the country.

"Lack of effective government leadership in Nepal means that little is done to uphold citizens' rights, leaving millions to fend for themselves without adequate services such as health and education," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Meanwhile, successive governments have refused to address conflict-era violations, entrenching a culture of impunity as police often violate the rule of law."

In the 752-page report of its 32nd edition, the New Yorkbased Human Rights Watch has reviewed human rights practices in nearly 100 countries.

Serious rights challenges remained unaddressed for months in Nepal during internal political infighting at a time when the government was largely paralysed by struggle over the post of prime minister and repeated dissolutions of parliament.

Both the governments led by KP Sharma Oli and Sher Bahadur Deuba, who succeeded him in July, continued to stall on transitional justice for conflict-era abuses instead of using non-functioning and discredited transitional justice commissions to block progress on accountability, the report reads.

According to the report, during a major wave of the COVID-19 infection which peaked in May, senior health officials described the health system at breaking point as patients died due to lack of bottled oxygen. After decades of progress in maternal and neonatal health, there was substantial drop in the number of births at health facilities.

Similarly, the rights body said Nepal had made progress in reducing child labour in recent years.

However, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic compounded by school closures and inadequate government assistance has pushed children back into the worst form of labour.

Nepal has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Asia.

This situation worsened during the pandemic as children were pushed out of education and families faced increased poverty.

"There remains no progress in addressing over 60,000 complaints of abuses during the 1996-2006 conflict that have been registered with two transitional justice commissions.

Successive governments have promised to bring the law on transitional justice into conformity with international law as per direction of the Supreme Court in 2015, but have failed to do so. One of the first actions of Sher Bahadur Deuba upon becoming the prime minister was to extend the commissioners' terms for another year," it says.

The authorities also routinely failed to investigate or prosecute killings or torture allegedly carried out by security forces.

In one exception, a soldier was found guilty over the death of Raj Kumar Chepang in July, in what is believed to be the first successful prosecution for torture since it was criminalised in domestic law in 2018.

However, he was sentenced to only nine months in prison.

A version of this article appears in the print on January 14, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.