‘TRC amendment bill’s symbolic punishment for rights violators against international law’

The National Human Rights Commission needs to play a crucial role in the coming weeks as the government is set to introduce some key bills related to fundamental rights and Truth and Reconciliation Act to ensure human rights-friendly content in those bills. Increasing incidents of violence against women have worried human rights activists. Ram Kumar Kamat of The Himalayan Times caught up with NHRC Spokesperson Mohna Ansari to know about the rights body’s efforts to protect and promote human rights.  Excerpts:

Why did you write a note of dissent on the Maleth incident probe report?

The National Human Rights Commission has the mandate to probe any incident of human rights violation, so when the NHRC probes an incident, it also recommends action against those responsible for violations.  Everybody knows what happened in Maleth. If security personnel were targeted, that should be probed; and if civilians were killed then that should also be probed. In Maleth, it is a clear case of killing because the state always commits to protect civilians’ lives and provide security to them. I respect all NHRC decisions but I also express my dissent when NHRC errs on human rights issues.

What mistakes do you think the NHRC made in the Maleth incident probe report?

This report was submitted by a committee formed as per our recommendation. The NHRC can accept it without any change or launch further investigation into the incident and can modify the report. It depends on what approach the commission takes vis-à-vis the report. There are some deficiencies in the report. For example, the report does not recommend action against those responsible for rights violation. Anyone guilty of such violation must face action. Had that happened after the 2006 movement, incidents of human rights violation would not have recurred and political movements would not have been suppressed this way. Political parties should act responsibly and the state agencies should act more responsibly. Security personnel and members of the Nepali Army have more power, but they should not use their power to kill somebody. This report did not say anything about civilians’ death.

What is NHRC’s take on the bill the government has recently drafted to amend the Truth and Reconciliation Act?

We have a mandate to protect, promote and respect human rights and we also encourage the state to protect and promote human rights.

The NHRC has prepared its responses to the TRC amendment draft prepared by the government which it will make public soon. As far as human rights issues are concerned, our judicial system has developed some concepts. For example, the judicial system has criminalised marital rape. Court verdicts about problems of Chhaupadi and protection of the rights of single women are very important developments. Our judicial system has also delivered verdicts on  TRC issues. The draft bill does not appear to be in conformity with court verdicts. There were cases of enforced disappearance of women who were victims of aggravated crimes, including rape, abduction and wrongful confinement. Perpetrators of serious human rights violation should face full punishment, but the draft bill proposes to reduce sentences of perpetrators.  Moreover, the government’s draft provisions symbolic punishment in most cases of human rights violation, which are not in conformity with international laws. The draft bill also states that the TRC, which was formed under an act, will issue directives to NHRC, which is a constitutional body. This is wrong. People have reposed their faith in NHRC and we will try to live up to the people’s expectation.

What is NHRC doing to improve the rate of compliance with its recommendations?

We have developed some understandings to ensure compliance with our recommendations. In some cases, we have clearly named perpetrators.  We recommended action against Kuber Singh Rana (former IGP) for his role in the disappearance of five youths in Dhanusha, but the Supreme Court said that the NHRC did not have relevant directives in this case. The SC said we could recommend action only when we had our directives. We have finally prepared the directives. In some cases, we asked the home ministry to indict government officials for violating human rights but the ministry did not act upon those letters for long. In some cases, for 15 years.

What is the rate of compliance with NHRC’s recommendations?

Earlier it was 14 per cent, but these days it has come down to around 12 per cent. Government agencies must know that in cases of human rights violation, providing compensation to the victims’ families is not enough. What is important is that the guilty should be prosecuted. The prosecution is not happening.   Recently, we wrote a letter to Nepal Police seeking data on rape cases, and within three days it wrote a letter to us providing not only the details we had sought to know, but also details of members of Nepal Police against who the police administration took action. In fact, Nepal Police took action against 67 members for violating human rights. It also gave details of the ranks of police personnel against whom the action was taken. This is good news. According to Nepal Police data, in the last one year, there were 1,480 cases of rape and 722 cases of attempted rape.

What is NHRC doing to prevent violence against women?

We are seeing an increasing number of cases of rape, domestic violence and human trafficking. Violence against women is a serious human rights violation. Recently, dozens of Nepali women suspected of being victims of trafficking were rescued from New Delhi. Unemployed youths, particularly between the age of 20 to 25, are found to be involved in crimes against women, including the crime of drug abuse.

The government’s effort to control human trafficking is not effective. I came to know about the recent problems of human trafficking two months ago and since then we have been writing letters to our Embassy in New Delhi and to the line ministries here. We have written three letters to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens drawing its attention to the problem of trafficking. The ministry has a rescue team, but we do not have such a team. We are ready to assist the government by coordinating our efforts with Nepal Police, Women Commission and National Human Rights Commission of India. Many young girls who cannot obtain Nepali citizenship certificates due to bureaucratic hurdles are also falling into the trap of unscrupulous elements. Such vulnerable women are so desperate to go to foreign countries to make a living that they easily fall into the trap of unscrupulous elements.

What can NHRC do to control human trafficking?

Nepal Police should take the lead role in controlling these problems. Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens must also play a proactive role to protect women’s rights.  Then, the provincial governments should also do their part to control crime and unemployment. We are making an action plan to make these bodies responsible. We have our offices in all the provinces. If they need our help they should tell us. Within the country, we have the rescue team that we can mobilise anytime.

Is NHRC getting enough support from the government for its programmes?

We have been discussing all issues with the government. Some people have a wrong notion that NHRC only criticises the government. In fact, we are trying to better the human rights situation in the country, which will ultimately help the government.

Many children of citizens by birth failed to obtain citizenship in the last three years due to non-enactment of federal laws. Why did your office not play any role to redress the situation?

Statelessness can give rise to crime. It is true that children of citizens by birth and naturalised citizens are not getting citizenship. We have received complaints from them. We have sought information from the law ministry and home ministry on the issue, but have not received any response. Such laws should be enacted immediately. There can be no justification for delaying the enactment of citizenship laws and laws related to fundamental rights for long.

What is the NHRC doing to ensure that Nepal submits periodic reports to various committees of the UN?

It is true that Nepal has failed to submit timely reports to UN committees.  We also send our report to those committees and remind government agencies to submit periodic reports to the UN committees. What is good is that these days the government is responding well to our calls.

Does NHRC enjoy financial autonomy?

We still depend on the government for the budget. Sometimes, we cannot run urgent programmes due to the budget crunch.