All the small things

It is common knowledge that detention centres in the country lack basic facilities for inmates and their treatment there often leaves much to be desired. This is despite the democracy in practice for twelve years after the 1990 people’s movement and after the April Uprising last year. A panel formed to investigate the state of the detention centres has only strengthened this common knowledge. The panel, headed by deputy attorney general Narendra Prasad Pathak, has submitted its report to attorney general Yagya Murti Banjade, who says he will forward it to the home ministry for implementation. Some of the recommendations: Adopt the standards of South Asian countries (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) and reform laws to respect the rights of the detainees. The recommended facilities include adequate room and light for the detainees to study, allowance for them, clean drinking water, good toilet and routine health care, saying prayers, reading newspapers, making phone calls to their relatives. The report also calls for a civic charter to provide information about the detainees.

The report is a step in the right direction. Article 135(3)(c) of the Interim Constitution authorises the attorney general to look into complaints or information received by him and issue directives to the authorities if any detainee has been ill-treated or barred from meeting relatives or lawyers. It is necessary to make laws and regulations and issue instructions in accordance with the Constitution to carry it out in its entirety. But poor implementation even during the democratic periods has had much to do with the impunity enjoyed by those in authority, such as law-enforcement officials, even when they defied their constitutional and legal obligations. The panel’s recommendations will depend largely for their implementation on the home ministry and the police.

There is no denying that the living conditions of the detainees at home are from the standards to which Nepal has committed itself in the various human rights treaties and conventions it has signed, as well as from the provisions of its own constitution, the previous or the current one. There are, however, legitimate doubts that in a country where officials have ignored many constitutionally and legally mandated obligations from time to time to suit their convenience, the panel’s recommendations, which are non-binding, will be carried out. Besides, what Asian standards mean may present problems, as even within any of the countries mentioned there is no uniformity of the conditions in which the detainees live, let alone across them. Specific measures will be more useful for carrying out reforms. The report has, happily, tried to become definite on several points. But in the treatment of detainees, if we try to transplant the practice of countries mentioned we may not make much progress, as the reference countries themselves leave plenty of room for improvement. If only we followed our own Constitution, in letter and spirit, things would improve considerably.