In February 2021, hundreds of demonstrators in Kathmandu staged a mock funeral depicting the "death of justice" in Nepal.
The statute of limitations does not comply with Nepal's obligations under international law, and, in particular, disregards the situation of children who are victims of rape and who will typically need more time to tell their stories. Although the victims are not required to file an FIR as the police can initiate a probe ex-officio, hardly any cases have been investigated by police on their own
It came as a response to a lack of prompt and effective investigation in the rape and killing of a teenage girl. Bhagirathi Bhatta, 17, went missing on February 4. Her body was found a day later in a gorge near her village in Baitadi district in western Nepal, apparently raped and then strangled.
Similar cases of killings after rape or sexual violence of minors have been reported over the past few years in Nepal, and most of the perpetrators remain at large. Such impunity enables not only the perpetuation of similar violence but also erodes public trust in the justice system.
Nepali society has been witnessing widespread sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against women for a long period of time.
The increased number of cases of SGBV against women, including rape cases, in recent years is not just a matter of criminal law.
Women who are subjected to SGBV are denied the right to a dignified life, reflected in the guarantees of the Nepali constitution and law, and international human rights instruments.
Nepal's Penal Code has recently increased the sentence to those involved in rape from seven years to life imprisonment.
Sex without consent, including marital rape, is also criminalised by the Criminal Code of Nepal, consistent with international law. Despite the constitutional guarantees, instances of rape are increasing in Nepal.
Many cases of rape and sexual violence go unreported to police because of social stigma, lack of trust in the justice system and lack of protection of victims.
Even so, in 2019/20, police received reports of 2,144 cases from 1,480 cases in 2017/18. In addition, there has been a spike in rape cases during the COV- ID-19 pandemic.
Media reports show that police are reluctant to file First Information Reports (FIRs) in many rape cases.
Where a case is registered, victims are often compelled to involve in out of court settlement, especially if such crimes are committed by people in power.
The few women who decide to fight for justice usually do not find a favourable environment in the State institutions, including the police stations and courts.
During her visit to Nepal in 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women also expressed grave concern about reports of impunity for the perpetrators.
In 2017, the National Human Rights Commission had organised a public event for different stakeholders to describe how past impunity perpetuated the present impunity. Despite credible evidence of cases of rape and sexual violence during the conflict, hardly any case has been thoroughly investigated to bring those responsible to justice.
The refusal of State authorities to acknowledge the prevalence of SGBV during the conflict is reflected in the way it defined victims for the interim relief programme (IRP). For example, the victims of SGBV and torture are excluded from the definition of conflict victims having access to IRP.
The statute of limitations often prevents women from accessing justice, as it has been made unreasonably short in the Penal Code.
The statute of limitations for rape and other forms of sexual violence does not factor in the fear and stigma faced by victims.
Furthermore, although the statute of limitations period for rape and other forms of sexual violence has recently been extended from 35 days to one year in the Penal Code, this period is still too short.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, in its 2018 concluding observation on Nepal's sixth periodic report, raised concerns about the statute, underscoring that it failed to take into account the stigma that women and girls face when reporting cases of sexual and gender-based crimes.
The Committee said it fosters impunity for such crimes and recommended that the government "repeal the statute of limitations provisions to ensure effective access for women to justice for the crime of rape and other sexual offences."
The statute of limitations does not comply with Nepal's obligations under international law, and, in particular, disregards the situation of children who are victims of rape and who will typically need more time to tell their stories.
Although the law does not require victims to file an FIR as the police can initiate investigation ex-officio, hardly any cases have been investigated by police without the victims themselves reporting the case.
Furthermore, this extended time period still prevents victims of rape during the armed conflict to file cases against perpetrators, because these incidents have occurred more than a decade ago.
Many of those instances of rape were crimes under international law that cannot be subject to statutes of limitations. The government has taken some positive steps, including an amendment to the laws, providing provision for a fast track system while handling VAW cases.
But the gap between formal protection and the efforts to provide justice in reality continue to hinder access to justice for victims.
To ensure access to justice for victims and survivors of SGBV and end the culture of impunity, the government should repeal the statute of limitations provisions on the registration of cases of sexual violence in all contexts.
Those committing SGBV should not be offered political protection and police officers must be made accountable for the willful negligence to investigate crimes.
Furthermore, there should be effective implementation of a provision of fast track court and continuous hearing in SGBV cases to end the lengthy and ineffective court procedures.
The authors are Legal Advisors on Access to Justice for Women, International Commission of Jurists
A version of this article appears in the print on March 26, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.