Making amendments to the TRC Act and NHRC Act are a must to gain support from the international community

The third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was made at the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on January 21. Nepal's Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali led the virtual delegation on behalf of Nepal. Gyawali claimed to have made tangible progress on the human rights front though the government has done little to address the issues related to the more than decade-long conflict that ended 14 years ago. It has already been five years since the last UPR was made on Nepal's human rights status.

However, the victims of the armed conflict continue to wait for truth, justice and reparations. During the conflict, more than 17,000 people were killed and over 1,300 others were disappeared by both the state and the then Maoist rebels, who later joined mainstream politics through the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) signed between the government and the then rebel Maoists in 2006. The main objectives of the CPA were to conclude the peace process – management of the Maoist combatants and arms and resolve the issues related to human rights violation and disappeared persons during the conflict through the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission for the Enforced Disappearance Persons (CIDP) - and draft a new constitution through the Constituent Assembly.

A new constitution was drafted in 2015, and the Maoist combatants and their arms were managed well before the promulgation of the new constitution.

However, the major political parties and the governments they led have failed to settle the issues related to the TRC and CIEDP though an umbrella Act came into existence in 2014. Two separate commissions have also been formed under the Act. But both of them have failed to settle rights violation and cases of disappearances. The bodies representing the conflict-era victims have decried both the commissions as being toothless tigers when it comes to dealing with rights violations and cases of disappearances.

Both the commissions - TRC and CIEDP - cannot give free, fair and impartial justice to the conflict victims unless the TRC Act is amended as per the two rulings of the Supreme Court issued in 2014 and 2015 and in line with international standards.

During the UPR meeting last week, the member states especially raised serious concerns over the compromise of independence and effectiveness of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). As per the 2015 review meeting, Nepal had committed to ensure effective functioning of the NHRC in accordance with the Paris Principles by providing the commission adequate levels of funding and guaranteeing its independence and financial autonomy.

However, the government has taken little action on the recommendations for the prosecution of cases related to crimes under international law and human rights violations. Instead of strengthening it, the government proposed amendments in 2019 to the NHRC Act, undermining its independence and autonomy as well as limiting its jurisdiction. The government will lose its credibility at international forums if it continues to ignore the advice given by various UN bodies. Making amendments to the TRC Act and NHRC Act in line with international standards are prerequisites to gaining support from the international community.

Cold classrooms

Schools in Nepal are far from ideal – they lack good teachers, basic infrastructure such as spacious classrooms and toilets, and facilities like a library, computer lab and playground. Most classrooms have little or no furniture like desks and benches. Hence, children are forced to sit on the cold floors in winter, which distracts the students' attention. It is indeed a pity that schools that are decades-old are unable to provide the minimum facilities like desks and chairs to their students. Basic School in Siraha was established 60 years ago, but children upto classes IV must sit on the damp floor because the school does not have funds to buy new furniture.

Unless a school can provide the basic minimum facilities, it is going to impact the teaching-learning process, creating two sets of citizens in society based on the type of school one attends. Definitely, Nepal needs to invest more in education by allocating more resources. But at the same time, the available budget could be made better use of at the local levels through more effective planning and allocation. Also, school graduates and local stakeholders could raise funds to buy some furniture for the schools.