Righting the wrongs

Every year, on December 10, the International Human Rights Day is observed throughout the world by highlighting their violations, as well as the need for stricter measures to enforce them effectively. This year has not been different. Nepal has always vigorously participated, as it is second to none, particularly in South Asia, in signing the various international treaties and conventions relating to human rights. Even during the pre-1990 period when political parties were banned, Nepal had signed several such treaties and conventions; the number increased later on, and it may go up still further. However, violations continue on a scale that raises concern. Various national and international bodies compile their reports of human rights violations and these are made public; often, probes are also instituted, and often, the guilty escape with no or nominal punishment. At a programme organised to observe the day, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairperson, Kedar Nath Upadhyaya, on Wednesday informed the public that NHRC would inquire into the withdrawal of cases against a number of accused persons, adding that NHRC planned to pursue legal action if anomalies were found.

Indeed, not only NHRC but also everybody else should maintain vigilance against human rights abuses and raise a strong voice whenever these occur. But the responsibility of those with a legal or constitutional duty to play the watchdog, or protect citizens’ human rights, is much greater. Sadly, successive governments and their officials have taken liberties with people’s human rights so often that the general people seem to have taken these as the normal state of things. During the past several years, more non-state actors have come upon the scene to wrong human rights of the individual, including youth wings of political parties. Even though the peace process has come thus far, the frequency and scale of human rights violations are really worrying.

In perpetuating this state of affairs even after the 1990 democratic changeover, those supposed to operate checks and balances are also to blame, including human rights agencies and the judiciary. How many of the human rights offenders, all the more so people in high places, have faced the music? NHRC has hardly been able to leave a distinctive mark so far, and the current team are too new for any evaluation. Many rights organisations have been affiliated to one or the other political party in some way, and their judgements are likely to be coloured. Virtually all of them depend on foreign aid for their survival, and they often have to carry the donors’ agendas or at least keep the donors’ priorities in mind, which may well conflict with Nepali interests. To make action against the guilty difficult, the feeble argument that action against security personnel will lower the morale of the security forces has almost always carried the day. Human rights should be treated as sacrosanct, and the offenders brought to justice whoever they may be. At the same time, Nepalis need to remain ever alert to guard against any extraneous attempts with a human rights gloss aimed at serving ulterior motives in Nepal.