Within our gates

A Bill on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which has been drafted to replace the NHRC Act-1997, seeks to tighten the screws on human rights violators. It bars the rights offenders convicted by the court from holding public posts. The penalty provision will attract up to one year’s jail term or a fine of up to Rs.100,000, or both. The perpetrators will have to compensate the victims. Besides, the proposed Bill has made it mandatory for the government authorities to implement NHRC recommendations. Under Clause 9, NHRC will make public the names of officials who have not implemented its recommendations or created hurdles to their implementation. The Bill also authorises NHRC to recommend to the attorney general for prosecuting anybody for a rights violation. According to a PMO official, these provisions are the result of the tendency in the past of ignoring NHRC recommendations.

If these provisions became part of the law, they may indeed mark a watershed for ensuring human rights. It has long been essential to make certain legal provisions more stringent and certain things mandatory for officials to desist from abusing their positions of power. While clear and tough laws can make a difference, they cannot guarantee everything. For this, will power and effective mechanisms are vital — things that are in short supply in the Nepali body- politic. Clarity in identifying rights offenders is important — for instance, those who give orders or those take orders? Or if subordinates act on illegal orders of their superiors, who will be held responsible. Small matters like these will have to be built into the law, otherwise, though made with the best of intent, such legislation won’t achieve the intended results.

Anti-corruption laws, for instance, have existed for long. How many bigwigs have been convicted on corruption charges? Hardly any. Does that mean that Nepal ranks among the least corrupt countries in the world? In the past year or so, one powerful official or politician after another has got a clean chit in the corruption cases from the court, though their lifestyle and public perception of them hold the bulk of them guilty. Or has the CIAA framed all of them without substance? Such questions arise, and in the process, the judiciary, the anti-graft body (CIAA), and the government will all come under public suspicion. In human rights cases, there is no guarantee that this will not happen. If the government authorities did not carry out the mandatory recommendations of NHRC, what automatic action would befall on them? All related matters should therefore be clearly stipulated in the law to plug any loopholes for the offenders to go scot-free. To start with, the selection of the chief and members of NHRC should be based on professional criteria, on their integrity and independence, not mainly on their political or personal proximity to some political party or powerful politicians like the Prime Minister.