DR DINESH BHATTARAI
The United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/60/251 also known as the founding resolution of the Human Rights Council (HRC) mandated it to ‘undertake a universal periodic review (UPR) based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each state of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States.’ The HRC was established in 2006 in place of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) which in words of the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reached ‘a point at which the Commission’s declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system.’
UPR is an innovative mechanism based on three hours of ‘interactive dialogue and cooperation, with full involvement of the country concerned and with consideration given to its capacity building needs, such a mechanism shall complement and not duplicate the work of treaty bodies.’ This unique tool is a peer review mechanism for every country in four year periodicity, ‘assessing the implementation of international norms and treaties on ground.’
Nepal is among the 16 United Nations member states undergoing UPR – at the 10th session of UPR Working Group of the HRC that started from Jan 24 and will continue till Feb 4, 2011. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Sujata Koirala formally introduced the National Report of Nepal on Jan 25. The report was prepared with extensive public consultations at various levels in the country. It outlines the achievements Nepal made after the success of the peaceful People’s Movement and discusses in candid manner the challenges and constraints that stand in way of realizing the human rights by the people. The problems that the country faces in the post-conflict situation are also outlined in the report.
The Working Group of UPR of the Council assesses the performance of every member state of the United Nations, big and small, developed and developing and rich and poor. So far nine sessions of the Working Group on UPR have been held and 143 countries have been reviewed. Nepal is the 146th country to be reviewed. The first cycle of the UPR will complete later this year taking up the assessment of the human rights performance of the entire membership of the United Nations. The review is accessible to the general public through the HRC webcast.
UPR is based on three sets of information: 1. National Report from the government, 2. Information compiled by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) from reports of the UN Agencies, Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies and 3. Information compiled by OHCHR from reports of NGOs, NHRIs and other stakeholders.
During the three hours interactive dialogue, member/observer states ask questions and make recommendations which form the cornerstone of the UPR process. Recommendations are expected to guide the state under review for the next four years.
The assessment of the human rights situation in Nepal comes at a time when the country is making a democratic transition from absolute monarchy to democratic republic after over a decade-long armed conflict during which about 16,000 people were killed, 5,800 were disabled, 71,200 people were internally displaced, public infrastructures including the government buildings, schools, colleges, health posts, roads and bridges were destroyed. The impact of human cost, economic cost, social and psychological cost of conflict on the general public has been incalculable.
The Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) of Nov 21, 2006 signed between the Government of Nepal and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) formally ended the armed conflict, paving the way for the establishment of the universally accepted concepts of fundamental human rights, multiparty competitive democratic system, supremacy of the people, adult franchise, periodic elections, rule of law, promotion and protection of human rights of people, full press freedom, constitutional checks and balances and independent judiciary based on democratic values and norms. The Interim Constitution of Nepal prepared through political consensus promulgated on Jan 15, 2007 by parliament is a comprehensive catalogue of fundamental rights incorporating the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN and the rights and obligations enshrined in the international human rights instruments to which Nepal is a party such as the 1966 International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The protection and promotion of human rights remain at the center of the peace process.
The election of Constituent Assembly (CA) on April 10, 2008 is a defining feature of the peace process. It established the supremacy of ballots over bullets. Out of 74 political parties registered with the Election Commission, 54 contested the CA elections and 25 of them have a representation in the CA, which stands as an epitome of the inclusiveness and proportionality. The peace process has brought the people to the center of governance from the periphery, exclusion, and disadvantaged zones. Representation of women and marginalized groups in the legislature parliament constitute 33.23 percent and 33.39 percent respectively. Government undertakings including the security forces are taking pro-active affirmative actions to recruit on a priority basis from among the marginalized/underrepresented communities to ensure inclusiveness and equity. They now participate in decisions that shape their destiny and the future of the country.
The peace process has crossed several milestones. CA elections, declaration of the country as the federal democratic republic, release of minors and disqualified combatants from cantonments, and the formal handover on Jan 22 of the command and control of the Maoist combatants housed in the seven cantonments and 21 satellite cantonments to the constitutionally mandated Special Committee with the responsibilities of their supervision, integration and rehabilitation are the major milestones of the home grown peace process. Nepal’s peaceful transformation provides a rare example in the contemporary world history.
Democracy in Nepal has entered into a new phase with human rights and inclusiveness at the center. Nepal is a party to different international human rights instruments and covenants. Government is committed to addressing the past injustices and future challenges as provided in the CPA and the Interim Constitution. The mechanisms for providing transitional justice have been submitted to the parliament for approval. Nepal´s independent judiciary has made landmark judgments in favor of human rights protection. Nepal was among the first least developed countries to establish the National Human Rights Commission. There are other institutions established to investigate abuse of power and improper conduct
CHALLENGES & CONSTRAINTS
The government realizes that there is no room for complacency despite remarkable achievements made in the human rights situation since the end of the armed conflict. Nepal is in a transitional phase. Transition is an extremely difficult and highly sensitive period. Institutionalization of peace, social and economic transformation within the democratic framework, and the process of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation and reconciliation are facing daunting institutional and humanitarian challenges. Various economic and social woes from the past and emerging challenges emanating from the global multiple crises including the economic and financial crises and climate change remain as growing threats to the enjoyment of human rights with far-reaching implications.
Consensus building is a tough call in any post-conflict situation and Nepal is no exception. Nepal’s political parties of different ideologies are deeply engaged in forging unity, evolving consensus and concluding agreement on the broader national agendas in relation to political, economic, social transformation and development. Dialogue, cooperation and participation form the core of Nepali peace process. Nepal is facing multi-dimensional challenges of Himalayan proportions on multiple fronts. Lack of resources, capacity and physical, institutional and human rights infrastructures in the country remain as significant constraints in honoring its obligations to provide basic services to marginalized or vulnerable communities or groups. There is an urgent need to seriously address the root causes of conflict and democratic deficits rather than just treating the symptoms.