Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July 2014, 14:54 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Nepal

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Nepal, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4d18.html [accessed 23 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
 

Nepal is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government. Formerly an absolute monarch, the King in 1990 legalized political parties and invited formation of an interim government that promulgated a new Consti- tution. Under the Constitution, the King retains important residual powers but has effectively dissociated himself from the exercise of governing. The democratically elected Parliament consists of the House of Representatives (lower house) and the National Council (upper house). In multiparty elections held in May 1991, the Nepali Congress Party won a majority in the House of Representatives and chose G.P. Koirala as Prime Minister.

Internal security is maintained by Nepal's National Police Force, under the Home Minister, and, as necessary, by the Royal Nepalese Army, of which the King is Commander in Chief. Because communication links in Nepal are limited, local officials have a great deal of autonomy and exercise wide discretion in handling law and order. In 1993, as in previous years, the police on several occasions used excessive lethal force in quelling demonstrations, and police mistreatment of criminal suspects continued.

Nepal is one of the world's poorest countries, with per capita gross domestic product estimated at around $170. Over 80 percent of its 20 million people are supported by subsistence agriculture. Carpet and ready-made garment sales and tourism revenues are the major sources of foreign exchange, and foreign aid covers more than half of Nepal's development budget. Under the new Government, major efforts are under way to liberalize the economy and provide a greater role for the private sector.

Progress has been achieved in the transition to a more open society and greater respect for human rights since political reform began in 1990; however, there was no significant change in the human rights situation in 1993 from the previous year, and substantial problems remain. During periods of leftist-inspired unrest in June and July, groups of brick-throwing youths clashed with police on several occasions. Poorly trained police forces fired indiscriminately into crowds in at least three instances and unnecessarily resorted to the use of lethal force at other times. Overall, at least 20 persons were killed. There were reports of torture under detention and widespread reports of custodial abuse. The Government's unwillingness to investigate or enforce accountability for recent and past abuses remained a concern. Some restrictions continued on freedom of expression. Trafficking in women and child labor remained serious problems. Discrimination against women and lower castes was prevalent.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

On several occasions, government security forces responded with excessive force to demonstrations, some of them violent, organized by the principal opposition party, the Communist Party of Nepal/United Marxist-Leninist (CPN/UML). A number of demonstrators were killed. On March 8, police fired into a crowd that was violently protesting the Tanakpur agreement between Nepal and India concerning water rights, after tear gas and the firing of blanks failed to disperse the demonstrators. One 15-year-old girl was killed, and two persons were wounded.

More serious political violence erupted in June after a government commission investigating the deaths of two senior UML leaders released its finding that the two died in an accident when their vehicle plunged into a river. The UML conducted its own investigation which claimed that their leaders were the victims of a political conspiracy. However, the party did not release its report or provide evidence to support its allegations. Between June 24 and 28, a series of protests were called by leftist parties to pressure the Government into forming a new investigative commission. The demonstrations turned violent in several places in Kathmandu and its suburb Patan. In some instances, groups of young men destroyed public and private property, attempted to set fire to government buildings, and attacked police with stones and bottles. Police initially exercised restraint, but by the third and fourth day of the protests police fired indiscriminately into crowds or at specific curfew violators. At least 16 people were killed, including several innocent bystanders.

Violence reignited on July 19-20, when a Communist-led call to halt all transport led to violent clashes with the police. The police killed three boycotters in Janakpur, Chitwan, and Jhapa districts and two more on August 23 in Sarlahi district.

The Government compensated some of the families of those killed in the demonstrations with approximately $500 each and paid the medical expenses for some of those injured in the violence. The Government compensated the families of 10 people killed in the 1993 summer violence after the families made claims through the Ministry of Home Affairs. Some families refused the offers of compensation. However, the Government refused to initiate a formal investi- gation into the events of June 26-29 or July 19-20 and did not initiate legal proceedings against the police officers responsible for the killings. The Government claimed the use of lethal force was justified on those occasions in order to safeguard the police who were heavily outnumbered. Independent human rights monitors faulted both sides for the violence. The police overreacted in firing into crowds indiscriminately and using deadly force before exhausting other options, while the demonstrators resorted to violence and stone throwing.

Police also shot and killed a Tibetan monk and wounded several others on June 15 when a group of about 60 Tibetans were intercepted after crossing the border from China without valid travel documents. The Government investigated the incident and promised to punish those responsible but took no action, nor did it release a report of the investigation by year's end.

On March 10, two policemen beat to death a man taken into custody in Hetauda. They were arrested and now await trial. On November 1, 1992, the police in Gorkha district beat to death one of five persons arrested on suspicion of theft (see Section 1.c.).

According to numerous human rights groups, an 18-year-old male was reportedly arrested and taken into police custody during a demonstration in Bhaktapur on July 5. Another detainee later reported seeing him in the Khaktapur police station and stated that his body was covered with blood. After vomiting twice, the 18-year-old became unconscious and was left unattended overnight. The following morning, police brought him to

Kathmandu's Bir Hospital where he died. Apparently no postmortem was conducted and police cremated the body soon after death. One hospital employee later stated that the youth died of head injuries. The Government denied this and claimed the youth was found lying unconscious in the street and died after authorities took him to the hospital.

Human rights observers also report that a 26-year-old male was arrested by police on July 29 in Butwal. Reportedly drunk and disorderly, he was detained overnight. On the next morning, police took him to the hospital where he died later that day. No postmortem was conducted, but witnesses say that the man's face and feet were grossly swollen.

b. Disappearance

Numerous reports suggest that a student activist may have disappeared after being taken into police custody on June 25 in central Kathmandu. During a crowded street demonstration, several eyewitnesses claim they saw the student being beaten by police. Jounalists later published photographs that appear to show him being carried off by armed police. Police deny taking him into custody, but family members say he has been missing ever since. A local student group has petitioned the Supreme Court to file a writ of habeas corpus in this case, but the Court, without explanation, has postponed its decision several times. Several international human rights groups have written to the government to express concerns about this case.

The report of the Disappearances Commission, established to look into all disappearances between December 1960 and the political transformation that began in 1990, remains unpublished. Human rights groups have expressed skepticism about the Government's claim that the report's findings do not warrant governmental action. They continue to express concern that persons responsible for disappearances remain in positions of authority.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the Constitution prohibits torture, physical abuse by police is reported to be a common means of punishing or extracting confessions from those suspected of wrongdoing. The Government rarely conducted investigations into allegations of police brutality or punished police officers responsible for abuses. The Constitution provides for compensation to those subjected to physical or mental torture. However, a torture compensation bill introduced in Parliament remained in committee at the close of the session and was not passed in 1993 The bill, an initiative to provide quick monetary relief to victims of abuse by the authorities, has been opposed by some human rights groups for "putting a price on torture." It remains in committee and is to be discussed in the next session of Parliament.

Information developed by local and international human rights groups in 1993 shed light on several instances of torture that occurred in late 1992. In one case, seven men and one woman were taken into custody on October 29, 1992, in connection with a murder in Sindhuli district. The police tortured six of them in an attempt to force confessions; three were beaten until unconscious, while two were threatened with death if they did not sign confessions. Another incident took place in Kathmandu on October 30, 1992, after five persons were charged with bank fraud. The police tortured two persons by electrical shocks,

beat them with a pipe, and dragged them about by their hair. On November 1, 1992, five persons were arrested on suspicion of theft in the Gorkha district and severely beaten. Medical doctors verified that all five received wounds consistent with torture. One victim died 6 days later. On November 23, 1992, five persons in Pokhara were arrested after a demonstration to protest the dismissal of a school's headmaster and were severely beaten by police with bamboo sticks. On January 13, 1993, the deputy superintendent of Pokhara's Kaski district was discharged because of the incident. No criminal proceedings are known to have been brought against him, and he has not been disqualified from future government service.

On December 13, 1992, five policemen in Kathmandu, including a subinspector, raped a young woman who had been detained for questioning. As part of a government investigation, medical evaluations indicated that her injuries were consistent with sexual assault and severe beatings. The subinspector was subsequently discharged in January 1993, but no criminal proceedings were brought against him or others who participated in the rape.

According to a number of human rights groups, during the demonstrations that occurred in the Kathmandu valley June 26-29, there were instances when police administered beatings indiscriminately to both adults and children in police custody. The police beat 17 of the 60 children (15 years old or younger) detained during the protests. Medical examinations of the 17 indicated that their injuries were consistent with beatings. The police reportedly denied food and water to all 60 children for 3 of their 7 days of detention. Human rights groups report that they were denied permission to enter the detention facility where the children were held.

In the incident in which a Tibetan monk was killed near the Nepal-China border on June 15 (see Section l.a.), seven Tibetans taken into police custody were severely beaten, two of them to the point of unconsciousness. In September four prisoners who tried to escape from an Ilam District jail reportedly were beaten severely with clubs by four policemen. On examination by doctors, one man was found to have 35 lash marks on his back.

Overcrowding is common in Nepalese prison facilities, and the use of handcuffs and fetters is sometimes reported. Women are incarcerated separately from men, in equally poor conditions. A provision in the 1992 Children's Act calling for the establishment of a juvenile home and juvenile court for children has not been implemented. Consequently, children are sometimes incarcerated together with adults, both when they commit crimes themselves or when a parent has committed a crime and they have no other place of lodging. There were reports that 6 infants and about 150 children below the age of 16 were in prison in 1993.

Reflecting the low level of general medical facilities in this developing country, facilities for care and treatment of the mentally ill are inadequate. Such persons are often placed in jails under conditions that are degrading and inhumane by international standards.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

According to the Constitution, a suspect must be brought before a court within 24 hours after arrest and informed of the general grounds for the arrest or be released. Under the Public Offenses Act of 1970, warrants are required for an arrest unless a person is caught in the act of committing a crime. For many offenses, the case must be filed in court within 7 days of arrest. If the court upholds the detention, the police are authorized up to 25 days, with a possible 7-day extension, to complete their investigation. The Supreme Court on occasion ordered the release of detainees held longer than 24 hours without a court appearance. However, in practice, the police often violate this provision of the law. Under current law, persons are permitted access to a lawyer only after they are no longer in police custody. Lawyers report that family members do not have a legal right of access to detainees. Rather, the granting of access is haphazard and varies from prison to prison. There is a functioning system of bail, but bail is too expensive for most Nepalese.

The Public Security Act was often used to detain and arrest persons during the 1990 Movement to Restore Democracy. The Act was used primarily in 1993 to detain groups of youths and mob leaders before scheduled demonstations. Most detainees were released within 24-48 hours. Under the 1991 amendments, police must present written notice to the Home Ministry to extend the period of detention.

The district court must be notified of the detention within 24 hours. It may extend the period of detention once, for an additional 6 months, before official charges must be filed. The grounds for detention are open to broad interpretation: to ensure the security of Nepal; order and tranquility inside Nepal; amicable relations between Nepal and other friendly states; or amicable relations among people of different classes or religions within Nepal. Persons detained under the Act are considered to be held in preventive detention and are not brought to trial. Human rights groups report that persons supportive of the CPN/UML and other opposition parties are sometimes arrested and detained arbitrarily and are subjected to unwarranted criminal investigations because of their political affiliation.

The revised Public Offenses Act and other laws allow for arbitrary detention. It was under this Act that hundreds of civil servants were detained in 1991 during a 55-day protest strike against the Government. Despite the Act's revision in 1992, human rights monitors continued to express concern that it vests too much power in the Chief District Officer (CDO), the highest ranking civil servant in each of Nepal's 75 districts. In addition to a wide range of administrative powers, CDO's are accorded the power to order detentions, issue search warrants, and specify fines and other punishments for misdemeanor crimes without judicial review. The Public Offenses Act and its many amendments (the latest in 1992) cover such crimes as disturbing the peace, vandalism, rioting, and fighting. CDO's continue to act as magistrates in these cases and are empowered to decide questions of guilt and to set penalties. Their decisions may be appealed to appellate courts.

Exile is prohibited by the Constitution and is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system consists of three levels: district courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court. The judges of all three levels are appointed by the King upon the recommendation of the Judicial Council, a constitutional body chaired by the Chief Justice that makes recommendations and gives advice on matters of appointment, transfer, disciplinary action against judges, and other matters relating to judicial administration.

Military and civilian courts are separate. Military courts generally deal only with military personnel who are immune from prosecution in civilian courts. In 1992 the Supreme Court ruled that civilians may no longer be tried in military courts for crimes involving the military. In the past, cases of terrorism or treason were often dealt with under the Treason Act in closed trials held before specially constituted tribunals. No such cases were tried in 1993, but the Treason Act remains in effect.

The judiciary is legally independent. In 1993 the process of judicial strengthening continued. Human rights lawyers in Nepal report that the Supreme Court increasingly has demonstrated its independence. For example, as the court of final appeal, the Supreme Court has ruled important provisions in the 1992 Labor Act and the 1991 Nepal Citizenship Act to be unconsitutional. Further, the Supreme Court overruled the ruling party's contention that the Tanakpur Agreement with India was an "agreement" instead of a "treaty" requiring Parliamentary approval. Appellate and district courts are also becoming increasingly independent, although they still bend to political pressures at times.

There is no articulated presumption of innocence under the 1990 Constitution. There is the right to a public trial except in some security and customs cases. The Constitution provides for the right to counsel, protection from double jeopardy, and protection from retroactive application of the law. All lower court decisions, including acquittals, are subject to appeal. The Supreme Court is the court of last appeal, but the King may grant pardons and may suspend, commute, or remit any sentence by any court.

The Government declared that it has no political prisoners, and there is no credible evidence that any political prisoners are being held.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Government generally respected the privacy of the home and family. Search warrants are required before search and seizure except in cases involving suspected security and narcotics violations. The Police Act of 1955, as amended, empowers the police to issue warrants for search and seizure in criminal cases upon receipt of information about criminal activities. The Chief District Officer in misdemeanor cases and court judges in felony cases must approve warrants within 24 hours of issuance.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution specifies that all citizens shall have freedom of thought and expression; it also provides that no news item, article, or any other reading material shall be censored. However, Article 13 of the Constitution prohibits speech and press that would threaten the sovereignty and integrity of the Kingdom; disturb the harmonious relations among people of different castes or communities; promote sedition, defamation, contempt of court, or instigation to commit crime; or contradict decent public behavior or morality. The Press and Publications Act provides for the licensing of publications and the granting of credentials to journalists and includes penalties for violating these requirements. In August 1992, regulations issued to enforce this Act further circumscribed Nepal's journalists by setting specific requirements of education and experience in order to hold particular jobs in journalism. The Act also prohibits publication of materials that, inter alia, promote disrespect toward the King or royal family or undermine the dignity of the King; undermine the integrity and sovereignty of the Kingdom; undermine the security, peace, and order of the Kingdom; create animosity among people of different castes, religions, etc.; or adversely affect the good conduct or morality of the public. A similar list provides a basis for banning foreign publications.

Two journalists were arrested in April for offending the royal family. One writer quoted from a book that suggested the King's brother may have been involved in drug smuggling. The other published a retouched photo of the King's daughter and an Indian movie star with an insulting caption. Both journalists were released on bail after 3 days. They were charged under the State Offenses Act and the Press Act for offending members of the royal family. A trial has not yet been held.

The two Nepalese dailies with the largest circulation are government organs. While their editors may on occasion publish critical views and recommend alternative policies, their views usually tend to reflect government policy. The Ministry of Communication also has provided occasional guidance to editors. There are scores, if not hundreds, of fully independent papers representing points of view across the political spectrum. The Government subsidizes newsprint materials to allow less profitable papers to stay in business and is considering allowing duty-free entry of computer and fax machines for the registered newspaper "industry" in order to encourage further the flow of information.

The Government owns and controls the sole radio and television stations. Programming reflects a broader range of interests and political viewpoints than before the political transformation began in 1990, but it still follows the government line closely. Access to foreign radio is extremely widespread and is in no way controlled or restricted by the Government. Access to television satellite reception is limited only by the high costs involved; no government restrictions exist. At the end of the year, the Government moved towards the licensing of private radio stations and discussed the entry of private television and cable services.

Academic freedoms are, in general, subject to the same limitations as the media. However, no overt efforts by the Government to enforce these limitations were reported in 1993.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association. However, freedom of assembly may be legally restricted on such vague grounds as undermining the "sovereignty and integrity" of Nepal or disturbing "law and order." There were no reports of arrest or detention for exercising the freedoms of peaceable assembly or association in 1993. However, hundreds of persons were arrested at violent strikes and demonstrations organized over the summer by the CPN/UML (see Section 1.d.). On several occasions, a few opposition leaders were placed in preventive detention before scheduled demonstrations. They were released within 48 hours.

c. Freedom of Religion

The majority of Nepalese are Hindu, and the Constitution describes Nepal as a Hindu Kingdom, although Hinduism has not been made the state religion. There is a large minority of Buddhists, a smaller number of Muslims, and a small number of Christians. The 1990 Constitution protects the functioning of all religions but prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste, except for traditional practice at Hindu temples. Non-Hindus are allowed to practice their religion and to maintain places of worship. Religious education is offered by non-Hindus, including Muslims and Christians. Religious publications are imported mainly from India and are widely circulated. Religious groups may establish their own organizations and acquire their own places of worship.

A 1992 law allows self-conversion but outlaws proselytizing. It provides a maximum penalty of 6 years for converting a person to another religion and a maximum sentence of 3 years for attempting to convert someone. No arrests were made under this provision in 1993. A number of foreign Christian clergymen and religious workers reside in Nepal and are active in various fields.

The current Government adopted relatively tolerant policies which allowed Christians and other non-Hindu groups to freely engage in a wide variety of religious activities. Christmas and Id-Ul Fitr have been made legal holidays for Christians and Muslims, respectively. There is continuing concern, however, about the prohibition against religious conversion in the new Constitution. Various non-Hindu groups proposed amending this provision of the Constitution. They are concerned that it represents an undue restriction on a person's right freely to express his or her religious beliefs.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens of Nepal may move freely within the country and reside where they wish, a right provided for in the Constitution. Foreigners (including Tibetan residents) and journalists are restricted from traveling to some areas on the Chinese border unless they are part of a licensed trekking group escorted by a police liaison officer.

Travel outside of Nepal is not restricted for Nepalese citizens. Some Tibetans residing in Nepal have been prevented from traveling by air to India due to a lack of travel documents or a Nepali identification card. However, they may pass freely into India by road. Travel to other countries is restricted by the Tibetans' lack of valid travel documents. For Tibetans to travel abroad, there is a complex process often involving invitation letters from foreign governments and the issuance of temporary travel documents. Some Tibetans do travel beyond India but obtaining the necessary visas and documents can take months of effort.

All Nepalese abroad are free to return home. Although not explicitly prohibited by the Constitution, there are no known cases of revocation of citizenship for political reasons.

Nepal has no official refugee policy and is not party to the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has maintained an office in Kathmandu since 1989. The Government aids UNHCR efforts by facilitating its access to refugees from both China and Bhutan. In the past, Nepal accepted and assimilated approximately 18,000 Tibetan refugees, who still reside there. Over 12,000 Tibetan residents, however, are without legal proof that they live in Nepal since the Government ceased issuing identification cards in the mid-1970's. The Government is now working with them to issue refugee identity cards to Tibetans in 1994.

Border restrictions, tightened in 1986 by a joint Nepalese/Chinese agreement, are observed haphazardly by both sides. Some Nepalese border officials occasionally demanded bribes from Tibetan refugees intercepted inside the country, and in several instances fighting broke out between the police and the refugees. On June 15, Nepalese police shot and killed a Tibetan monk during an extortion attempt (see Section l.a.). According to government policy, Tibetans intercepted inside Nepal are to be conveyed to UNHCR facilities in Kathmandu for refugee screening. However, as in previous years, Tibetans continue to be repatriated involuntarily to China, especially from remote border regions.

Ethnic Nepalese fleeing Bhutan continued to arrive after suffering abuses or being expelled by Bhutanese authorities. (See the report on Bhutan.) At the end of 1993, the camps in southeastern Nepal housed 86,000 refugees, representing almost one-fifth of Bhutan's estimated population before the exodus began. The UNHCR monitors the condition of these refugees and provides assistance for their basic needs. The Government tolerates their presence on a humanitarian basis, although it can offer them little except a place to stay.

Conditions in the refugee camps have improved dramatically since 1992, and the contrast in living conditions between UNHCR-housed refugees and relatively poorer local residents has created tensions that occasionally result in violence between the two communities. Relief organizations in charge of day-to-day camp administration have begun distributing token relief supplies to local communities in an attempt to defuse the situation.

In July the governments of Nepal and Bhutan formed a joint committee to resolve the refugee problem. Its first task was to determine different categories of refugees in Nepal in preparation for the future repatriation to Bhutan of those refugees found to be eligible. Little concrete progress had been made by year's end.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Under the Constitution promulgated in 1990, Nepal is a constitutional monarchy with sovereignty vested in the people. The people, through their elected representatives, have the right to amend the Constitution with the exception of certain basic principles of the body politic which may not be changed – sovereignty vested in the people, the multiparty system, fundamental rights, and the constitutional monarchy.

Parliamentary elections are to be held at least every 5 years. Midterm elections may be called if the ruling party loses its majority, or loses a vote of no confidence, or if it calls for elections. Universal suffrage by secret ballot is provided for all citizens over the age of 18. On May 12, 1991, the people exercised their franchise for the first time in 32 years in a general election that domestic and international observers described as basically free and fair. The Nepali Congress Party won 112 out of 205 seats in the House of Representatives (the lower house) and formed the Government. The King appointed Girija Prasad Koirala, a leader in the Nepali Congress Party, as Prime Minister.

The upper house comments on lower house bills (although it may also introduce legislation and send it to the lower house for consideration). If the upper house considers legislation passed by the lower house and returns it with amendments (or rejects it outright), the lower house may vote on it again and, with a 50 percent or better majority, bypass the upper house and send the legislation directly to the King for his assent.

The King exercises powers "with the advice and consent of the Council of Ministers." These powers include exclusive authority to enact, amend, and repeal laws relating to succession to the throne. The King's income and property are tax exempt and inviolable. No question may be raised in any court about any act performed by the King. The Constitution also permits the King to exercise emergency powers in the event of war, external aggression, armed revolt, or extreme economic depression. The emergency powers allow him to suspend without judicial review many basic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression and assembly, freedom from censorship, and freedom from preventive detention. The rights to form associations and of habeas corpus may not be suspended. The King's declaration of a state of emergency must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the lower house of the Parliament. If the lower house is not in session, the upper house exercises this power. A state of emergency may be maintained for up to 3 months without legislative approval and up to 6 months, renewable only once for an additional 6 months, if legislative approval is granted. There were no known instances in 1993 in which a political party was denied registration or participation in an election.

The Constitution bars the registration and participation in elections of any political party that is based on "religion, community, caste, tribe, or region," or that does not operate openly and democratically.

There are no specific laws that restrict indigenous people, women, or minorities from participating in the government or political parties, but lingering conservative traditions limit the influence of women and some castes and tribes in the political process. The Constitution requires that at least 5 percent of the candidates for the House of Representatives from each registered political party be women. In 1993, 5 percent of party candidates were female and there were 7 female Members of Parliament.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Nepal has over a dozen local nongovernmental human rights organizations, including the Human Rights Organization of Nepal (HURON), the Forum for the Protection of Human Rights (FOPHUR), and the International Institute for Human Rights, Environment, and Development (INHURED). The Nepal Law Society also monitors human rights issues. In addition, there are a number of single-issue nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) which focus on issues such as torture, child labor, women's rights, or ethnic minorities.

Human rights organizations contend that at times the Government was uncooperative in 1993. For example, they report that the Government has been reluctant to transfer funds provided by the United Nations Center for Human Rights to appropriate organizations which won the funds as financial awards for programming. Several human rights organizations also claimed that a few Chief District Officers seized documentation from local human rights monitors that was to be used in a Nepal-wide human rights yearbook.

However, the Government is working with foreign aid agencies to initiate human rights and nonlethal crowd control training for police, and it cooperates with international human rights groups. Amnesty International (AI) visited Nepal in 1993, and AI staff met with a large number of government officials.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution specifies that the State shall not discriminate against citizens on grounds of religion, race, sex, caste, or ideology. In practice, however, discrimination against women and lower castes is widespread.

Women

Women face gender discrimination, particularly in rural areas, where the weight of religious and cultural tradition, lack of education, and ignorance of the law remain severe impediments to the exercise of such basic rights as the right to vote or to hold property in their own names.

According to the 1991 census, the female literacy rate is 26 percent, compared to a male literacy rate of 57 percent. Human rights groups report that throughout the country girls attend secondary schools at half the rate boys do.

Over the years, women have benefited from various changes in marriage and inheritance laws. The new Constitution strengthened provisions regarding women, including equal pay for equal work, although the Government had not effectively implemented this provision by year's end. Moreover, many laws remain discriminatory. Divorce law grants women the right to divorce, but on narrower grounds than those available to men. Likewise, the law governing property rights favors men in a number of ways, including in the division of family property, the disposition of property, inheritance, and land tenancy.

Women's rights groups report that wife beating is common. Little public attention is given to violence against women in the home, and the Government made no specific efforts to combat it. However, human rights monitors, including Members of Parliament, are working to teach women about their rights under the Constitution, and several have offered free legal services in court cases involving violence against women.

Abortion is illegal even in cases involving rape or incest. Only when the health of the mother would be in jeopardy by giving birth is an abortion legally allowed. Illegal abortion, reportedly not uncommon, is one of the main reasons for imprisonment of women in Nepal.

Trafficking in women is a deeply ingrained social problem in several of Nepal's poorest areas. Estimates of the total number of Nepalese girls and women working as prostitutes in the red-light districts of India's major cities vary widely but range between 150,000 to 200,000. A children's human rights group in Nepal states that 20 percent of these prostitures are younger than 16 years old. Coercion is usually involved, although it is difficult to gauge its extent. Newspapers occasionally report the arrest of persons attempting to abduct young women or trick them into going to India. In January a man was sentenced to 5 years in prison, and in March a woman was sentenced to 3 years, for trafficking. In many cases, parents or relatives sell women into sexual slavery. The tradition of religious prostitution among the Badini and Devaki of western Nepal is a continuing concern.

The Government prosecutes cases of coercive trafficking brought to its attention, but has taken few active measures to stop it. The spread of the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in India's red-light districts has discouraged the Government from aggressively promoting the return and rehabilitation of Nepalese prostitutes.

Government efforts thus far focus more on preventing voluntary prostitution than on rehabilitation or prevention of coercive trafficking. The Women's Development Division of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare sponsors income-generating skill training programs in several districts known for sending prostitutes to India. Several nongovernmental organizations have similar programs.

A growing number of women's advocacy groups are taking up women's issues. Nearly all political parties have their own women's groups which press for women's causes. In Parliament, women members have begun working for the passage of tougher laws for crimes of sexual assault but with little success.

Children

The Child Act of 1992 establishes legal protections for children in the workplace and in criminal proceedings. It calls for the establishment of child welfare committees and orphanages, although many of these facilities are not yet in place. The Labor Act of 1992 prohibits employment of minors under 14 years of age and provides that nurseries must be established in workplaces with more than 50 people. Also, the Government has worked closely with NGO's and the private sector to create a "child labor-free" certification to be used in the carpet industry.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Nepal is still largely a traditional society wedded to the caste system, and caste discrimination is common, especially in the rural areas of western Nepal. Although the public shunning of "untouchables" has been outlawed, an exception was retained for traditional practices at Hindu religious sites. Economic, social, and educational discrimination tend to be a function of historical patterns, geographical location, and caste. The spread of education and higher levels of prosperity, especially in the Kathmandu valley, are slowly reducing caste distinctions and increasing opportunities for lower socioeconomic groups. Politics and senior jobs in the government administration and army in Nepal continue to be dominated by higher and better educated urban-oriented castes (Brahmin, Chhetri, and certain elements of the Newar community). However, the representation of other castes and ethnic groups is increasing slowly.

Nepal has over 75 ethnic groups speaking 50 languages. The Constitution provides that "each community residing within the Kingdom of Nepal shall have the right to preserve and promote its language, script, and culture." Furthermore, the Constitution specifies that each community has the right to operate schools up to the primary level in its mother tongue.

Despite these constitutional provisions, the Government has not enacted legislation or established programs to safeguard the rights of ethnic groups that are not a part of the ruling class. Most government administrators are Brahmin, Chhetri, or

Newar. Other ethnic groups and castes not in the governing elite are unable to participate fully in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources in the territories they inhabit. In remote rural areas, school lessons are conducted in the native language of the community. In less remote areas and in areas with nearby municipalities, education at primary, secondary, and university levels is conducted almost exclusively in the Nepali language. Human rights organizations report that the languages of the small Kusunda, Dura, and Meche communities are nearly extinct and that non-Hindu peoples are losing their culture over time.

People with Disabilities

Persons who are physically disabled normally rely on family members to assist them. There are no government programs specifically designed to deal with the problems faced by disabled persons, nor has legislation been enacted to mandate accessibility for the disabled to public buildings.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Article 12 of the Constitution provides for the freedom to form and to join unions and associations. According to the Constitution, unions may be legally restricted only in cases of subversion, sedition, or similar conditions. Since the political transformation began in 1990, there has been an increase in trade union activity in every sector.

Nepal's trade unions were initially linked closely to political parties. However, as the unions develop their administrative structures, they are becoming increasingly independent of political influence. Nepal's largest trade unions are the National Trade Union Congress and the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions. The first is associated with the ruling Nepali Congress Party, the second with the opposition Communist Party of Nepal.

Union participation in the formal sector is significant, but this sector accounts for only a very small portion of Nepal's overall labor force. Due to their recent formation and the country's lack of experience with trade unionism, unions are still developing effective structures for organizing, collective bargaining, and education. The Parliament passed new labor and trade union acts in 1992, and the Government passed regulations to implement these acts.

Under the law, strikes are permitted except in "essential services" such as water supply, electricity, and telecommunications. The Government is legally empowered to stop a strike or suspend the functioning of a trade union if it disturbs peace and security or adversely affects the nation's economic interests. Under the new Labor Act, a secret vote must be held to determine whether to strike, and 60 percent of the members must favor a strike for it to be legal. A number of illegal strikes took place in 1993, especially to protest retrenchment in public enterprises under the Government's program of administrative reform. Most received little publicity and were ineffective.

The 1992 Labor Act presents several steps to strengthen workers' rights, but it specifies that an employee's wages may be limited, or that he may be dismissed, if he "goes on strike without fulfilling the legal formalities..." Similarly the Act specifies that a manager may be fined up to approximately $100 if he illegally removes workers, continues a lockout, or "provokes" workers. Labor officers and labor courts have wide powers, in theory, to order managers to comply with their decisions.

The Trade Union Act of 1992 establishes the procedures and requirements for forming and registering trade unions, associations, and federations, including the provisions required in all union constitutions. It also protects unions and officials from lawsuits arising from any actions taken in the discharge of official duties, including collective bargaining.

There are no restrictions on forming confederations or joining international labor bodies. Several federations exist, and Nepalese trade union organizations maintain a variety of international affiliations.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Act provides for collective bargaining and stipulates that an organization must have the signatures of at least 51 percent of the eligible workers in order to negotiate collectively. The Government has passed implementing regulations, but the appropriate agencies must be funded and staffed. Although the organizational structures (e.g. labor courts) to implement the Act's provisions have not been created, collective bargaining has been the primary mechanism for setting wages since April 1990.

Other than the Trade Union Act (see above), there are no clear legal provisions prohibiting discrimination against union members or organizers by employers.

There are no special economic zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Article 20 of the Constitution prohibits forced labor in any form. The Department of Labor enforces laws against forced labor in the small formal sector of the economy. However, bonded labor is an aspect of traditional Nepalese society and is especially prevalent in agricultural work. Over 100,000 ethnic Tharus are estimated to be bonded laborers in the Terai region of southern Nepal. (See also the discussion of trafficking in women in Section 5).

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Constitution stipulates that children shall not be employed in factories, mines, or similar hazardous work, and the law establishes a minimum age for employment of minors at 16 in industry and 14 in agriculture. Despite the law, child workers are found in all sectors of the economy. According to a children's rights group, Child Workers in Nepal, 57 percent of children are employed. Most child laborers are employed in the agricultural sector, though reports suggest that as many as half of the workers in Nepal's growing carpet industry are children. Under the 1992 Labor Act, minors aged 14 to 18 are not allowed to work more than 6 hours per day nor more than 36 hours per week and are not allowed to work outside of the hours of 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. For adults, working hours are 8 hours per day and 48 hours per week. Overtime for adults is to be paid at 150 percent of usual wages.

The Department of Labor's enforcement record is spotty. It has had some success in enforcing laws in the urban formal sector relating to permanency, minimum wage, and holidays. In 1993 the Department fined 23 factories for employing child labor. Discussion in a number of Western countries about banning imports produced by child labor has had an impact in Nepal, where carpet exports to the West provide the largest source of foreign exchange. Concerned that Western countries might soon begin to ban carpets produced by children, Nepali manufacturers, NGO's, and government agencies announced a certification program under which "child labor-free" carpets are to be produced and sold. Overall, however, the Government's action has been inadequate to reduce the incidence of child labor. After raids and the subsequent fining of the 23 factories employing child labor, the Government charged no other companies with violations in this area, despite the fact that child labor is endemic.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Act sets a minimum monthly wage in factories and in the organized labor sector. This wage is sufficient only for the most minimal standard of living. Rates in the unorganized service sector and in agriculture are often as much as 50 percent lower.

The Labor Act calls for a 48-hour workweek, with 1 day off per week, and limits overtime to 20 hours per week. Health and safety standards and other benefits such as a provident fund and maternity benefits are also stipulated in the Act. Implementation of the Act has been slow, as the Government has not created the necessary regulatory or administrative structures to enforce its provisions. The Act and its implementing regulations spell out health and safety features that employers must put in place, but the right of workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations is not mentioned. Labor officers are empowered to order employers to rectify unsafe conditions and to close facilities where unsafe conditions persist.

Search Refworld

Countries