Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Nepal

Political context

The end of 2007 was marked by political uncertainty after the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN(M)) withdrew from the interim Government on September 18, 2007, citing the failure to abolish the monarchy as the key reason. The Maoists rejoined the Government when all parties agreed to the abolition of the monarchy, albeit only after the Constituent Assembly elections, which were rescheduled for April 2008. The run-up to the historic elections was tense and the election campaign was marred by serious acts of violence, intimidation and violations of human rights by all parties. However, the elections themselves, held on April 10, 2008, largely passed off in a transparent and peaceful manner,1 with the Maoists emerging as the largest party – although without a majority – and thus dominating the new Government. The monarchy was abolished a month later and Nepal was declared a republic. In July 2008, Nepal's first President, Mr. Ram Baran Yadav, was elected by the Constituent Assembly. The following month, Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, the Chairman of the CPN(M), took office as Prime Minister.

Despite these positive steps in the peace process and in establishing a democracy, violence and intimidation, in particular by armed groups, persisted after the elections. Such violence was encouraged by the culture of impunity that continued to prevail. Human rights violations during the armed conflict that opposed Government forces and the Maoists between 1996-2006 went unpunished, with not one perpetrator – either from Government or Maoist forces – being brought to justice. As noted by the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, "[t]he consolidation of the peace process will continue to be at risk without political will on the part of the authorities to end this culture of impunity".2 One positive step in this regard taken by the Nepalese Government in November 2008 was the tabling of the Disappearances (Crime and Punishment) Bill, which would criminalise enforced disappearances and establish an independent commission to investigate disappearances during the ten-year armed conflict. Whilst there were concerns that the bill did not comply fully with international law, it illustrated at least a first step in bringing perpetrators to justice, as well as signalling that violations of this kind would not enjoy impunity in the future.3

In comparison to previous years, the situation for human rights defenders in 2008 improved slightly. Given the change in the political situation and the ostensible commitment by the political parties to respect and promote human rights, the environment was more amenable to people speaking out against human rights violations and putting pressure on the Government to be accountable to its electorate.

Despite marginal improvements, human rights defenders documenting violations remained under attack

During 2008, human rights defenders continued to face obstacles and repression whilst working for the protection and promotion of human rights. In particular, those working for Advocacy Forum, a human rights NGO, were the victims of physical violence, intimidations, harassment and death threats. For example, on January 26, 2008, Mr. Raj Kumar Mahaseth, a human rights activist working as a lawyer for Advocacy Forum in Janakpur, Dhanusha district, was severely beaten with batons by the Nepal armed police whilst monitoring a mass meeting organised by the seven political parties as well as documenting the use of force by the police against the demonstrators. Although Mr. Mahaseth filed a torture compensation case before the Court of Dhanusha District on February 29, 2008, as of the end of the year the case was still pending in court and no investigation had been carried out.4 Mr. Sushil Kumar Lakhe, a human rights lawyer and Regional Coordinator for Advocacy Forum in Nepalgunj, was also the victim of harassment and intimidation. On May 2, 2008, Mr. Lakhe, on his way home from the police station in Banke District, where he had filed a first information report against two army personnel who were suspected of murder, was followed by two unidentified people who threatened that they would "finish him off", given his human rights activities. Mr. Lakhe managed to escape. On May 11, 2008, Mr. Lakhe's home was searched by the police without a search warrant. No investigation was carried out in the case. Furthermore, on September 17, 2008, Maoist District Secretary of Banepa district Tulsi Narayan Shrestha threatened to kill Mr. Bhojraj Timilsina, Kavre District Representative of the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), after the latter published an article on INSEC website, reporting that Mr. Tulsi Narayan had brutally beaten a man named Mr. Umesh Shrestha, a plaintiff of a case of fraud in property share against Mr. Tulsi Narayan, at the premises of Dhulikhel District Court on September 16. The local newspaper Sanjivani had published the same news, and was forced to disclose that the news was taken from INSEC's news portal. Maoist cadres had then searched for INSEC representative in Banepa. They later called Mr. Bhojraj Timilsina on his mobile phone in the evening of September 17, threatening him of death. Subsequently, the police and local administration made security arrangements for Mr. Timilsina.5

Defenders continued to be the target of attacks by armed groups in the Terai region

Although the political situation improved in 2008, the armed conflict continued in certain parts of the country. The Terai region in southern Nepal, in particular, was a hotbed of instability. The emergence of a number of armed groups all claiming to be fighting for the rights of people living in the Terai region, but who were committing violations of human rights themselves, escalated the level of violence. This, together with the failure of the State to fulfil its responsibility to provide security to its citizens, created a dangerous environment for human rights defenders who were unable to carry out their activities given the serious risk of attack by armed groups. Furthermore, human rights defenders were directly threatened by armed groups to cease their activities and to leave Terai. For example, in early 2008, human rights defenders attempting to monitor the situation during strikes called by various armed groups and political parties and also monitor demonstrations held from February 13 to 19, 2008 by campaigners for the rights of ethnic Madhesis were threatened and prevented from doing so by Terai armed groups.6

The repression went beyond threats. On June 29, 2008, one of the region's most prominent civil society leaders, Mr. Govinda Pandey, Coordinator of Civil Society Network Bardiya as well as a District Committee member of the Communist Party of Nepal – United Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), was shot dead. Mr. Pandey, well respected by all political parties, had been active in a number of areas, including raising awareness of nationality, national sovereignty and border-related issues, environmental and conservation issues and land rights. On June 30, the Jwala Singh faction of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Terai (Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha – JTMM), a rebel group in the Terai region, accepted responsibility for his murder. However, the perpetrators were not arrested, given the police's failure to carry out a thorough investigation. This was partly due to the climate of insecurity and witnesses' fear of retribution.7

Harassment faced by journalists

Journalists who were critical of JTMM's actions or who sought to expose violations and corruption were also the victims of intimidation and harassment, including death threats. For example, on October 11, 2008, Mr. Krishna Prasad Dhakal, Editor of the Kapilvastu Sandesh weekly newspaper and Advisor of Kapilvastu chapter of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), received death threats from Mr. Sikandar, the Army Commander of JTMM (Jwala Singh). Mr. Dhakal had written an article about the forceful donation drive of armed groups in the region.

The JTMM was not the only group threatening human rights defenders and journalists. Although the CPN(M) joined mainstream politics, renounced its armed activities, and was then given a clear mandate by the people to lead the country, Maoist cadres, in particular the Maoists' youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL), continued to intimidate and attack human rights defenders, with journalists again being a favourite target for attack. For example, Mr. Nabaraj Pathik, Chief Editor of the local weekly newspaper Nayan Sapthaik and District Representative of INSEC in Ramechap district, was threatened on March 4 and 5, 2008 by Maoist activist, Mr. Bimal Dhungel, due to his editorial article entitled "Criminalisation in politics" that reported on corruption. Mr. Pathik was told that if he continued to write such articles, the Maoists would "crack" his legs. The Editor of the newspaper, Mr. Tika Bhatta, later went to speak with the person in-charge at the Maoist District Committee and was also threatened. On March 7, 2008, an article published in the Maoist magazine Jaapuspa stated that journalists like Mr. Pathik would be physically attacked, which further intimidated Mr. Pathik.8

Pressure from China results in repression of Tibetan activists and human rights defenders in Nepal

Peaceful protests against China's crackdown on Tibet were crushed by the Nepalese authorities, in particular the police, at the behest of China. In the period of March to July 2008, thousands of Tibetan activists and human rights defenders were arbitrarily arrested, with excessive force being used by the police to disperse protests. On March 10, 2008, for example, the Nepalese police arrested 148 people, including thirteen Nepalese human rights defenders9 and on March 24, 2008, approximately twelve people were injured and more than 250 arrested – including human rights demonstrators – in Kathmandu.10 Protesters were also threatened by the police with violence and deportation in an attempt to discourage the protests, a clear violation of freedoms of assembly and expression. Journalists reporting on the violent repression of the protests were also the victims of harassment and abuse by the police. For example, on March 17, 2008, a foreign journalist trying to photograph protesters who were being arrested was hit in the face by a police officer.

Gender specific risks and vulnerabilities on the rise: women human rights defenders still in need of protection and security

In 2008, women human rights defenders remained the target of repression. They were in particular subjected to risks and vulnerabilities from private and State actors on different degrees, as this was sadly illustrated by the murder of Ms. Laxmi Bohara, a health volunteer and an active women's rights activist engaged in advocating for health rights of women, Secretary of the Women's Empowerment Centre and a member of the Women Human Rights Defender Network in Kanchanpur. On June 6, 2008, Ms. Laxmi Bohara passed away after being beaten and physically injured by her husband and mother-in-law. In the past, she had been severely criticised and harassed by her husband and mother in law for committing herself to social work, suspicious if she talked with anyone on the road, she had been submitted to "sexual baiting"11 (including public insults based on her gender and sexuality), and regularly beaten up by her husband. Furthermore, when members of the Women Human Rights Defender Network in Kanchanpur went to meet the District Superintendent of police, the latter was aggressive and he said that he was not scared of anyone and "even if the women's movement took their protest to the streets, it would not make any difference to anyone". Since then, such threats and harassment have become common against members of the Women Human Rights Defender Network in Kanchanpur.

Urgent Interventions issued by The Observatory in 200812

Names of human rights defendersViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
Mr. Sushil Kumar LakhePolice search / Death threats / HarassmentUrgent Appeal NPL 001/0508/OBS 080May 15, 2008
Ms. Laxmi BoharaAssassination / HarassmentUrgent Appeal NPL 002/0608/OBS 102June 16, 2008
Messrs. Kebal Raut and Krishna YadavAssassinations / Arbitrary arrests / ReleasesUrgent Appeal NPL 003/0908/OBS 150September 9, 2008
Mr. Krishna Prasad DhakalDeath threatsUrgent Appeal NPL 004/1108/OBS 182November 5, 2008

1 This was the conclusion of the European Union's Election Observation Mission to Nepal as well as by the UN. See Declaration by the EU Presidency on the Constituent Assembly elections in Nepal, April 15, 2008 and UN Press Release, April 10, 2008.

2 See UN Press Release, February 3, 2008.

3 See Joint Letter from Advocacy Forum and Human Rights Watch to the Speaker of Nepal's Constituent Assembly, November 25, 2008.

4 See Advocacy Forum.

5 See Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC).

6 See Advocacy Forum.

7 See INSEC.

8 See Advocacy Forum.

9 See FORUM-ASIA Fortnightly Newsletter, April 4, 2008.

10 See Article 19 Press Release, March 26, 2008 and INSEC.

11 Sexuality-baiting is a politically motivated name-calling designed to ruin women human rights defenders' reputations (or that of their organisations) on the basis of their reproductive or marital status, or their assumed sexual orientation. See Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Claiming Rights, Claiming Justice: A Guidebook on Women Human Rights Defenders, 2007.

12 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.


This 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.