The deadline to agree on a new constitution expired in May as members of the country's Constituent Assembly failed to come to an agreement. Then Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, member of the Maoist Party, went on to dissolve the Assembly, but elections were not held in 2012. The Assembly had also served as the country's parliament.

One of the major areas of disagreement for members of the Constituent Assembly was on the issue of creating federal units based on ethnicity. This is a major demand for some minority communities that want greater self-rule in their areas. However, the large numbers of different ethnic groups in Nepal and their geographical dispersion has complicated the issue. The failure to reach agreement on this issue and the subsequent dissolving of the Constituent Assembly has left Nepal in political deadlock. The country effectively spent much of the year without a legislature. More concerning is that the constitution-making process linked to peace-building has been stalled, which does not augur well for a country that has been out of conflict for a relatively short period. Furthermore, the continuum between the old Constituent Assembly and the new process is unclear, leaving in doubt the impact of the groundwork done by minority and indigenous members of the former Constituent Assembly and civil society groups on minority rights promotion and protection.

A further pressing issue is lack of accountability. While in August the Council of Ministers proposed a Commission of Inquiry on Disappeared Persons, Truth and Reconciliation, the Commission was reportedly granted powers to recommend amnesties but not prosecutions. The situation was exacerbated by a number of high-profile appointments of persons alleged to have committed serious human rights violations. Amnesty International noted that this climate of impunity was a particular problem in the Terai region, where it reported abuses by the security forces, police and armed groups. Fear of reprisals prevented victims from coming forward.

Human rights protection in the country was further affected when, in March 2012, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) field presence was formally shut down after the Nepali government refused to extend its mandate. They also refused to allow an OHCHR staff member to be housed in the country's UNDP office. This removal of the UN human rights office has left a vacuum in international human rights monitoring and reporting.

Caste-based, ethnic and religious discrimination continued to be reported. In October, Bhim Bahadur, a Dalit from Dailekh district, sustained severe injuries after having been attacked for touching the front door of a house belonging to a person of a dominant caste. Dalits experienced restrictions on their religious freedom; Hindu priests and villagers prevented Dalits from entering temple precincts and participating in Hindu festivals. Christian groups reported receiving threats from Hindu extremists; these were usually linked to extortion.

The rights of Tibetan exiles and Nepalis of Tibetan origin continued to be curtailed, particularly with regard to public assembly and celebrations of Tibetan holidays. In March, for example, the authorities arrested 100 Tibetans who were protesting to mark the 53rd anniversary of the Tibetan uprising. These restrictions appear to have been imposed at the behest of the Chinese government.


Although Nepal's 2012 demographic health survey did not provide data about inequalities across caste or ethnic groups, previous population surveys have indicated serious disparities between the health of minority populations and that of the population at large.[5] The life expectancy of a Hill Brahmin was 68 years, while for a Hill Dalit it was only 61 in 2009, according to UNDP. In 2001, UNDP found that upper-caste Brahmins and Newars live, on average, between 11 and 12 years longer than Dalits and Muslims.

Disadvantaged minority groups face difficulty in accessing health services in Nepal, due to geographical remoteness, social stigma, or refugee status. Marginalized groups, including Dalits and indigenous Janajatis, face barriers to accessing family planning services due to their illiteracy (which may prevent them filling in required forms), poverty (which may prevent them from paying for services), or their low social status (as a result of discrimination on the part of health workers). The very distribution of health workers is, in the first place, highly unequal across regions.

A number of factors that contribute to health outcomes, such as sanitation, nutrition and access to health care, are marked by significant disparities between rural and urban populations that recent Nepalese surveys have captured. These factors disproportionately affect ethnic minorities, who make up a higher portion of the population of Nepal's rural regions.

A number of sources suggest that insecure access to food and water is especially pronounced for indigenous groups, especially in mountainous regions, as well as for Dalits in Nepal. As a result, disadvantaged minority groups are more vulnerable to disease and malnutrition.

Maternal mortality for Muslims, Terai Madhesi and Dalit groups is higher than for other social groups. These rates are linked to the comparative lack of access to pre- and post-natal care for marginalized groups.

The latest figures from Nepal's Demographic Health Survey, in showing sharp disparities in child mortality between the far-western and eastern regions, strongly suggest that these trends have continued to create health differences between ethnic groups. Similarly, under-five mortality rates among Dalits are higher than among any other group, and well above the national average (95 out of 1,000 Dalit children do not survive to their fifth birthday, while for Newar children the figure is 43).

Although a 2012 Samata Foundation study in Sapatri district found that health workers do not in general discriminate against low-caste members at the point of service delivery, there is believed to be more widespread discrimination in terms of access to information about health care that Dalits in Nepal have, as well as health workers requiring increased interest rates or fees for services.

Dalits also suffer discrimination in accessing water due to their untouchable status. The AHRC reported in 2012 an instance where the non-Dalit community in Koteli village, Dadeldhura district prevented the water from flowing to Dalit households. The affected villagers, particularly women, have to walk five hours to fetch water – back-breaking work that causes stress as well as physical problems, and takes time away from crop cultivation.

For refugees in Nepal, the situation in terms of accessing health resources remains precarious. One study of Pakistani and Somali refugees noted that, given the lack of attention to or budget for mental health care for the population at large, provision for refugees was negligible. For Tibetan refugees, the Nepali government's recent rejection of a plea to grant them identification papers represents a major obstacle to their ability to secure livelihoods and access essential services.


5. 'Socioeconomic inequalities in global and relative self-rated health in Laos: a cross-sectional study of 24 Hood, J., 'Between entitlement and stigmatization: the lessons of HIV/AIDS for China's medical reform', in W. Sun and Y. Guo (eds), Unequal China, London, Routledge, 2013, pp. 141-2.

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