Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
NEPALNepal is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government. In 1990 the King, formerly an absolute monarch, legalized political parties after which an interim government promulgated a new constitution. The King retains important residual powers, but has dissociated himself from direct day-to-day government activities. The democratically elected Parliament consists of the House of Representatives (lower house) and the National Council (upper house). Since 1990, Nepal has held four national elections, two for the Parliament and two nationwide elections for local government offices. International observers considered these elections to be generally free and fair. In February 1996, the leaders of the Maoist United People's Front (UPF) launched a People's War in mid-western Nepal, which has produced incidents in 27 of 75 districts. The insurrection has been waged through torture, killings, and bombings involving civilians, and public officials. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, however, the courts are susceptible to political pressure and corruption. The National Police Force maintains internal security, assisted as necessary by the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA). Police reaction to the People's War insurgency led to incidents of unwarranted force against prisoners and noncombatants. The army is traditionally loyal to the King and has avoided involvement in domestic politics. However, with the continued threat from the Maoist insurgents, the RNA may take on a more active security role. The police are subject to civilian control, but local officials have wide discretion in maintaining law and order. The police committed human rights abuses. Nepal is an extremely poor country, with an annual per capita gross domestic product of approximately $200. Over 80 percent of its 21 million people support themselves through subsistence agriculture. Principal crops include rice, wheat, maize, jute, and potatoes. Tourism and the export of carpets and garments are the major sources of foreign exchange. Foreign aid accounts for more than half the development budget. The economy is mixed with approximately 50 public sector firms. Many former government firms have been privatized since 1992. Since political reform began in 1990, Nepal has made progress in its transition to a more open society with greater respect for human rights. However, problems remain, and the Government has not enforced all the Constitution's provisions regarding basic human rights. The police continue to abuse detainees, using torture as punishment or to extract confessions. The Government rarely investigates allegations of police brutality or takes action against accused police officers. There were also allegations that police killed unarmed civilians in the course of operations against the insurgents, and while these persons were held in custody. The authorities use arbitrary arrest and detention, and prison conditions remain poor. Judicial susceptibility to political pressure and corruption, long delays before trial, and lengthy pretrial detention remain problems. The Government continues to impose some restrictions on freedom of religion and expression. Lower castes and women suffer widespread discrimination. Trafficking in women and girls, violence against women, forced labor, and child labor also remain serious problems. In July 1996, Parliament unanimously enacted a bill to establish a permanent human rights commission with the authority to investigate human rights abuses. However, the commission has not yet been established. The Maoist insurgents continued to commit numerous abuses, including killings and bombings. They also forced the postponement of local elections in several mid-western districts.