Human rights in Nepal
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Historically, civil liberties been limited, but Nepal’s government has not been regarded as among the world’s worst violators of human rights. Nevertheless, human rights violations have increased substantially since the escalation of civil conflict in 2000, and security forces engaged in substantial numbers of these human rights violations prior to the civil conflict known as the Nepal Civil War. According to the United Nations (UN), Nepal leads the world in arbitrary abduction and detention by security forces in large part as a result of the civil conflict. The conflict between the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and government security forces has resulted in numerous allegations of human rights violations by both sides, with most victims being unarmed civilian noncombatants. The Maoists have been accused of unlawful killings, torture, and nearly 36,849 abductions. Security forces have been accused of disappearances, unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, and obstructing both courts and human rights investigations—all with impunity. However, about one-third of those abducted by security forces were released after months in secret detention, and in July 2004 the government created a committee to locate the disappeared.
Outside of the conflict, civil liberties are tenuous, and human rights abuses are common. Discrimination on the basis of caste, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality is ubiquitous, and domestic violence, forced labor, and forced prostitution are pervasive. However, various organizations have emerged to address the needs of persons suffering discrimination. Still, civil liberties such as freedom of speech, press, and lawful assembly have been severely curtailed with King Gyanendra’s suspension of the constitution in February 2005. The government also has been criticized for ratifying human rights treaties and conventions but not incorporating human rights laws into legislation. Indeed, there are no laws against police torture, and the police are accused of excessive force and corruption. Because of poor communication, police outside the capital often have tremendous autonomy and discretion in handling law and order matters and often do so in ways not consistent with the law.
From 1996 to 2006, Nepal experienced a violent conflict between the Nepalese government and the rebel political group the Communist Party of Nepal (the Maoists). The Maoists took arms against the Nepalese government to fight against what they saw as corrupt and discriminatory regime. Researchers say that ethnic, caste, gender, and rural vs. urban disparities in Nepal fueled the conflict. In 2006, both sides signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to end the violence and form a cooperative government. However, ongoing political strife continues to obstruct peace developments.
According to Parker (2013), approximately 13,000 people died (including 500 children) and 100,000-200,000 Nepalis were displaced (including 40,000 children) during the war. Child Workers in Nepal reports that 27,323 children were taken from their communities to contribute to the war, possibly as child soldiers. Nepal ranked as the country with the most disappearances worldwide from 1996-2006. Both sides of the conflict engaged in torture and indiscriminate killings, and civilians often became unintentional casualties or were attacked for allegedly supporting the opposing side.
The conflict caused deterioration in human rights conditions across Nepal. Human capabilities in the realms of health, education, gender equality, torture, child rights and more have been obstructed.
The government forces and the Maoists have both been accused of torturing political prisoners and those they suspect oppose their views during the 1996-2006 conflict, including children. There is evidence that Nepalese police have also tortured, particularly during the conflict.
According to Stevenson (2001), forms of torture used during the conflict include physical, sexual, and psychological methods. The government used rape as a means of torture as well. Singh et al (2005) reports that 70% of Nepalese inmates were tortured in prison, and the Center for Victims of Torture estimates that 16,000 people were tortured per year during the war.
Both the Maoists and the Nepalese government used torture techniques to extract confessions and to force citizens to act in accordance with their dictates. Stevenson (2001) reports that 50% of torture victims stated they only confessed because of the torture they received.
The long lasting effects of torture can include physical issues such as disability, lingering pain, and weakness. Mental effects have also been documented, such as posttraumatic stress, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, eating difficulties, and dissociative disorders.
Disappearances, arrests, executions
From 1996-2006, Nepal ranked as the country with the most disappearances recorded. The Nepalese government also frequently arrested and killed people with no explanation and no due process. Among the arrests, disappearances, and executions were civilians who were suspected of being against the government, NGO workers, and journalists.
The Maoists have been accused of arresting and killing civilians as well. During the conflict, they also took students to be trained to assist the Maoist forces, and possibly to become child soldiers. According to Child Workers in Nepal, approximately 27,323 children were taken. The Maoists will not admit to training and using child soldiers, however, though researchers such as Parker (2013) claim there is evidence that they did. The Maoists educated the students in their political point of view as well.
Poverty is an ongoing detriment to human rights in Nepal. 45% of Nepalis are impoverished (surviving on income that falls beneath the poverty line) according to Parker (2013) while the 2014 Human Development Report for Nepal claims that 25% of Nepalis are in poverty. Some areas of Nepal lack sufficient food supply for children; in the worst areas, 60% of children live without adequate food. According to the Human Development, the country’s Human Poverty Index (HPI) is 31.12, a relatively high number (where a higher HPI indicates increased poverty). However, Nepal’s HPI has been declining over the past years, decreasing by 21.4% from 2001 to 2011.
Poverty is particularly high in Nepal’s rural regions, whose poverty levels are reported to be between 1.8 and 10 times those of cities. Rural areas also do not receive as much aid from NGOs as urban areas do, further contributing to the disparities. In addition, researchers have observed that the most impoverished areas are slowest to show improvement. Despite poor HPI numbers, however, levels of inequality across Nepal appear to be decreasing over time.
Poverty is also linked with ethnicity and caste, though equality between ethnic groups and castes is increasing. However, ethnic minorities and some lower castes continue to experience higher rates of poverty.
The 1996-2006 conflict in Nepal had a negative impact on health in the country. The violence was especially harmful to the health of women and children. The conflict prevented essential medical supplies from reaching those who needed them, particularly children. The maternal childbirth death rate during the conflict was at the high rate of 1 in 24.
Medical staff’s ability to work was also greatly impeded during the conflict, further harming the health of Nepalis. Staff was killed or arrested and hospitals were incapacitated. The violence forced many health workers to leave their jobs.
Low health indicators continue to persist in Nepal today. Health prospects vary greatly depending on where an individual lives in Nepal and to which class he or she belongs. Many areas in the country do not have adequate access to clean water and food. This is particularly problematic for rural parts of Nepal, where there are fewer doctors. Young child mortality rates in rural areas are also higher than they are in urban areas.
Mental health is also a significant problem in Nepal. Researchers have measured a rise in mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder, which they think may have been caused by the violence of the 1996-2006 conflict. Suicide has also become more common. Rural areas of Nepal tend to lack adequate sources of mental health treatment as well. Singh (2005) reports that towards the end of the conflict, 30% of Nepalis had some form of mental health issue.
Children’s access to education was greatly disrupted during the 1996-2006 conflict between the Maoists and the Nepalese government. Students and teachers were attacked at school, and because of violence, some students were prevented from attending school during the conflict. Many schools were forced to close or faced reduced attendance because of attacks or threat of attack. Schools that remained open often held class for fewer hours, and student’s time in the classroom overall decreased greatly during the war.
The Maoists also occupied schools and used them as safe havens and as recruitment grounds. They taught children to be spies or messengers, and they took children to be trained to help the Maoist cause, possibly as child soldiers. The Maoists forced teachers to use Maoist curricula and express Maoist political views, often compelling them to do so through violent means. Though the violence brought by the conflict was greatly detrimental to education, some Nepalis lauded the Maoists for making their school more inclusive to girls and those of lower caste, and for helping the school run more smoothly.
Since the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, however, the violence has abated and more children are able to attend school. However, several studies report that many children are still lacking education opportunity. Parker (2013) says that 18% of children age five to nine are not receiving an education. However, the US State Department claims that 95% of boys and 94% of girls are enrolled in school.
Girls, children of lower caste, and ethnic minorities are still not given equal education opportunity. Children in rural areas also have reduced access to education, and children who were internally displaced persons (IDPs) during the war have had difficulty getting back to school.
The quality of schools in Nepal has also been questioned. More resources are needed to fund the schools and particularly to provide better school facilities. Schools also lack skilled and competent teachers; more quality teacher training is necessary. In addition, more comprehensive curricula are needed to accommodate students from all backgrounds.
Gender-based violence to women is a severe issue in Nepal where its women often find themselves susceptible to both public and domestic violence which constitutes rape, sexual abuse in the workplace and at home, and human trafficking. There is a persistence of harmful traditional practices deemed life-threatening such as Deuki (act of offering young girls to Hindu temples to live without proper care or education) and Chhaupadi (menstruating women are kept in a shed away from the home to live under harsh conditions). In the recently published Nepal Human Rights Yearbook 2012 by Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), a study of all 75 districts across the country returned results of 648 women as victims of violence in 2011. In addition, the number of girls under the age of 18 who were affected stands at 379.
Third gender's rights
The Nepalese government, following the monarchy that ended in 2007, legalized cross dressing and a third gender option in 2007 along with the introduction of several new law sets.Cross-dressing was also illegal under various laws against public immorality but now is freely allowed. In the 2011 Nepal census, conducted in May 2011, the Central Bureau of Statistics officially recognized a third gender in addition to male and female. It also provides citizenship, passport, Ncell sim card registration, etc. with a third gender option. Yet there is not great acceptance for them in the society. Most of the violence and discrimination comes to third genders.
- Stevenson, Philip C. "The Torturous Road to Democracy—domestic Crisis in Nepal." The Lancet 358, no. 9283 (2001): 752-56. Accessed January 29, 2015. http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.rice.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=71173233-a9c7-4325-bccb-1d8078e03352@sessionmgr113&vid=24&hid=112.
- Singh, Sonal, Khagendra Dahal, and Edward Mills. "Nepal's War on Human Rights: A Summit Higher than Everest." International Journal for Equity in Health 4 (2005). Accessed January 29, 2015. http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.rice.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=71173233-a9c7-4325-bccb-1d8078e03352@sessionmgr113&vid=21&hid=112.
- Upreti, Bishnu Raj. "Nepal From War to Peace." Peace Review 24, no. 1 (2012): 102-07. Accessed January 29, 2015. http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.rice.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=71173233-a9c7-4325-bccb-1d8078e03352@sessionmgr113&vid=16&hid=112.
- Parker, Sara, Kay Standing, and Bijan Pant. "Caught in the Cross Fire: Children’s Right to Education During Conflict - The Case of Nepal 1996-2006." Children & Society 27, no. 5 (2013): 372-84. Accessed February 14, 2015. http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.rice.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=feb0f0d4-05d9-4492-9157-3ad4760b0ace@sessionmgr198&vid=26&hid=112.
- Singh, Sonal, Erik Bøhler, Khagendra Dahal, and Edward Mills. "The State of Child Health and Human Rights in Nepal." PLoS Medicine 3, no. 6 (2006): 948-52. Accessed January 29, 2015. http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.rice.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=71173233-a9c7-4325-bccb-1d8078e03352@sessionmgr113&vid=18&hid=112.
- United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2014. Nepal Human Development Report 2014. New York: UNDP.
- US State Department. "Nepal 2013 Human Rights Report." January 1, 2013. Accessed March 3, 2015. http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/220612.pdf.
- Department for International Development Nepal, DFIDN Nepal Operational Plan: Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Annex, http://www.dfid.gov.uk/Documents/publications1/op/nepal-2011-annex.pdf, accessed on 21 February 2012.
- Central Bureau of Statistics National Planning Commission Secretariat Government of Nepal, REPORT ON THE NEPAL LABOUR FORCE SURVEY 2008, http://www.cbs.gov.np/Surveys/NLFS-2008 Report.pdf, accessed on 21 February 2012.
- United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), Report on the State of Women in Urban Local Government Nepal, http://www.unescap.org/huset/women/reports/nepal.pdf, accessed on 21 February 2012.