Speech by the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Matthew Kahane, on the occasion of the 4th anniversary of the National Human Rights Commission

Jun 5, 2004

Speech by the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Matthew Kahane, on the occasion of the 4th anniversary of the National Human Rights Commission

Delivered on Saturday June 5th 2004, at the offices of the  National Human Rights Commission,
Kathmandu, Nepal

Right Honourable the Prime Minister,
Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission,
Chief Justice,
Members of the National Human Rights Commission,
Ambassadors and Representatives of the diplomatic community,
Distinguished guests.

I would like to warmly congratulate the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on this the occasion of its 4th anniversary and, most especially, express my respect to yourself, Mr. Chairperson, and to the other Members of the Commission, in recognition of the tremendous challenges you have faced so effectively as the groundbreakers for such a vital institution. I am honoured and grateful for the opportunity to speak before you on this occasion.

I wish also to congratulate you, Sir, the Right Honourable the Prime Minister on your appointment and to applaud the fact that your presence here today, just 3 days into your term as Prime Minister, reflects the importance you attach to human rights.

Since taking up my own position as United Nations Resident Coordinator, in October of last year, the many reports of human rights violations throughout the country have confirmed to me the urgency of additional Government action to strengthen the protection of human rights and the vital importance of the work of the NHRC.

Reports from civil society in Nepal and abroad, the domestic and international media, and the reports of the Commission itself, have all testified to and documented alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by members of the Royal Nepalese Army and by the CPN Maoists. The killing of civilians, enforced disappearances, kidnapping, torture, rape, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced recruitment, the use of children as soldiers, violations of the freedom of movement and actions leading to the internal displacement of people away from their home communities, have all been reported on multiple occasions. The Royal Nepalese Army has gained, over the years, a shining and well deserved reputation for protecting the human rights of vulnerable populations around the world in the context of its participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions; it is particularly regrettable to see this very valuable contribution to international peace and security tarnished by human rights violations allegedly committed at home.

The country as a whole is experiencing repeated periods of bandhs. The right to strike, to conduct a bandh, is an important human right, protected by international standards. However, when the right is forced upon individuals in violation of the rule of law, through the threat of armed attack, and in a manner which repeatedly prevents children from attending their schools, the sick from receiving medical care and the poor from earning sufficient income during the day to be able to eat at night, then the bandhs can no longer be seen as the expression of a human right and instead must be recognized as contributing to human rights violations. The upcoming ‘indefinite education bandh’ and its likely impact on children’s access to education is particularly alarming. The United Nations condemns the negative human rights impacts of bandhs under such conditions.

We are all aware of the wider effects of the armed conflict, restricting the human right to development and serving to further entrench poverty and inequality.

Valuable work is being done by human rights civil society organizations and by the media to report on violations and to address their impact. However, their reports have received only limited responses by authorities and combatants, and the violations continue.

The United Nations is increasingly concerned by the human rights situation in Nepal. The Secretary General has offered his help toward achieving a peaceful solution to the conflict and the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights is following the human rights situation very closely and has lent his full support to strengthening national protection systems in Nepal.

At the most recent session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, in March and April 2004, the Commission’s Chairperson issued a Statement expressing the Commission’s concern at the human rights situation in Nepal. Special Procedures of the Commission on Human Rights - including the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions - took up numerous cases of alleged abuses with His Majesty’s Government in 2003, as published in their annual reports in the first quarter of 2004. The Working Group on Disappearances, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights defenders and other Special Procedures mandate holders have requested invitations from the Government to visit Nepal and the United Nations urges the Government to respond positively.

In a difficult context, I know that the NHRC is working very hard to address the human rights concerns identified. The Commission is actively monitoring and conducting investigations into human rights violations in 58 districts across the country, including for example investigations into alleged violations in Doramba, Bara and Panchthar. Most recently, the Commission has published immediate minimum steps addressed to His Majesty’s Government and the CPN-Maoists to respect international human rights and humanitarian law. In addition, the Commission has launched an effort to establish offices within different regions of Nepal and, through them, strengthen its monitoring component. UNDP and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are providing technical advice and assistance, when requested by the Commission, for its monitoring programme.

His Majesty’s Government has expressed its desire and intent to address human rights concerns, and in its 26 March “Commitment on the Implementation of Human Rights and International Law” reaffirmed the central role of the NHRC in monitoring all human rights violations, regardless of who was responsible for the abuses. Welcoming the incoming Government, the United Nations urges that the Commitment now be translated into practical actions that will improve the human rights situation. In addition, we look forward to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the earliest possible opportunity. We look forward also to the full cooperation by all State institutions and mechanisms with the NHRC in its expanded presence and role throughout the country, including full access by NHRC human rights personnel to places, officials and information, in accordance with the Commission’s statutory authority. We urge the Government to proceed with the establishment of an authoritative and credible Human Rights Protection Committee, as provided for in the 26 March Commitment, with a view to ensuring a rapid and effective Government response to human rights reports of the NHRC and human rights NGOs.

The United Nations offers its encouragement to the Nepali judiciary and Office of the Attorney General in the difficult but vital task that they face in ensuring an end to impunity for human rights abuses, through the independent prosecution of perpetrators of violations. To fulfil its responsibilities effectively, the judiciary requires an adequate body of applicable human rights law. The United Nations thus also encourages efforts to strengthen the protection of human rights under domestic legislation and urges the Government to follow-up its signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s “Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict” with the instrument’s prompt ratification as well as that of the International Criminal Court statute.

While our attention is increasingly drawn to the most immediate and most visible human rights consequences of the armed conflict, we must not ignore longer-term human rights concerns such as gender and ethnic discrimination and the human rights impacts of poverty. Certainly, within the United Nations system we are reminding ourselves of our own responsibilities in this regard.

I wish, once more, to congratulate the NHRC, its members and Secretariat, for the excellent work they are doing, and to welcome again the participation here of the newly designated Prime Minister and the support his presence signals for human rights and for the work of the Commission. The United Nations stands ready to assist its national partners in His Majesty’s Government and in the NHRC and civil society, in their efforts to work together towards a peaceful and democratic Nepal where the fundamental human rights of all are fully respected.

Thank you.