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Rights groups cry foul as Nepal denies torture at UN

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : As Nepal underwent the first periodic review of its human rights situation at the UN in Geneva, rights groups have said that security forces continue to practise “systematic torture” even four years after the end of a decade of communist insurrection that saw torture and extrajudicial killings.

The Nepal NGO Coalition for the Universal Periodic Review, an alliance representing 235 human rights and civil society organisations in Nepal, said in a statement Wednesday that it was troubled by the response of the government delegation in Geneva which claimed there was no systematic torture in Nepal in spite of “well documented and credible reports of systematic practices of torture at the hands of state security forces”.

On Tuesday, Nepal faced its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a process which involves the review of the human rights records of all 192 UN member states once every four years under the UN Human Rights Council.

During the three-hour session in Geneva, Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sujata Koirala, took the lead in presenting the national report and responding to questions and concerns raised by nearly 60 other states.

While lauding the fact that the government of Nepal acknowledged existing and ongoing human rights challenges in the country, the coalition said it was disappointed at the rhetorical statement by the government delegation and its failure to provide any concrete commitments and timelines for the implementation of Nepal’s human rights obligations.

It said it was encouraged by the intervention made by other UN member states, particularly about Nepal’s failure to address the culture of impunity, including investigations into past and ongoing human rights violations committed by both state security forces and non-state actors.

A number of states have made urgent calls to establish transitional justice mechanisms as stipulated in the Comprehensive Peace Accord signed between the ruling parties and the Maoist rebels in 2006 that ended a decade of conflict.

However, the pledge made by both sides to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that will punish war crimes and a Commission of Inquiry on Disappearances that will throw light on the fate of over 1,000 people who are missing still, has not been kept by either.

The NGOs also raised serious concern at the wide range of discriminatory policies and practices, specifically discrimination against women, children, Dalits, indigenous people, people with disabilities, refugees as well as religious, sexual and ethnic minorities.

The government also failed to address gender-based violence committed during and after the armed conflict.

Rights activists say the government delegation avoided answering a number of key questions, particularly with regards to lack of implementation of decisions and recommendations by the courts and the national human rights institutions as well as regarding the steps to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, the Convention on Enforced Disappearances, the Convention on the Status of Refugees, and the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court.

“The UPR is not a one-time event,” the NGOs said. “Recommendations put forward by the review must be followed up through proactive leadership of the government in ensuring practical and time-bound action plans for actual implementation, upon the genuine consultations with all relevant stakeholders in the country.”

In 2004, eight years after the Maoist revolt started, the UN Commission on Human Rights branded Nepal the worst perpetrator of enforced disappearances.

Though with the peace accord in 2006 the ruling parties as well as the Maoists agreed to make public the state of nearly 1,000 people missing still, there has been no progress even five years later.