"The risks on human rights defenders have substantially increased in Nepal these days" (December, 2003)

Source: National Human Rights Commission e-Bulletin (Vol. 1, No. 39, 26 December 2003, Kathmandu, Nepal

Dr Adhikari, the Capacity Development Advisor of the National Human Rights Commission, recently talked with the editors of this e-bulletin on the situation of human rights defenders in the country, especially after the 24 December murder of Chet Prakash Khatri, a human rights worker associated with INSEC. He gave these opinions to the Bulletin on his personal capacity. Excerpts:

Q. What is your reaction to the murder of Chet Prakash Khatri?
The organization that he was tied with has stated that this Mr. Khatri was murdered under mysterious circumstances. There has not been any positive response yet to the request of the organization for the thorough investigation of the murder.

Threats and other means of intimidation of those who should be able to independently monitor and report on the human rights situation and provide information to the people have also been observed elsewhere in the country. Similar attacks on the human rights defenders (lawyers, journalists and others) in the context of the ongoing conflict have also not been properly investigated and condemned. Some journalists in Kathmandu have already demonstrated against the violation of their professional rights.

The combined effect of the threats and restrictions is that the civilian population is denied much needed protection and assistance, which is the most serious issue before the human rights organizations.

Q. What does that mean ?
The dangers being encountered by human right defenders, humanitarian workers and journalists could be a precursor to a further deterioration in the human rights situation in the country.

The fact that the authorities are unwilling to protect those whose work is to protect human rights and support civilians during times of conflict signifies that, despite its stated intention to minimize the violation of human rights and other hardships suffered by the population, their well being is not being prioritized. Rather than attempting to drive out professionals whose skills and training could assist the government in its efforts to prevent human rights violation and deliver humanitarian assistance, the authorities should be making every effort to work with them, protect them and support them.

Q. What are the international human rights standards governing the situation ?
As you are already aware, the United Nations has recognized the importance of the work of human rights defenders in the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Declaration on Human Rights Defenders). Besides reaffirming that everyone has the right, and the State has a duty, to promote and strive for the protection of human rights, the Declaration also highlights the responsibility of the State to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders.

Q. How should the human rights defenders respond to the situation ?
They should continue showing their concerns and call the attention of UN protection mechanisms in appropriate ways. These mechanisms are not widely used to the lack of information and unwillingness of the state to guarantee the rights to properly investigate human rights issues and cases of human rights violation. Once they allow a UN special representative to investigate on urgent basis all breaches of rights of human rights defenders, they will be under pressure to act upon her\his recommendations.

Similarly, the establishment of a focal point on human rights defenders can be another important step to begin the full realization of the UN Declaration on defenders. Such a focal point can work to stop the harassment, intimidation, torture and even killings of human rights defenders in the country, and ultimately strengthen the protections available to human rights defenders, consistent with internationally recognized standards.

What is clear is that in the absence of credible, independent monitoring, the risk on human rights defenders have substantially increased in Nepal these days.

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