Nepal: UN review critical moment to address obstructed civic freedoms

Statement on Nepal ahead of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

CIVICUS calls on UN member states to urge the Government of Nepal to double its efforts to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN Human Rights Council on 21 January 2021 as part of the 37th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

At the county’s second UPR five years ago, UN member states made three recommendations that directly related to civic space. Nepal subsequently committed to taking concrete measures to create a safe and enabling environment in which journalists, media workers, human rights defenders and civil society can operate freely. The government also agreed to ensure that freedom of assembly is guaranteed, and to ensure the right to freedom of expression including by decriminalizing defamation, and to investigate all cases of threats and attacks against journalists and human rights defenders. In a joint report to this UPR cycle, CIVICUS and Freedom Forum assessed the implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years.

Despite commitments made, repressive laws, including amendments made to Nepal’s criminal code, have been used to limit the work of independent CSOs and suppress freedom of expression. The government has continued to introduce legislation that could restrict the work of CSOs unwarrantedly and that risks undermining freedom of association.

‘We are seriously concerned by the lack of progress made with regards to the implementation of last cycle’s recommendations. This highlights the importance of using the UPR to reiterate to Nepal that its continued shortcomings in policy and practice relating to civic rights are unacceptable,’ said David Kode, Advocacy lead at CIVICUS.

Ongoing attacks against journalists continues to undermine civic space in the country. Since 2015, there have still been a number of physical attacks on human rights defenders and journalists, while others have been subjected to judicial harassment. In particular, the 2006 Electronic Transactions Act has often been misused to prosecute online journalists as well as government critics. There are also concerns about the Media Council and Public Broadcasting bill which could affect press freedom.

‘The UPR process is an opportunity to build on human rights achievements as well as to hold governments to account. A mechanism to protect journalists is welcome and necessary, but is only a first step – authorities must commit to fully investigate all attacks against media workers and to repeal or amend all restrictive laws which undermine freedom of expression,’ said David Kode.

Peaceful protests continue to be met with excessive force and arbitrary arrests. Authorities have limited public space to prevent assemblies from gathering to express dissent against government policies.

In the joint report, CIVICUS and Freedom Forum urged states to make recommendations which if implemented would guarantee the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, the right to operate free from unwarranted state interference, the right to communicate and cooperate, the right to seek and secure funding and the state’s duty to protect.

Key recommendations that should be made include:

  • To remove all undue restrictions on the ability of CSOs to receive international and domestic funding
  • To undertake a full consultation with all concerned stakeholders on the proposed law regulating ‘social organisations’, and the proposed National Integrity Policy, and guarantee that when enacted, undue restrictions on the freedom of association are removed
  • To ensure that HRDs are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or legal and administrative harassment.
  • To amend the Electronic Transactions Act and the proposed Information Technology bill designed to replace it, to bring it into line with the ICCPR and other international standards
  • To review the criminal code in order to ensure that legislation is in line with best practices and international standards in the area of the freedom of expression, looking particularly at sections 293, 294, 295, 298 and 306.
  • To reform defamation legislation in conformity with article 19 of the ICCPR, in accordance with the recommendation of the taskforce.
  • To immediately and impartially investigate all instances of extrajudicial killing and excessive force committed by security forces while monitoring protests.

The examination of Nepal will take place during the 37th Session of the UPR. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, which examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council.

Civic space in Nepal is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, see country page.