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Who will save NHRC?

Who will save NHRC?

“Human rights are not negotiable items that companies and governments are permitted to eliminate by contract.” 

That’s a quote from Andrea Shemberg, a former legal adviser to Amnesty International UK. 

Here’s one more, from Maximilien Robespierre, “Any law which violates the indefeasible rights of man is in essence unjust and tyrannical, it is no law.” 

There is virtually no aspect of our work that does not have a human rights dimension. Whether we are talking about peace and security, development, humanitarian action, the struggle against terrorism, climate change, none of these challenges can be addressed by ignoring human rights.

We know that the French Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) was the first document, which referred to social, economic and cultural rights, rights to education, work, property and social protection.

In 1941, the Atlantic Charter was declared, which made way for an International Bill of Rights (1942-45) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 Dec 1948. 

Article 25.1 of UDHR states:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social service and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” 

The International Commission on  Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1976  and International  Commission on Economical, Social and Cultural Rights 1976 oblige signatory nations to ensure human rights and so does UDHR. 

Nepal is also a party to international human rights conventions, covenants and protocols.

Worryingly, appointments made to the National Human Rights Commission, the constitutional rights watchdog, have failed to meet national and international standards, including those outlined in the Paris Principles. 

After conducting a review for two consecutive years, a Ganhri Subcommittee on accreditation (SCA) in October last year recommended downgrading NHRC to the “B’’ category. Notably, one of the commissioners is requesting the government to amend the relevant Act and give NHRC more authority in line with the Paris Principles to avoid this action. The rights watchdog, caught in deep sleep for long, seems to have woken up and has begun blaming the state for failing to defend its appointments. A statement from the appointees reads, “Our appointments alone are not responsible for the downgrading. The government’s failure to strongly defend the appointments before the United Nations Human Rights Committee is primarily responsible for the Ganhri action. 

A bad carpenter quarrels with his tools.

Let’s go back a little bit to understand the crisis better. 

The Constitutional Council under the then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had  nominated chairpersons and members at various constitutional bodies, including the NHRC, on the basis of the Constitutional Council Act revised through an ordinance on 15 Dec 2020. The then President, Bidya Devi Bhandari, subsequently appointed the chair and four commissioners at the NHRC on 3 Feb 2021 on the government’s recommendations. 

Even during the reign of King Gyanendra, NHRC was not in such a sorry state. The SCA is bound to review the commission’s present status following complaints from several human rights bodies, chiefly over the appointments of NHRC officials. 

In the reviews conducted in 2021 and 2022 also, the Ganhri commission had recommended downgrading NHRC, pointing at the unconstitutional appointment process. NHRC’s ‘inability’ to safeguard minority rights did not help either. Add to it all half-a-dozen writ petitions challenging the ordinance and the appointment process that are sub-judice in the Supreme Court as well as civil society organizations’ dissatisfaction with the working process of NHRC.

Against this backdrop, who will come to the rescue of the constitutional rights body? 

The author is a former member of NHRC