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Nepal: Constituent Assembly must urgently revise Constitution Bill to guarantee human rights
Nepal’s Constituent Assembly must ensure that the new Constitution Bill contains strong and effective protections for all human rights in accordance with Nepal’s international legal obligations, said the ICJ today.
The Constituent Assembly endorsed a Constitutional Bill last week.
As per the CA Rules of Procedure, CA members have until 5 September to submit proposals for amendments.
“This draft includes some improvements from earlier versions, but it needs serious revisions to meet international standards regarding human rights protections,” said Nikhil Narayan, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser for South Asia.
“As an immediate matter, the Constituent Assembly must extend the 5 September deadline, and provide adequate time for public consultation and discussion of this essential legal text,” he added.
The ICJ released a detailed briefing paper in July 2015 analyzing provisions of the Draft Constitution on citizenship, fundamental rights and judicial independence, in light of Nepal’s international human rights obligations.
The ICJ also highlighted the non-inclusive and non-representative nature of the constitution-making process.
Many of those concerns still remain and must be addressed urgently, including:
- Non-citizens are excluded from key rights and protections. For example, Articles 18 (right to equality), 25 (right to property), 27 (right to information), 31 (right to education), 33 (right to employment), 35 (right to health), 36 (right to food), 37 (right to housing), and 43 (right to social security) are all restricted to citizens. These protections must be extended to all persons under Nepal’s jurisdiction, not only citizens, in accordance with Nepal’s international obligations;
- The right to gender equality under women’s rights (particularly in article 38) is not adequately protected. For example, the Constitution should include explicit guarantees for equal pay for work of equal value, and prohibit multiple, intersecting grounds of discrimination on basis of gender and sexual orientation, caste, religion, etc;
- Key economic, social and cultural rights – including in articles 33 and 34 (employment and labour), 35 (health), 37 (housing), and 43 (social security) – are not adequately protected;
- Restrictions and limitations on the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement, information and press freedom, are broad and vague and do not conform with international human rights standards (including articles 17 and 19 and 27);
- Provisions on remedy for human rights violations (articles 46 and 47) are inadequate;
- Provisions regarding the impeachment of judges (articles 101, 130 and 131) and composition of the Judicial Council (as in article 153, responsible for the appointment, disciplining and dismissal of judges) fail to safeguard judicial independence;
- Provisions on emergencies and consequent restriction of rights are overbroad (as in article 268(10)).
The ICJ noted some improvements in the current draft, such as:
- Making any person whose father or mother is a Nepali citizen eligible for citizenship through descent. Previous drafts required both parents to be Nepali citizens;
- Guaranteeing a broader range of women’s rights, including the right to reproductive health;
- Revising the understanding of victim’s rights to ensure that victims of crime are entitled to “justice including compensation and restitution”;
- Adding more rights to the list of those designated as non-derogable rights during emergencies – including the right to social justice (as contained in article 42 of the Constitution Bill, which amongst other things, guarantees the rights of marginalized groups to participate “in the state structure and public service on the basis of principle of proportional inclusion”), and the rights of dalits (as contained in article 40 of the Constitution Bill, which contains guarantees of equality and non-discrimination).
“While these amendments are welcome, more revisions are necessary,” said Narayan. “The CA must ensure that the constitution-making process is participatory and inclusive. It should provide enough time and opportunities to make necessary amendments and produce a Constitution that fully ensures human rights protections and judicial independence.”
Nepal’s major political parties have stated publicly that they hope to have the Constitution finalized and enacted in mid-September.
However, many political parities and communities have been protesting against the Constitution since the introduction of the new Bill.
On 9 August, three protestors were killed when police fired at protestors violating curfew in Birendranagar, Surkhet.
One protestor was killed and five others were injured when police opened fire during a strike on 18 August.
On 24 August, eight police officers were killed during protests in Kailali district, and over 40 members of the security forces were badly injured.
“The deadly violence that has accompanied escalating protests across Nepal against this Draft is a warning about the high stakes for the drafters of the Constitution,” said Narayan. “The new Constitution should be the platform for bringing the country together after years of conflict, not serve as a new cause for discontent and insecurity.”
The ICJ called on the government of Nepal to conduct prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into all protest-related deaths and injuries.
Where unlawful conduct is established, including by members of the security forces, those responsible must be brought to justice.
Nikhil Narayan, Nepal Head of Office and ICJ Senior Legal Adviser, t: +977 9813187821, e: nikhil.narayan(a)icj.org