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South Asia

ICJ utilizes its strong presence in Kathmandu, along with a network of national advisors, to address problems with the rule of law and accountability in each country in the region as well as on a regional level.There is a strong tradition of independence of judges and lawyers in South Asia, as well as rhetorical support for rule of law, but these sentiments have been tested, and often subverted, under political and security pressures. ICJ works to support this tradition by analyzing legal and practical obstacles and training individuals and institutions, and fostering greater cooperation and support among judges and lawyers.

The region still suffers from serious, systematic and ongoing violations of human rights and the rule of law:

  • Armed conflict continues in several parts of the region (particularly Pakistan and India) with government forces, as well as insurgents, violating international humanitarian law and perpetrating human rights violations, notably unlawful killings and enforced disappearances;
  • Calls for transitional justice (for instance in Nepal and Bangladesh) show the struggle to forge transitional justice mechanisms that will achieve justice yet still promote political stability.
  • Various countries (Pakistan and the Maldives, as examples) struggle to find the correct balance between the judiciary and the other branches of government; and
  • The Sri Lankan government, most notable among regional governments, has so far failed to respond adequately to intense domestic and international pressure to address its crisis of impunity and to account for serious human rights violations perpetrated by all sides to the country’s long conflict.

In response to these crises, as well as systemic weaknesses, ICJ’s work in South Asia focuses on four priority areas:

  • Accountability for serious human rights violations;
  • Access to justice;
  • Independence of the judiciary; and
  • Development and implementation of international and regional human rights instruments.

Accountability for serious human rights violations is a key area of concern in South Asia. Numerous legal, institutional and practical obstacles prevent accountability, and ICJ works at the national and regional levels to dismantle these obstacles, for instance by engaging in key litigation in national courts, and providing regional best practices.

Access to justice is the basic building block in international human rights law: it is both a fundamental principle and an indispensible tool for the realization of all other rights. It is crucial in maintaining rule of law, good governance and individual rights and entitlements within a legal system. Access to justice is illusory, however, if truth, justice and effective remedies are not provided.

An independent judiciary, in many ways, is the linchpin in the rule of law. It safeguards the Constitution and acts as a check against the arbitrary use of power by the executive, legislature and military. It ensures access to justice by holding the state accountable for its actions. And it protects the rights of individuals and minorities. The judiciary must be protected from executive interference, politicization and coercion or intimidation. Without a fully independent judiciary, there can no state accountability, no access to justice and no effective legal remedy.

Nepal Country Office

The ICJ Asia & Pacific Programme established a presence in Nepal in February 2005, following two high-level missions to the country in 2003 and 2004.

Although its work was initially in response to the protection needs of human rights defenders and to the escalating human rights crisis in the context of the war, the ICJ’s focus gradually shifted to supporting Nepali lawyers and the judiciary, constitution and legislation drafting, and transitional justice issues with the beginning of the peace process in 2006.

A broader scope of work

The ICJ has continued to maintain its focus on impunity and accountability for serious crimes and human rights violations committed during the war. At the same time, it has also broadened its work into areas of legal and justice reform as Nepal moves forward in its longer-term democratization process.

Transitional Justice, Accountability and Remedies

In Nepal’s fluid post-conflict political context, important issues – such as those relating to accountability for serious crimes and human rights violations amounting to crimes under international law that were committed during the war – are increasingly being resolved through “political consensus” by a handful of political party leaders, which has had the effect of systematically eroding an already weak rule of law, as well as entrenching impunity for serious crimes and gross human rights violations.

ICJ’s approach:

  • Strengthening the judiciary through continuous engagement, and encouraging the development of a strong Supreme Court human rights jurisprudence
  • Working with Nepali lawyers on strategic litigation
  • Collaborating with national partners on agreed transitional justice issues to sustain a broad platform seeking accountability
  • Engaging with political actors to ensure that outcomes of political processes – such as those relating to the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms – are in compliance with Nepal’s international human rights obligations
  • Carrying out national and international advocacy

Justice Sector Reform

As basic structures of governance are being renegotiated in the post-conflict period, the judiciary has been, and will increasingly be, called upon to adjudicate and mediate between competing claims. The central premise of this strand of the ICJ’s work is to bridge the persistent gap between local communities and the formal justice system: by supporting the Supreme Court of Nepal in realizing a justice system that is worthy of public trust on the one hand; and empowering local communities in articulating demands and accessing remedies for human rights violations on the other.

ICJ’s approach:

  • Producing accurate and reliable research on forms of injustice
  • Encouraging skillful and effective policy dialogue among all concerned stakeholders
  • Engaging in legal action to address ongoing violations
  • Carrying out advocacy to advance reforms