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FOCUS December 2001 Volume 26

National Human Rights Commission: Nepal Experience

Jogendra K Ghimire

As a national institution established in line with the Paris Principles, the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal is an autonomous institution, established by a 1997 Act of Parliament.1) The five members of the Commission enjoy security of tenure and can be removed from office only through impeachment by the House of Representatives. They enjoy a term of five years, eligibility for reappointment, and salaries and facilities not less than that of judges of the Supreme Court.2)

Mandate

The enabling Act grants a fairly broad mandate to the Commission, which can generally be grouped into two principle functionsムpromotion and protection. (Sections 9 and 11 of the Act). Under Section 11 of the Act, the Commission, "... while inquiring into the petition or complaints or reports within its jurisdiction, [has] the same powers as a court may have under the prevailing laws of Nepal..."

Autonomy

Theoretically, the Commission enjoys complete statutory autonomy, and is free from any kind of government interference. Functional autonomy, as the Commission is learning the hard way, is a rather tricky phenomenon, and slightly difficult to attain. The functional autonomy of the Commission has been affected due to lack of two primary resources: 1) requisite staff and 2) finances.

Finances: During the fiscal year 2000-2001, the Commission received from the government an allocation of five million Nepali rupees (around 66,000 US dollars). The allocation was made amidst the recommendation of a government-appointed task force, headed by the secretary at the Cabinet Secretariat, for a budget in excess of 1.6 million Nepali rupees for the Commission's first year of operation, considering that the infrastructural needs during the first year are bound to be high. For the current fiscal year (2001-2002) the government has again allocated five million Nepali rupees, which will not even be enough to meet the Commission's basic administrative costs. The Commission requested for a budget of over twenty nine million rupees, considering its requirements in the early years. In the absence of sufficient funding from the government, the Commission has been forced to seek outside resources for most of its promotional and research initiatives.

Staffing: The Commission presently has twenty-one staff members that include the Secretary, ten professional staff and ten support staff. Considering the need to investigate over four hundred complaints of rights violation, and the need to carry out a host of promotional, legislative and policy work, the number of staff is miniscule. Insufficient funds from the government constrained the recruitment of staff. Four of the ten professional staff presently working with the Commission are government officers on deputation from their respective departments (generally on a three-month duration). Considering that the government has not shown a great deal of eagerness to sufficiently fund the Commission to enable it to recruit new staff, the Commission thinks that more staff should be brought from the government on deputation. The government appears reluctant even to heed this request, but the matter is yet to be settled.

NHRC and the Government

Barring a few instances of public expression of displeasure by some government senior officials, government officials have generally been positive in their views about the Commission.3) However, there is an acute lack of cooperative spirit among the civil servantsムin particular those associated with the Home Office and the policeムwhen it comes to providing information to the Commission. There are several instances of the police providing false information to the Commission, especially on illegal arrest cases. In one case, the Commission directed that the families of the victims be compensated to the tune of 100,000 Nepali rupees each, and that the chief district officer and the chief of police in the district pay five percent and two and half percent respectively of the total amount, with the rest to be borne by the government. The Home Ministry reported back after three months, saying the entire sum had been borne by the government, thus defeating the purpose of the NHRC in holding the officials individually liable for the human rights violation.

 

NHRC and the Civil Society

The Commission enjoys a great deal of confidence and support of the civil society and the human rights community. Almost all of the Commission's promotional activities have had the active participation and support from the NGOs and many complaints of human rights violation reached the Commission through them.

orking with the civil society, however, is not free from tricky situations and unrealistic expectations. There is a tendency among NGOs to criticize the government for virtually every ill under the sun, and to expect quick-fix solutions to complicated instances of human rights violation. At times, there are expressions of impatience even with the due process.

Challenges/Opportunities

Following are some challenges and opportunities facing the Commission:

  1. Unrealistic expectations from the Commission. The means of the Commission, financial as well as human, are limited. The general population expect the Commission to accomplish almost everything. Cases, for example, involving economic, social or cultural rights, which may not be easily enforceable in a court of law, are brought to the Commission with the expectation of immediate and direct remedy. It would be great if the Commission could pass directives after directives to meet those expectations and if the government agencies acted according to the directives.
  2. Confidence and respect for the Commission. Since most of the state organs do not deliver to the people the services they are xpected to do, the Commission can have a very good name in public psyche by just doing its work right.
  3. Avoidance of becoming a government NGO. If government funding is not forthcoming, the Commission will inevitably have to look for outside funds for all of its activities, including even some of the administrative expenses. That could be fatal to the Commission's development as an effective state institution for human rights. It can become a government NGO. Excessive reliance on donor money will affect the independence and autonomy of the Commission

With funding comes the required procedures and project management of individual donors, which may not be to the liking of the Commission. The best scenario is for the government to bear the Commission's entire administrative as well as program costs. In the absence of that, the government should bear at least one hundred percent of the administrative costs, leaving the Commission to look for funds for programs/projects. Funding for non-administrative work of the Commission will be forthcoming from the donors at least for the first few years.

Conclusion

One of the notable achievements of the Commission during its first fifteen months is the finalization of a project on capacity development of the Commission. The 1.5 million US dollar project will be primarily used for the physical infrastructure of the Commission -- from vehicles to computers to overhead projectors to the international communication system -- and training and international exposure of the Commission members and some senior staff, as well as for advisory, promotional and investigative functions. It proposes extensive use of international as well as some national consultants. It is coordinated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and will have financial support from several donor governments, as well as a number of UN agencies. The project now awaits administrative approvals within the UN system as well as His Majesty's Government of Nepal. If that goes well, and if the Commission can convince the government to fund its administrative costs, the going could be smooth in the administrative front. In the absence of that, a smooth and effective functioning of the Commission is unlikely to materialize.

Jogendra K Ghimire was the Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (Nepal) during the 2000 September ミ 2001 October period. He is presently with the Centre for Comparative and Public Law, The University of Hong Kong.

For further information about the Commission please contact: National Human Rights Commission, Harihar Bhavan, Kathmandu, GPO Box 6312 Kathmandu, Nepal, ph (9771) 525 659, 547978; fax (9771) 525 842, 547973; e-mail: nhrc@ntc.net.np

Endnote

  1. Human Rights Commission Act, 1997.
  2. Sections 4-7, id.
  3. Sher Bahadur Deuba, the present prime minister, for example, in a meeting with the Chair, Members and Secretary of the Commission, said he would provide the Commission with all the necessary resources, and allocate extra finances if necessary.

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