January Analysis: Human Rights, Gender and Social Inclusion

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In the front of Human rights, gender and social inclusion, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Health Ministry came up with strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as the cases started escalating in the country. The provision of mandatory vaccine card was introduced to avail the government services. However, it was observed that this provision further restricts the marginalized people who are deprived from citizenship access, and thereby access to vaccine to avail the government services. Additionally, cases of failure to conduct a fair investigation in criminal cases and delay in judicial proceeding of rape cases has undermined the dispensation of justice this month. The preliminary results of the National Census-2078 BS (2021) was also announced towards the end of this month.

Timeline of Major Events

DateEvents
5 January 2022Ruby Khan launched repeated rounds of protests to push the government into taking proper responsibility for the justice of Nirmala Kurmi.
10 January 2022Stateless Nepali Citizens staged a sit-in protest demanding the government to provide citizenship.
10 January 2022Vaccination Certificate mandatory to use public amenities from January 21.
12 January 2022Citizenship certificate is a prerequisite to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
13 January 2022Pervasive culture of impunity remains a serious concern undermining human rights in Nepal.
16 January 2022District court of Dhanusha ignores High Court order to end rape case through ‘fast track’.  
25 January 2022National Human Rights Commission: Not to deprive anyone of service if people cannot produce the vaccination certificate.
26 January 2022Gongbu gang-rape: Nine accused sent to Judicial Custody.
26 January 2022The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) under the National Planning Commission has published the preliminary results of the National Census-2078 BS (2021).

Vaccination Programs Inclusive?

The Health Ministry, on 29 December launched a campaign to vaccinate at least 500,000 adults over the age of 18. Contrary to the plan, the number of fully vaccinated people per day increased by a meagre 0.3 percent. According to health experts, bureaucratic hassles have led to slowing down of the vaccination pace. Citizenship certificate is mandatory to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Consequently, Stateless people may be excluded from vaccination programs. In the context of Nepal, despite mechanisms for compulsory and free vaccination, certain groups encounter challenges on the ground due to the lack of citizenship documents.

The intended purpose of the citizenship card is to keep track of those who have been vaccinated.  But, given that millions of people in Nepal lack proof of legal identity, the imposition of this condition may jeopardize the efficacy of the vaccination campaign thereby making the country susceptible to Covid-19. It can therefore be argued that for the vaccination campaign to be effective, vaccination programs need to be inclusive.

Likewise, the Ministry of Home Affairs on 13 January issued an order to make vaccination certificates mandatory to use public amenities and access to government services, effective from January 21. It may be argued that the decision was made without keeping in mind the ground situation.  For an instant, the issue of “digital divide”, where not every household in the country has access to internet facilities or digital applications. How will an illiterate laborer get electronic vaccination registered for himself/herself? Has the government established a community center in rural areas where a person can get registered for a vaccination certificate without any hassle? If so, is it effective? These are some major questions unanswered so far from the fine print of the policy text.

Distribution of masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19 by Nepal Police. Photo: RSS

Furthermore, in the country where only 41.6% (as of 27 Jan 2021) of population is vaccinated, the decision to show vaccination certificate to avail services is discriminatory against those who are not vaccinated due to adequacy of the state mechanism which may include shortage of syringes; logistical-confusion; shortage of vaccines. People from Upper Dolpa are deprived of public services including vaccines due to heavy snowfall.

Understanding the gravity of the situation, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has asked the government not to deprive anyone of service if they cannot produce the certificate.  The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has urged the government to provide a hassle-free vaccination service and access to basic medicines. But the NHRC is silent on the issue of persons encountering challenges to get vaccination due to the lack of citizenship.

Dereliction of Duties

Ruby Khan’s arduous battle for justice to end impunity for violence against women

The protest which was launched by Ruby Khan along with 13 other protesters from Nepalgunj in the month of September 2021, finally concluded on 4 January 2022. The protesters had to launch repeated rounds of protests as the government was unsuccessful in performing the promises stipulated in the first agreement signed on 19 October 2021.

Following the first agreement, a six- member investigation committee, led by the joint secretary of the Home Ministry, was formed to investigate the case of the suspicious death of Nakunni Dhobi and disappearance of Nirmala Kurmi and submit an investigation report within a week.  While the case of Nakuni Dhobi is ongoing at Banke District Court, it has been alleged that the government failed to diligently investigate the case of Nirmala Kurmi. The police arrested seven accused on the charge of abducting and killing Nirmala Kurmi, but never arrested the prime suspect- Badshah Kurmi, a Nepali Congress leader; contesting for Banke district president. Unsatisfied with the investigation, the protesters demanded that the government send a team from the Central Investigative Bureau (CIB) to investigate the case of Nirmala Kurmi.Finally on 4th January,  a second agreement was signed,  where after  the home ministry gave orders to the police headquarters to send the CIB team to further investigate the case.

Despite several pieces of evidence against Badshah Kurmi, it appears that his political affiliation has fetched him apparent impunity in the case. A pervasive culture of impunity and accountability for abuses remains a serious concern undermining human rights in Nepal. This was one of the serious issues raised by the International Human Rights bodies in their 2021 annual report.

Excessively long delays in Rape Trails

A rape case of a 14 year old girl which was registered in the district court on 22 May, 2019, has been postponed 17 times. The district judges: Binod Khatiwada, Krishnamurari Shivakoti and Bhishmaraj Prasaihave been adjourning the hearing despite the order from the High Court of Janakpur to end rape case through ‘fast track’. Victim’s father is apprehensive that prolonged trial of rape will weakened the case resulting in an acquittal of accuse.

Excessively long delays in criminal trial cases could result in grave miscarriage of justice thereby violating the victim’s fundamental right to live with dignity and integrity. Considering the vulnerability of women and child victims of rape and sexual violence, special and extensive rules are required to achieve effective justice.The time has come to question the administration as to why and when the fast track process for rape cases would be implemented.

Gongabu gang-rape: Nine accused sent to Judicial Custody.

On the evening of 28 December 2021, a 34-year-old woman from Surkhet, who came to the capital city in search of employment was gang-raped at Kathmandu’s New Bus Park. According to the victim’s statement, she was raped at three different hotels at Gongabu by 10 men from the evening of 28 December to the next day. The police on 29 December 2022, arrested nine people from different parts of Kathmandu based on the CCTV footage. However, the person who promised to give her a job is still absconding. According to the police, the absconding person may have brought the victim into the contact of nine people. Among the arrested are:  Hikmat Nepali, Ratan Nepali, Suresh Sejwal, Deepak Nepali, Shivahari Budha, Yuvraj Baduwal, Hast Nepali, Chandra Saud and Gopal Shirish.

On 26 January 2022, a single-judge bench of Kathmandu District Court led by Judge Ram Chandra Poudel issued an order to remand the nine accused to the judicial custody. However, the three hotel operators who were also made co-defendants in the present case were released on bail of Nrs. 3,00,000.

National Census 2078 BS (2021)

The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) under the National Planning Commission published the preliminary results of the National Census-2078 BS (2021) on 26 January. The population of Nepal has reached 29.91 million 192 thousand 480 (up by 2.6 million since 2011). Of which 14 million 901 thousand 169 (51.04%) are women and 14 million 291 thousand 311 (48.96%) are men. The gender ratio (the number of males per 100 females) is 95.91.

Population growth rate is 0.93% (down from 1.35%) which is the lowest in the last 80 years. Decrease in the birth rate and out-migration has been viewed as the reason behind low population growth rate. However, Nepal’s out-migrated population is not as large considering the fact that ten years ago, a total of 1,921,494 people were living abroad most of the time and at present it is 2,169,478.

Modern education has made people look at life differently which has led to accelerated decline in birth rate. Nevertheless, declining birth rates is a matter of concern for the nation because it brings about a tilt in the demographic dividend which works to the detriment of the country’s economic growth.

Criticism

Critics have raised their doubts over the census results. The data is challenged by some based on the fact that a year and a half ago the Central Statistics Office had made public the estimated details of Nepal’s population exceeding 30 million. On 26 June 2020, the population clock of the department showed that the population of Nepal was 30 million 630 thousand and 4.  Furthermore, the Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA), a common organization of Nepalis around the world, has been claiming that 8 million Nepalis are living abroad contrary to government results which shows 2,169,478. Questions have been raised regarding the credibility of the census and if the census was carried out in a scientific manner. Despite the allegations, the statistics department has stated that the data collection is accurate and factual.

Geography Wise Population

 At present, 53.66 percent of the population lives in Tarai compared to 50.27 percent 10 years ago.  The result shows the population in Tarai increased by 3.39 percent.

At present, 6.09 percent of the population lives in the mountainous region compared to 6.73 percent 10 years ago and 40.25 percent lives in the hilly region compared to 43.01 percent 10 years ago. The result shows the population in mountainous and hilly regions decreased by 0.64 percent and by 2.76 respectively.

According to experts, employment, education, accessibility and infrastructure are some of the major factors for migration from hilly and mountainous regions to Tarai. In addition to that, experts are also of the opinion that procreation among the indigenous community residing in Tarai can be a factor towards increase in the rate of population in Tarai as no decline was observed in the rate of procreation. The same is not the case with the hilly and mountainous regions.

Province wise population

Madhes at present accommodates 20.99 percent of the country’s total population. According to experts, uncontrolled migration could lead to series sociological, economic and political consequences in Madhes: They have cited the following consequences: (i) confrontation between the migrant population and the local residents; (ii) loss of farmland which may impact the country’s food security; (iii) rise in population may increase political representation of the Tarai which may lead to a decrease in the number of electoral constituencies in the hilly region and reduce political representations in the legislative bodies.

The experts have also listed positive aspects of migration to Tarai. Hill population shifts to the Tarai may change the existing mindset of discrimination against the residents of Tarai.  If a good political culture develops, the intermingling of hill people in the Terai can lead to positive political results.

Despite the positive and negative aspects of migration, all three levels of Governments are equally accountable for implementation, development and income generation plans in order to facilitate a habitable environment for the people of Tarai, and hilly and mountainous areas.

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