November Analysis: Human Rights, Gender and Social Inclusion

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Nepal conducted its 12th National Census from 11 to 25 November 2021 after the promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal, 2015. At least for the next 10 years, political disclosure on inclusion is determined by the census results. There still remains doubts about census ability to conduct such a massive poll without sacrificing quality and maintaining authenticity. The month of November also marked two important dates. First, International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women. The national slogan of this year’s 16-day campaign against gender-based violence is “Orange the World: End Violence against Women.” Second, 15 years of signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Blame game and argument over jurisdiction by the Transitional Justice Commissions have delayed the justice process for thousands of conflict victims in Nepal. Finally, lawyers and Supreme Court judges launched their protest on 25 October demanding the resignation of Chief Justice Rana. Ongoing stalemate in the judiciary has deprived the people of their human and fundamental rights to access justice.

Timeline of Major Events

DateMajor Events
1 NovemberSupreme Court judges ‘agree’ to look into habeas corpus cases after 8 days of agitation.
10 November12th national census will add personal features including those of persons with disabilities.
11 NovemberNational Census 2021 begins from 11 November.
11 NovemberEnumerators alleged to use pencil while filling out the forms, instead of ink pen.
12 NovemberInternational human rights groups call for an end to the Nepal Supreme Court crisis.
15 November Lawyers ratchet up protest. Judges in bid to find a middle path out of court row.
16 NovemberChiefs of eight constitutional commissions call for talks to end the Supreme Court crisis.
16 NovemberMain census questionnaire does not recognise queer people.
16 NovemberIndigenous people’s objection to asking arbitrary questions in the census, request to correct.
11 NovemberEnumerators alleged to use pencil while filling out the forms, instead of ink pen.
17 NovemberEnumerator arrested for listing wrong religion despite being told that they are Buddhists.
20 NovemberFour international rights bodies call on Nepal to act on peace pact pledges.
21 NovemberConflict victims losing patience—and lives—in waiting for justice.
21 NovemberThe National Human Rights Commission demands end to impunity through justice delivery.
22 NovemberPeace process far from complete: Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda).
23 NovemberTransitional justice bodies spar over who should look into which cases.
24 NovemberProtest against chief justice continues.
25 November16 Day Campaign Against Gender-based Violence
25 NovemberThe rights bodies called on the Spanish government to open an investigation against Aagni Sapkota’s under International Jurisdiction.
26 NovemberImplement law effectively to end Violence against Women: President Bidya Bhandari.

12th National Census and Politics of Population

Central Bureau of Statistics Director-General Nebin Lal Shrestha. Photo: RSS

Nepal conducted its 12th National Census from November 11 to 25 2021. First census after the country transitioned to a federal republic. Thus, census is based on the principle of inclusion as enshrined in the preamble of the Constitution of Nepal 2015. People headcount were done on the basis of the ethnicity, language, religion, sex, social class, geology, disability, age, income and gender or gender minorities.

Two additional ethnic group – Rana Tharu and Bahumihar has been included to the census this time, increasing the total number of ethnic groups to 127. For the first time in the census, people of gender minorities are counted as ‘third gender.’ The government has added new categories in the census of people of disability which includes haemophilia, autism, complete blindness, and deafness.

Controversial remarks regarding the methodology of census and the negligence committed by the enumerators was widespread. The enumerators of the census have been alleged to use pencil while filling out the forms, instead of ink pen. This raises a question on the credibility of the census. Use of pencil is considered dubious by the citizens as they fear their answers may be altered later for political benefit. The Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities issued a statement alleging the census enumerators did not ask the questions on language and religion and themselves filled in the answers to the questions. An incident took place in Lamjung, where an enumerator was apprehended because he/she listed their religion as Hindu despite being told that they are Buddhists. Citizens also showed discontentment towards the set of questionnaires.  LGBT community raised their grievance regarding the questionnaire as the questionnaire did not recognize queer people and categorized the head of the household only as man or woman, not listing themselves based on their gender identity. Questions were raised on the method of counting caste-ethnicity (jaat-jaati) by the enumerators, where they allegedly presumed the caste and ethnicity of their respondents. According to the enumerator’s handbook, jaat relates to a Hindu caste surname, whereas jaati refers to indigenous ethnicity. However, because the same question seeks to address both jaat and jaati, responding to it can be highly perplexing.

Census have significant implications in Nepali politics mainly because it will determine political and bureaucratic representation of women, Madeshis, Dalits, Indigenous and marginalised community. Census is also an innovative means for developing and executing social innovations aimed at addressing social, geographical and economic issues that affect society. However, citizens have raised their doubts over the census data for under representing people from different categories like religious minorities, language, caste and ethnicity. Thus, census should be free from controversy and doubts.

15th Anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA): Justice Due or Forgotten?

21 November 2021, marked the 15th anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed between the rebel Maoist and then Seven Party Alliance (SPA). The peace agreement signed on 21 November 2006 promised to provide justice for the thousands of victims of the decade-long insurgency. 15 years after the agreement, the victims and their families are still awaiting justice. The International Human Rights Organisations and the National Human Rights Commission have called on the Nepal government to prioritize the interests of victims and provide a credible transitional justice process, adhering to Nepal’s international obligations towards human rights. The stakeholders have urged the government to revise the Enforced Disappeared Persons and Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act in line with the international human rights principle and the verdict of the Supreme Court of Nepal at the earliest. Further, Human rights associations and the organisations of the victims have requested the government to make a public time-line with a clear action plan to conclude the existing process in consultations with the victims.

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Nepal ordered the government to amend Enforced Disappeared Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act in line with the international human rights principle with immediate effect. The Act provided discretionary power to recommend amnesties for those responsible for grave violations or abuses of human rights. Despite the order from the Supreme Court, the Act has not been amended. However, Sher Bahadur Deuba government has pledged to implement the CPA and to amend the Enforced Disappeared Enquiry and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act. But there has not been any progress.

Group of human rights organizations and victims’ associations of Nepal have vehemently condemned Agni Sapkota’s participation in the assembly of the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Spain. He has been allegedly accused of involvement in the crime committed during the Maoist insurgency.

Transitional Justice Bodies Fighting Over Jurisdiction

Conflict victims and human rights defenders have stated that commissions blame game and argument over jurisdiction have delayed the justice process for thousands of conflict victims in Nepal. The government formed two transitional justice commissions six years ago. Both the commission started accepting the complaints from April 2016. However, there appears to be misunderstanding and conflict regarding the jurisdiction amongst the commissions which has delayed the investigation. Cases have been forwarded back and forth between the commissions as they are reluctant to accept such cases arguing that it is not in the commission’s mandate.

16 Day Campaign Against Gender-based Violence

November 25, marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This day also marks the beginning of the 16 days of Activism against Gender-based Violence that lasts till December 10- the International Human Rights Day. The national slogan of this year’s 16-day campaign against gender-based violence is “Orange the World: End Violence Against Women.” President Bidya Bhandari stated that activism is important for public awareness against, evil of Chhaupadi, allegation of witchcraft, discrimination against women, and superstitions.

Woman affiliated with a non-governmental organizations initiated activism at Maiti Ghar chanting “Let’s end violence against women”. One the other side of the road, women from Nepalgunj were appealing for justice for Nakunni Dhobi and Nirmala Kurmi, again. Last month, a group of 14 people led by Rubi Khan, a rights activist, from Banke, walked all the way to Kathmandu demanding justice and truth, after the District Police Office of Banke refused to investigate the case of the Nakunni Dhobi and Nirmala Kurmi. Following the protest, the government had agreed to form a six- member investigation committee lead by the joint secretary of the Home Ministry to investigate the death of Nakunni Dhobi and Nirmala Kurmi within a week. Following the investigation, the police arrested seven accused on the charge of abducting and killing Nirmala Kurmi. However, on 28 November, the seven accused were released on bail. According to Ruby Khan, the case was supposed to be taken to court but the government prosecutor’s office have released the culprit. Ruby Khan feels apprehensive about the one going issue and fears that justice will be denied.

Supreme Court Integrity in Jeopardy

A protest was launched on  25 October against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, demanding his resignation. The lawyers decided to stop the chief justice from entering the Supreme Court. The protest escalated up to an extent where there was a scuffle between lawyers and police and many sustained injuries. Concerned with the ongoing protest against the Chief Justice, the International Human Rights Organisations have called  for an end to the crisis in Nepal’s Supreme Court, by demanding a fair investigation into the allegations against Rana. Similarly, the Chief of eight constitutional commission’s body has appealed to the parties in the dispute to find a solution to the deadlock in the judiciary through mutual dialogue. The ongoing stalemate in the judiciary has resulted in obstruction to the implementation of the constitution, constitutionalism, rule of law, human rights of citizens and exercise of fundamental rights.

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