(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Animosity between human rights bodies causing concern

The decision by 25 key human rights organisations to boycott the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has led to serious concerns in Nepal. It comes at a time when human rights violations are increasing in villages and a number of village-based activists and organisations are worried that human rights work is being hampered by arguments over the legitimacy of the new commission members.

Activists based in Kathmandu say they will not work with the NHRC unless the membership is changed. They say some are pro-monarch and lack experience in human rights work. Last week, the new members were selected by a committee favourable to the king which allegedly did not comply with the Paris Principles For National Institutions. These principles stress the pluralistic representation of rights groups enabling the commission to work independently and impartially.

"In that context, there are understandable concerns about the independence of the new commission and the extent to which it will be able to develop the confidence of NGOs and victims which is essential to effective function [of the NHRC]," Ian Martin, chief of the UN monitoring mission in Nepal, told IRIN in the capital, Kathmandu.

Much of the NHRC's success depends on the support and cooperation of activists who have traditionally been a major source of information for those reporting on human rights abuses, analysts say. Usually, victims in the rural areas contact the local NGOs who in turn report incidents to partner organisations in the capital.

The collated information is finally fed through to the commission in order to bring pressure to bear on the government and the Maoist insurgents who have been waging a violent campaign for the last nine years, which has claimed more than 11,000 lives.

Activists now say that they may never share the same confidentiality in disclosing information because they have little trust in the new commissioners.

"We have stopped giving information to NHRC. This is an ample evidence of our dissociation with the commission," Gopal Siwakoti from the Himalayan Human Rights Monitors (HHRM), a local NGO, told IRIN.

Such antagonism is proving dangerous, according to some independent activists who are urging the NHRC to act immediately to win the confidence of the NGOs.

"Relationship between activists and the commission is getting disastrous. They have to take this fact seriously. NHRC has to really work hard to amend this relationship very soon," Kapil Shrestha, former NHRC member and a prominent activist, explained to IRIN. "There is no time to lose. Human rights violation and impunity are rampant," he added.

The new mission of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal acts as an advisor to the NHRC and is now the last hope for improving the deteriorating relationship between the activists and the commission.

"We need to have discussions with the new commission but I can't anticipate at the moment what the outcome of that will be," Martin explained.

Activists in villages want the matter resolved quickly since it is affecting their work.

"We are having a very difficult time going to the remote areas and monitoring human rights situation. The issue of the commission is only adding more crisis," explained activist Tok Bahadur Khadga from Human Rights Protection Legal Service Centre (HRPLSC) who is based in Rukum district, 300 km northwest of the capital. The district is controlled by Maoist insurgents.

Khadga explained that human rights defenders in villages are constantly threatened and intimidated by both the Maoists and government forces. Both see activists as their enemies.

"Many of us have stopped visiting the most affected conflict villages and this is itself a dangerous sign. It's time for NHRC to start its work independently and fearlessly," he added.

Village activists also say that many abuses remain under-reported due to restrictions on the Kathmandu-based activists visiting rural areas.

Meanwhile, the NHRC said it would do all it could to repair the relationship with the activists.

"One of our priorities will be to sit with the NGOs and bring all the activists together. They can still continue making this a political issue but the commission is urging them to at least unite to work on human rights protection," the new commissioner of NHRC Sudeep Pathak told IRIN.

In the last five years, the NHRC has managed to develop into a strong national body, effectively influencing both the government and Maoists to respect international human rights and humanitarian law.

One of the first initiatives the NHRC established in 2000 was to call on both the government and Maoists to declare a truce. It also played a key role in pressurising the government to allow UN human rights monitoring in the country. It worked closely with the NGOs to expose alleged atrocities by Maoists and also human rights abuses by the security force.

"Human rights violations are increasing and it is time that we should be working together to minimise the violence and killings and pressure both the state and the Maoists. Whatever the commission recommends should be implemented by the government," Pathak maintained.

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