An interesting annual report from AHRC on Nepal.
The state of human rights in 2012
Nepal’s Constituent Assembly / Legislative Parliament dissolved at midnight on May 28, 2012, plunging the country’s constitutional creation, and thereby human rights framework, into extended limbo. The Assembly was dissolved after it failed to usher in a new constitution for Nepal, and though its mandate had been extended four times from two to four years. With the legislative authority of Nepal dissolved, pieces of legislation essential to the protection of human rights have been put on hold, and so has fundamental debate on the structuring and strengthening of democratic institutions in the country. Thus, democratic institutions have faced slow erosion through the year, bringing the development of a human rights protection framework to a standstill.
In November 2011, a special five member bench, headed by the Chief Justice, had authorized the Constituent Assembly’s tenure to be extended one last time for a period of six months. In spite of this, and amidst continuing disagreement about the federalist structure of the state, the government registered a bill seeking to amend the Interim Constitution, to extend the Constituent Assembly’s deadline by another three months. On May 24, the Supreme Court issued an interim order against the move to extend the Constituent Assembly’s mandate, and on 28 May the Prime Minister announced the dissolution of the Assembly, and the holding of fresh elections on November 22. But, elections have proven impossible to organize within such a short period of time, and at the time of writing, among calls for resignation of the government, and never-ending attempts to forge a consensus among political parties, the political developments of Nepal seems to have hit yet another impasse. A partial budget had to be released through ordinances and the Prime Minister announced fresh elections for May but no long-term solutions to the impasse seem to have been found.
The increased proliferation of bandhs (shut-downs) in the lead up to May 28, suggests the national political parties may be losing their leverage over protest groups they had earlier helped organize. Nepal’s far-western region was subjected to crippling bandhs for some 30 days in May, which, concomitant to disrupting daily life, hampered access to essential services including food and medicine, affecting the most vulnerable and the sick. Concerns raised about possible eruption of violence following the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly – which, thankfully, did not materialize – have lead the public to favour the current extended state of limbo over tense and destabilizing political developments.
Promises of a federal state, which had become a symbol of a larger agenda of inclusion to compensate centuries of hill Brahmin and Chhetri monopoly of state structure, have proven to be the very stumbling block that led to the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly once it became apparent that the political parties were not eager to deliver on their promises.
The failure of an overhaul of the state structure, to ensure equal participation of all citizens, should not only to be analyzed in terms of power stakes, but also in terms of institutional deficiencies to develop an inclusive, democratic, transparent, and rational decision-making process, which can effectively take into account and protect the different interests and rights of all the components of Nepali society.
What the last few months of the Constituent Assembly have shown is that the interest groups who managed to show enough force, or who were more privileged, were able to sign agreements, with the government yielding to their demands. This reflects the piecemeal approach that has characterized Nepali politics since the end of the conflict: the demands of the most organised and vocal are heeded, the isolated and vulnerable communities ignored.
The Nepali people’s trust in their political institutions and in major political parties has considerably eroded, as these have visibly placed their own political interests and objectives ahead of the aspirations of the people they have claimed to represent.
The role played by the judiciary in dissolving the Constituent Assembly has also brought it under fire from political actors, for allegedly exceeding jurisdiction. This has led to a reduction in the role played by the judiciary since May 28. The risk of backlash against the judiciary, which may strengthen calls to reduce its independence and strength, remains a concern.