Impunity for rights abuses could derail Nepal's peace process, warns UN official

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay

22 March 2009 – The United Nations human rights chief warned today that Nepal's peace process could be at risk unless justice is ensured for victims of past and ongoing abuses.

During her five-day visit to Nepal, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay met several families whose loved ones were victims of serious rights violations, both during and after the decade-long civil war that claimed some 13,000 lives before it ended in 2006.

“Human rights were violated in these cases in Nepal, and under international law the State has a responsibility to ensure that the families obtain truth and justice,” she told a news conference in the capital, Kathmandu.

“The demands of victims' families are not mere wishes they are supported by law,” she stressed. “And until these demands for justice are fulfilled and accountability for past, and in particular ongoing, violations is ensured, a truly new Nepal will not emerge, and indeed, the peace process could be jeopardised.”

The civil conflict came to an end in 2006 with the signing of a peace accord between the Government and Maoists, with the parties also agreeing to set up of a commission on disappearances and a truth and reconciliation commission.

In voicing her support for the establishment of a disappearance commission, Ms. Pillay emphasized that it must not be a “token body.” Rather, victims should be consulted in the process of setting it up and it should be given all the protection and powers by Parliament to make it meaningful.

The High Commissioner also voiced her alarm at the detention and “arbitrary action” taken against many journalists in the South Asian nation. She urged the Government to take concrete steps to ensure the security of human rights defenders, including journalists, “who are the first line in defence of the human rights of all Nepalis.”

In addition to victims of human rights violations and families of victims, Ms. Pillay also held discussions with Government officials, including the President and Prime Minister, as well as members of human rights bodies, civil society, the diplomatic corps and the UN system. She also travelled outside the capital to Janakpur in the central Terai region.

The High Commissioner hailed the progress Nepal has made since the conflict ended, while encouraging it to grasp the “historic opportunity” to prove itself as a leader in implementing its human rights commitments.

“Above all, the Nepalese people, who have suffered long years of deprivation and denial as a result of the conflict, are entitled to have their human rights respected and fulfilled,” she said.

Ms. Pillay added that she is seeking a three-year extension of the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR-Nepal). “I believe the work of my Office will support Nepal's efforts to address the remaining challenges of the peace process and the human rights issues that were both a cause and a consequence of the conflict.”

This is the High Commissioner's first visit to Asia, and she is now in India for a two-day visit, during which she will meet with the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Home Affairs, as well as with other senior Government officials and members of the judiciary. She will also give a keynote lecture, hosted by India's National Human Rights Commission.


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