Nearly 70% of people made homeless by the 2015 earthquake remained in temporary shelters. Thousands of people affected by monsoon floods in the Tarai region were not provided with adequate assistance, including housing. Concerns by Indigenous and Madhesi people about clauses they viewed as discriminatory in the 2015 Constitution remained unaddressed. No effective investigations took place into the use of excessive force against protesters in the Tarai. Efforts toward ensuring truth, justice and reparations for thousands of victims of human rights violations committed during the decade-long armed conflict were inadequate. Nepali migrant workers continued to be subjected to extortion, fraud and bonded labour, and were put at risk of further human rights abuse in employment abroad.
Local elections were held for the first time in more than two decades. Parliamentary and provincial elections took place in November and December. In October, Nepal was elected to the UN Human Rights Council.
Right to housing
Hundreds of thousands of survivors from the 2015 earthquake (nearly 70% of those affected) were still living in temporary shelters. The government stipulated proof of land ownership as a condition for receiving a rebuilding grant. However, since up to 25% of the population were considered not to have met this criterion, tens of thousands of the earthquake survivors were ineligible for these grants. The situation primarily affected marginalized and disadvantaged groups, including women, Dalits and other caste-based and ethnic minorities.
In August, a vast area of the southern Tarai was flooded by monsoon rains that killed 143 people and affected 1.7 million others. More than 400,000 people were forced out of their homes, with more than 1,000 homes being completely destroyed. Victims were given inadequate assistance by the government, which blocked attempts to distribute aid privately. Many continued to live in inadequate housing and poor conditions.
Excessive use of force
Security forces continued to use unnecessary or excessive force in response to protests in the Tarai, particularly over grievances relating to the Constitution. In March, five protesters were killed and 16 others injured when police used firearms to disperse Madhesi protesters in Saptari district.
Workers’ rights – migrant WORKERS
The government failed to deliver effective protection for migrant workers and end the culture of impunity for unlawful and criminal recruitment practices. Migrant workers were systematically subjected to unlawful and criminal conduct by recruitment businesses and agents. Recruiters routinely charged migrant workers illegal and excessive fees; deceived them about the terms and conditions of their work abroad; and manipulated their consent to overseas work through the accumulation of recruitment debts. Some recruiters were directly involved in labour trafficking, which is punishable under Nepal’s Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act.
Migrants trapped in forced-labour situations abroad faced extreme difficulty in accessing support from Nepalese embassies in order to return home. Recruiters rarely provided repatriation assistance to workers when they encountered problems abroad despite their obligations under the Foreign Employment Act. The authorities failed to investigate – including through autopsies – the high number of migrant worker deaths during foreign employment.
No improvements were made in the implementation of the government’s “Free visa, free ticket” policy, which was intended to curtail recruitment charges by agencies. Although the government made repeated public commitments to reduce migration costs for workers and to protect them from incurring debt, it increased the burden on migrants by raising pre-departure costs. In July, the Foreign Employment Promotion Board increased the amount migrant workers were required to contribute to the government-administered welfare fund.
Fewer than 100 recruitment agencies were fined or referred to the Foreign Employment Tribunal for violations of Nepal’s foreign employment laws, even though more than 8,000 migrant workers filed cases against recruitment agents. The Foreign Employment Act 2007 stipulates that victims must file their complaints with the Department of Foreign Employment and restricts police from actively investigating recruitment businesses for their violations of Nepal’s criminal legislation. Recruitment businesses continued to use their political influence to prevent investigation, prosecution and redress for their routine abuse and exploitation of migrants.
Torture and other ill-treatment
The criminal investigation system remained archaic and draconian. Torture and other ill-treatment was widespread in pre-trial detention to extract “confessions”.
The new Criminal Code passed by Parliament in August contained provisions criminalizing torture and other ill-treatment, with a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. A separate anti-torture bill, which remained pending in Parliament, fell far short of international legal requirements.
The government did not amend the Investigation of the Disappeared Persons, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act 2014 as ordered by the Supreme Court in 2014 and 2015. By the end of the year, two bodies – the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons – had respectively collected over 60,000 and 3,000 complaints of human rights violations, such as murder, torture and enforced disappearances committed by state security forces and Maoists during the conflict from 1996 to 2006. Effective investigations did not take place. An acute shortage of resources and capacity adversely affected the ability of the two bodies to deliver truth, justice and reparation.
Impunity remained entrenched. Political parties resisted amending transitional justice laws in what was widely perceived as a prioritization of reconciliation and monetary compensation over truth, justice and other reparations, including guarantees of non-repetition. No effective investigations had taken place into the hundreds of killings of demonstrators by security forces since 1990 in various parts of the country, including the Tarai.
Discrimination persisted on the bases of gender, caste, class, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion. Constitutional amendments did not fully guarantee equal rights to citizenship for women, nor provide protection from discrimination to marginalized communities including Dalits and other caste-based and ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.
The provisions for punishment and the statutory limitations relating to rape in the new Criminal Code were still far short of international law and standards. Gender-based discrimination continued to undermine women’s and girls’ ability to control their sexuality and make informed choices related to reproduction; to challenge early and forced marriages; and enjoy adequate antenatal and maternal health care.