Authorities in Nepal should immediately investigate allegations of indiscriminate and excessive use of force by security forces that has led to four deaths, Human Rights Watch said. The government should also ensure proper protection for the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), whose officials, including commissioner Mohna Ansari and other staff members, recently came under physical assault while in their vehicle while investigating abuses southern Nepal.
Protests have flared up over government announcements of local elections, without the constitutional reforms demanded by the Terai-based political parties, who want more rights for the communities in the southern plains that have long suffered from multiple forms of discrimination. While the protesters have allegedly attacked a police station and other public buildings, and targeted police with stones, at least four have been killed and dozens injured after security forces used live ammunition to disperse the crowds.
“The Nepali government, sitting in Kathmandu, needs to deliver more than lip service to its Terai citizens who have faced systematic discrimination for years,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The violence against the NHRC on Thursday needs to be condemned unequivocally and the perpetrators brought to justice. It should also lead the government to understand and address the deep distrust among these communities.”
Commissioner Ansari was in Saptari district in Nepal’s southern Terai region visiting the families of those killed – allegedly by police – after recent violent protests. Ansari and her team were unhurt following the attack, which appeared to be committed by some of the victims’ family members, angered by the government’s failure to address their concerns.
The protesters are demanding changes to the country’s constitution to create what they deem to be more equitable power sharing under the proposed federal structure between the center and proposed new provinces. Shortly after the new constitution was passed in September 2015, political groups in the Terai region who opposed the constitution took to the streets, effectively creating a blockade along the border with India which stopped trade and transit into the landlocked country for months.
A Human Rights Watch report documented abuses, including killings, committed by both security forces and protesters during the five months of protests. Although the government set up a commission to inquire into these allegations, to date there has been no accountability for those abuses.
While protest organizers should encourage their supporters to abjure violence, the government of Nepal should ensure that security forces respect basic human rights standards on the use of force, including in dispersing both legal and illegal demonstrations.
The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials require police to use nonviolent means, such as demands to vacate an area, before resorting to force and firearms. Police should adhere to a principle of measured escalation of force. When using force, law enforcement officials should exercise restraint and act proportionately to the threat posed, and seek to minimize damage and injury.
The NHRC should continue to investigate any allegations of violations.
“The NHRC is an independent institution which has been at the forefront of calls for an end to impunity and for redress to all victims, across all ethnicities,” said Adams. “The NHRC needs effective protection from abuse and threats, whoever they come from.”