Controversial decision: Analysis of NHRC statement after Sarlahi incident

Constitution Lawyer Dipendra Jha
Advocate, Supreme Court of Nepal

The statement issued by National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) following the Nawalpur, Sarlahi incident of December 3, 2015 not only came to many as a surprise but an immature decision by responsible constitutional body at a time when human rights violations are unabated in the Tarai region. While it is a condemnable act to torch NHRC’s vehicle and manhandle its team members, it is also a subject of investigation.

When analyzed the situation, we found that angry protesters, after they were beaten indiscriminately by police in Nawalpur and dispersed due to police firing, encountered with the NHRC vehicle on the way to return. Most of protesters who attacked NHRC vehicle were illiterate from rural areas and they were completely unaware about the role and responsibility of NHRC. They could not distinguish the constitutional body with other human rights organizations. In lack of any significant effort other than just reporting, the protesters were already angry at human rights organizations, and they had the presumption that human rights bodies could not protect their rights.

After police, all of a sudden opened fire and charged batons indiscriminately at the protesters, the mass had gone out of control of the United Madhesi Democratic Front (UMDF) leadership. During the discussion with the UDMF leaders, they asked how they could burn the vehicle which they had planned to use for rescuing the injured in police firing.

Even issuing a press statement, the UDMF leaders claimed that an unidentified group ,who had intruded the protest assembly in Nawalpur, set the NHRC’s vehicle on fire. They have condemned the incident and demanded investigation for those involved.

Calling back the human rights monitors from the field where there are rampant human rights violations happened probably the first time in the history of NHRC. During the Maoist war, the NHRC’s teams were deployed for monitoring in different locations of the country, but they were never called back. The NHRC’s statement seems an over reaction toward the agitating groups, who are still being suppressed by the state for their dissatisfaction with the constitution. The agitating marginalized groups have felt humiliated once again after reading the statement.

This is also evident from the content analysis of the NHRC’s statement. It remains silent to mention other incidents of human rights violations in Nawalpur but the torching of its vehicle and attack on its members. The NHRC could have mentioned police intervention into peaceful protest assembly, involvement of Chure Bhawar Party cadres reportedly backed by local administration, 8 people sustained bullet injuries in police firing, and death of woman during demonstration.

The language and the tone of NHRC’s statement indicates that the NHRC is doing mercy by monitoring human rights situation. On top of that, it should not forget that NHRC is the constitutional body which has been formed to protect human rights of the people. The article 249 of the country’s constitution clearly states that NHRC should never escape itself from its constitutional duties and responsibility. Yes, we agreed that NHRC could call back its monitoring team temporarily for security review but not permanently in this crisis. However, the statement does not indicate that the call back is temporary.

The Madhesi communities including youths have perceived the sudden move of NHRC as the commission serving for the state rather than an independent body. These reactions can be seen through social media posts.

Consequently, another alliance of agitating Madhesi parties have already written to the United Nations to send its international human rights monitors in Terai.

We urge the NHRC to immediately issue another statement with clear reason of calling back its monitors, and ensure people in Tarai that the body is still monitoring human rights situation. The NHRC should also prepare itself through enough security assessment; pre-safety measures, cultural sensitivity and diversity in the team members, which were some of the weaknesses resulting the incident of Nawalpur.