Nepal is a federal democratic republic. The 2015 constitution establishes the political system, including the framework for a prime minister as the chief executive, a bicameral parliament, and seven provinces. In November and December 2017 the country held national elections for the lower house of parliament and the newly created provincial assemblies. Domestic and international observers characterized the national elections as “generally well conducted,” although some observers noted a lack of transparency in the work of the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN).
Civilian authorities maintained effective control of security forces.
Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; torture; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and arbitrary detention; site blocking and criminal defamation; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; corruption; trafficking in persons; early and forced marriage; restrictions on freedom of movement for refugees, notably resident Tibetans; lack of official accountability related to discrimination and violence, including rape, against women; and use of forced, compulsory, and child labor.
The government investigated but did not routinely hold accountable those officials and security forces accused of committing ongoing violations of the law. Security personnel accused of using excessive force in controlling protests in recent years did not face notable accountability, nor did most conflict-era human rights violators; there were significant delays in implementing, providing adequate resources for, and granting full independence to the country’s two transitional justice mechanisms.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On August 5, two Nepal Police officers shot and killed two men who had allegedly kidnapped and killed an 11-year-old boy in Bhaktapur, near Kathmandu. The police involved asserted that they encountered the suspects in a forested area, the suspects fired upon police officers first, and the officers responded with deadly force. Human rights activists and local media said the suspects were already in custody and that police staged the encounter. The families of the alleged abductors filed a complaint with the quasi-governmental National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). On August 24, the Armed Police Force (APF) opened fire on a crowd in Kanchanpur that had gathered to demand justice after 13-year-old girl Nirmala Panta was raped and killed. A 14-year-old boy was killed and 24 individuals were injured at the hands of police during the protest. The Ministry of Home Affairs announced it would investigate police handling of the incident. As of October, eight police officers were suspended based on the Home Ministry’s probe committee recommendation, and police had no suspect in custody for the rape and murder. On September 1, Ram Manohar Yadav of the Free Madhesh movement died while undergoing medical treatment after remaining in police custody following his arrest August 23. Rights activists claimed police tortured Yadav and failed to provide adequate medical attention after he fell ill while in custody. The Ministry of Home Affairs denied the claims but admitted Yadav was taken to four different hospitals in search of an intensive care unit. The NHRC instructed its regional office to investigate Yadav’s death.
In August the federal government released its report on the March 2017 Saptari incident in which APF officers killed five protesters. As of October no charges had been filed, and the provincial government formed another investigative committee.
The High Level Enquiry Commission (HLEC) formed to investigate allegations of excessive use of force by the Nepal Police and APF completed its investigation of more than 3,000 complaints received in 2017 related to protests over the promulgation of the constitution in 2015. The 2015 protests left 45 individuals dead, including nine police officers. The HLEC disbanded after it completed its report, but by year’s end the government had not made the report public.
In May, President Bhandari pardoned Bal Krishna Dhungel, a Maoist politician convicted of killing Ujjan Kumar Shrestha in 1998.
The new criminal code, which came into effect in August, formally criminalized disappearance. There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year. There was no update on police investigation into the 2016 disappearance, allegedly with government involvement, of Kumar Tamang.
The fate of most of those who disappeared during the 1996-2006 civil conflict remained unknown. According to the NHRC, 846 cases of disappearances remain unresolved, 612 of which may have involved state actors. As of September the government did not prosecute any government officials, current or former, for involvement in conflict-era disappearances, nor had it released information on the whereabouts of the 606 persons the NHRC identified as having been disappeared by state actors. The NHRC reported that Maoists were believed to be involved in 149 unresolved disappearances during the conflict. As of September the government had not prosecuted any Maoists or state actors for involvement in disappearances.
In June 2017 the Commission for the Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) formed five teams to begin investigating complaints of disappearances filed by conflict-era victims. The commission had before it 3,197 registered cases and ultimately pursued 2,512 cases. Of these, 1,686 investigations were near completion.
Human rights organizations continued to express concern over flaws related to the CIEDP. According to the International Commission of Jurists, CIEDP investigations suffered from inadequate human and financial resources to handle the large number of cases, opaque appointment processes of investigators, and a lack of measures to ensure confidentiality and security of victims and witnesses. Victims also have expressed concern that investigators in many districts have asked about their interest in reconciliation.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits torture and the newly enacted criminal code criminalizes torture and enumerates punishment for torture. The Torture Compensation Act provides for compensation for victims of torture.
According to human rights activists and legal experts, police resorted to severe abuse, primarily beatings, to force confessions. Local human rights NGO Advocacy Forum (AF) reported no evidence of major changes in police abuse trends across the country, but AF stated that police increasingly complied with the courts’ demand for preliminary medical checks of detainees.
The Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance (THRDA), another local NGO, stated that torture victims often were hesitant to file complaints due to police or other official intimidation and fear of retribution. In some cases victims settled out of court under pressure from the perpetrators. According to THRDA the courts ultimately dismissed many cases of alleged torture due to a lack of credible supporting evidence, especially medical documentation. In cases where courts awarded compensation or ordered disciplinary action against police, the decisions were rarely implemented, according to THRDA and other NGOs.
THRDA reported that 34 percent of detainees in police detention centers in the country’s southern Terai belt had been subjected to some form of physical and/or mental abuse. According to the Nepal Police Human Rights Section, many alleged incidents were not formally reported or investigated by any police authorities.
There have been no cases brought to the criminal justice system of torture committed during the civil conflict.
The United Nations reported that during the year, it had received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Nepal deployed in United Nations Mission in South Sudan. The case alleged sexual abuse (sexual assault and attempted sexual assault, involving minors). Investigations both by the United Nations and by Nepal were pending.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions, especially those in pretrial detention centers, were poor and did not meet international standards, according to human rights groups.
Physical Conditions: There was overcrowding in the prison system. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) reported that in its survey of 31 prisons, facilities designed to hold 4,308 inmates held 7,909 convicted prisoners. THRDA stated that overcrowding also remained a serious problem in detention centers. According to the OAG report, most prisons and detention centers had sufficient windows, daylight, and air, with a few exceptions.
Some facilities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Due to a lack of adequate juvenile detention facilities, authorities sometimes incarcerated pretrial detainee children with adults or allowed children to remain in jails with their incarcerated parents.
The OAG reported that prisoners and detainees in the 31 detention centers it monitored had been deprived of regular medical check-up and treatment. According to THRDA most prisons lacked separate facilities for women, children, and persons with disabilities.
According to AF, medical examinations for detainees generally were perfunctory and reported medical care was poor for detainees with serious conditions. According to the OAG, the government increased each prisoner’s daily allowance from 45 Nepalese Rupees (NRs) ($.45) to NRs 60 ($.60). AF reported that some detainees slept on the floor due to lack of beds and had access only to unfiltered and dirty water and inadequate food, and many detention centers had poor ventilation, lighting, heating, and bedding.
Administration: There were no alternatives to imprisonment or fines, or both, for nonviolent offenders.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed prison and pretrial detention center visits by the OAG, NHRC, the National Women’s Commission, and the National Dalit Commission as well as by lawyers of the accused. THRDA and AF reported that they and some other NGOs often were prevented from meeting with detainees or accessing detention facilities, although some independent human rights observers, including the United Nations and international organizations, were given such access. Media had no access to prisons or detention centers. The NHRC could request government action, but authorities often denied such requests.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but security forces reportedly conducted arbitrary arrests during the year. The law gives chief district officers wide latitude to make arrests, and human rights groups contended that police abused their 24-hour detention authority by holding persons unlawfully, in some cases without proper access to counsel, food, and medicine, or in inadequate facilities.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Nepal Police is responsible for enforcing law and order across the country. The APF is responsible for combating terrorism, providing security during riots and public disturbances, assisting in natural disasters, and protecting vital infrastructure, public officials, and the borders. The Nepal Police and APF report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Nepali Army (NA) is responsible for external security and international peacekeeping, but also has some domestic security responsibilities such as disaster relief operations and nature conservation efforts. The NA reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained authority over the Nepal Police, APF, and Army.
The Nepal Police and APF each have a human rights section (HRS) and the NA has a human rights directorate (HRD). The NA HRD and Nepal Police HRS have independent investigative powers. The NA’s investigations were not fully transparent according to human rights NGOs.
In the local fiscal year 2017 to 2018, the Nepal Police HRS received 144 human rights violation complaints, for which 67 police personnel were punished. The Nepal Army HRD stated it received no complaints of human rights violations during the year. All security forces received human rights training prior to deployments on UN peacekeeping operations. The NA incorporated human rights training into professional military education, and conducted ongoing training in all units. Each brigade has a designated human rights officer, and divisions have larger human rights staff. At the Army headquarters, a brigadier general, who reports directly to the chief of staff, heads the HRD. Similarly, the Nepal Police and APF incorporated training on human rights into their overall training curricula for security forces. The APF and Nepal Police HRSs issued booklets outlining human rights best practices to most police officers, and mobile training teams reached remote areas of the country to instruct officers on human rights and democratic policing principles. The head of the Nepal Police Human Rights Cell credited this training with eliminating many of the minor human rights violations committed by untrained police personnel, including physical and verbal abuses, allowing her office to focus on serious cases when they arise. Nepal Police incorporated human rights into all levels of training, covering nearly 15,000 personnel during the year.
Lack of punishment or accountability for police abuses remained problems.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law stipulates that, except in cases involving suspected security and narcotics violations, or when the crime’s punishment would be more than three years’ imprisonment, authorities must obtain an arrest warrant and present the suspect to a court within 24 hours of arrest (not including travel time).
If the court upholds a detention, the law generally authorizes police to hold the suspect for up to 25 days to complete an investigation. In special cases (such as for suspected acts of corruption), a suspect can be held for up to six months. The constitution provides for access to a state-appointed lawyer or one of the detainee’s choice, even if charges have not been filed. Few detainees could afford their own lawyer, and the justice system does not receive sufficient funding to provide free and competent counsel to indigent defendants.
Detainees have the legal right to receive visits by family members, but family access to prisoners varied from prison to prison. Authorities routinely denied defense attorneys access to defendants in custody. While a system of bail exists, bonds are too expensive for most citizens. The accused have the option of posting bail in cash or mortgaging their property to the court. Unless prisoners are released on recognizance (no bail), no alternatives to the bail system exist to assure a defendant’s appearance in court.
Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights organization Informal Sector Service Center documented 84 incidents of arbitrary arrest as of June.
Pretrial Detention: Time served is credited to a prisoner’s sentence, but pretrial detention occasionally exceeded the length of the ultimate sentence following trial and conviction.
Under the Public Security Act, security forces may detain persons who allegedly threaten domestic security and tranquility, amicable relations with other countries, or relations between citizens of different castes or religious groups. The government may detain persons in preventive detention for as long as 12 months without charging them with a crime as long as the detention complies with the act’s requirements. The court does not have any substantive legal role in preventive detentions under the act.
Other laws, including the Public Offenses Act, permit detention without charge for as long as 25 days with extensions. This act covers crimes such as disturbing the peace, vandalism, rioting, and fighting. Human rights monitors expressed concern that the act vests too much discretionary power in local authorities.
According to human rights groups, in some cases detainees appeared before judicial authorities well after the legally mandated 24-hour limit, allegedly to allow injuries from police mistreatment to heal. AF estimated in a 2015 report–the most recent available–that 41 percent of detainees did not appear before judicial authorities within 24 hours of their arrests. THRDA stated police frequently circumvented the 24-hour requirement by registering the detainee’s name only when they were ready to produce the detainee before the court.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but courts remained vulnerable to political pressure, bribery, and intimidation.
The law provides for the right to counsel, equal protection under the law, protection from double jeopardy, protection from retroactive application of the law, public trials, and the right to be present at one’s own trial, but these rights were not always applied. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence, except in some cases, such as human trafficking and drug trafficking, where the burden of proof is on the defendant. The law provides detainees the right to legal representation and a court-appointed lawyer, a government lawyer, or access to private attorneys. The government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees only upon request. Persons who are unaware of their rights, in particular lower-caste individuals and members of some ethnic groups, are thus at risk of being deprived of legal representation. Defense lawyers reported having insufficient time to prepare their defense. A 2016 Supreme Court directive ordered that the courts must provide free interpretation services to those who do not speak Nepali, and interpreters were made available to interpret a variety of languages. Defense lawyers may cross-examine accusers. All lower-court decisions, including acquittals, are subject to appeal. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort.
Military courts adjudicate cases concerning military personnel under the military code, which provides military personnel the same basic rights as civilians. The Army Act requires that soldiers accused of rape or homicide be transferred to civilian authorities for prosecution. Under normal circumstances the army prosecutes all other criminal cases raised against soldiers under the military justice system. Nevertheless, the NA has told the government it is willing to cooperate with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and CIEDP and will not “hide” behind the Army Act. Military courts cannot try civilians for crimes, even if the crimes involve the military services; civilian courts handle these cases.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals or organizations could seek remedies for human rights violations in national courts.
The Maoists and their affiliate organizations have returned some previously seized property as required by the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord that ended the civil conflict, but they kept other illegally seized lands and properties. According to the Asia Foundation, a significant number of conflict-era land disputes remained outstanding.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these provisions.
The law allows police to conduct searches and seizures without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, in which case a search may be conducted as long as two or more persons of “good character” are present. If a police officer has reasonable cause to believe that a suspect may possess material evidence, the officer must submit a written request to another officer to conduct a search, and there must be another official present who holds at least the rank of assistant subinspector. Some legal experts claimed that by excluding prosecutors and judges from the warrant procedure, there are relatively few checks against police discretion.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, although journalists, NGOs, and political activists said the government restricted media freedom by threatening journalists and news organizations that criticized the government. Journalists and NGOs said the new criminal and civil codes and Privacy Act criminalized normal media activity, like reporting on public figures and triggered a significant increase in self-censorship by the media. Human rights lawyers and some journalists stated that both the constitution and civil code enable the government to restrict freedom of speech and press in ways they considered vague and open to abuse. For example, the constitution lists a number of circumstances under which laws curtailing freedom of speech and press may be formulated. These include acts that “jeopardize harmonious relations between federal units” and acts that assist a foreign state or organization to jeopardize national security. The constitution prohibits any acts “contrary to public health, decency, and morality” or that “disturb the public law and order situation.” The same provision of the constitution also prohibits persons from converting other persons from one religion to another or “disturbing the religion” of others.
Freedom of Expression: Citizens generally believed they could voice their opinions freely and often expressed critical opinions in print and electronic media without restriction. In July the government attempted to limit freedom of expression for the members of Kathmandu’s Tibetan community by initially rejecting requests from the Tibetan Buddhist community to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday publicly. Tibetan Buddhists eventually were allowed to hold an event in the largest settlement in Kathmandu.
Press and Media Freedom: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, with a few exceptions. Several editors and journalists reported they faced intimidation by police and government officials and that vague provisions in new laws and regulations prompted an increase in self-censorship by journalists. In January authorities from the president’s office barred accredited private media journalists from covering the swearing-in ceremony for newly appointed governors of the seven provinces. Only journalists affiliated with the government were permitted to cover the ceremony.
In June Minister of Communications and Information Technology Gokul Baskota arranged for the firing of a talk show host who in May had asked the minister pointed questions on live television about the source of his wealth and how it was reported to the public.
Violence and Harassment: According to the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), the government did not make sufficient efforts to preserve the safety and independence of the media and rarely prosecuted individuals who attacked journalists.
Journalists stated that they continued to receive vague threats from officials in response to their investigative reporting on corruption. For example, in January, five men who were allegedly colluding with local police in an illegal sand extraction enterprise physically assaulted a Kathmandu Post investigative correspondent.
On February 25, the Supreme Court ordered the Press Council of Nepal to ban news criticizing then-Chief Justice Gopal Parajuli. Kantipur Daily had published a series of articles reporting discrepancies in Parajuli’s date of birth. Although the issue directly concerned the chief justice, Parajuli heard the case as a one-member bench and ruled in his own favor, entering an interim order calling for a probe of news reports.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits prior censorship of material for printing, publication or broadcasting, including electronically. The constitution also provides that the government cannot revoke media licenses, close media houses, or seize material based on the content of what is printed, published, or broadcast. The constitution, however, also provides for “reasonable restrictions” of these rights for acts or incitement that “may undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality of Nepal, or harmonious relations between the federal units or harmonious relations between the various castes, tribes, religions, or communities.” Speech amounting to treason, defamation, or contempt of court is also prohibited.
Media professionals expressed concern regarding an additional provision in the constitution that allows the government to formulate laws to regulate media. The 2017 Criminal Code Act, for example, has extended the scope of limitation on freedom of expression compared to the language in the Constitution for national security and for maintaining public order, and defines defamation as a criminal offense. The FNJ argued that such laws could be used to close media houses or cancel their registration. The constitution also includes publication and dissemination of false materials as grounds for imposing legal restrictions on press freedom. Media experts reported, however, that these provisions have not been enforced against any media houses.
Although by law all media outlets, including government-owned stations, operate independently from direct government control, indirect political influence sometimes led to self-censorship.
On September 21, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology announced it would block access to pornography on the internet, and enacted the controls shortly thereafter.
There were several incidents in which authorities took action under the Electronic Transaction Act (ETA) in response to material posted on social media. The ETA prohibits publication in electronic form of material that may be “contrary to the public morality or decent behavior,” may “spread hate or jealousy,” or may “jeopardize harmonious relations.” On June 27, the Metropolitan Crime Division of Nepal Police publicly warned those who misuse social media accounts to defame others could be punished or jailed. On August 21, police arrested Homnath Sigdel for allegedly sharing a digitally altered image on Facebook showing Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s head superimposed on a monkey’s head. In March 2017 the government issued an amended Online Media Operation Directive, which requires all country-based online news and opinion websites to be registered. The directive gives the government the authority to block websites based on content if it lacks an “authoritative source,” creates “a misconception,” or negatively affects international relationships. The government also has the authority to block content that threatens the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, or harmonious relations. Online sedition, defamation, contempt of court, or indecent and immoral content may also be blocked. The new version makes the registration, license renewal, and content production provisions for online platforms more complicated, including by requiring a copy of a site’s Value Added Tax or Permanent Account Number registration certificate. Renewals now require online platforms to provide updated human resource and payroll records annually. The FNJ expressed concern that the directive’s vague language gives the government power to censor online content.
According to the International Telecommunications Union’s latest data, in 2016 only 20 percent of residents in the country accessed the internet. By contrast the Nepal Telecommunications Authority reported that 63 percent of citizens accessed the internet in 2018.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The law provides for the freedom to hold cultural events. Government permits are required to hold large public events. There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, with the exception of events in the Tibetan community, which faced restrictions (see section 2.b.).
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association; however, the government sometimes restricted freedom of assembly.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
Freedom of assembly generally was respected for citizens and legal residents, but there were some restrictions. The government continued its attempts to stop Tibetans from celebrating culturally important events, such as Tibetan New Year (Losar), World Peace Day (the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize), and the Dalai Lama’s birthday. The law authorizes chief district officers to impose curfews when there is a possibility that demonstrations or riots could disturb the peace.
In early July the government restricted demonstrations at the Maitighar Mandala, a historical public space. Opposition leaders, media, and civil society members said the government’s decision violated citizens’ right to peaceful assembly. The Supreme Court issued an interim order to the government not to implement the decision.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. NGOs, however, stated the existing legal framework does not adequately recognize the independence of civil society and opens the door to the exercise of excessive discretion by the government. They added that the registration process for civil society organizations (CSOs) is restrictive and cumbersome, the government has wide discretion to deny registration, and requirements vary among various registration authorities, with some entities requiring documents not mentioned in existing laws on an ad hoc basis. Additionally, the Association Registration Act empowers the government to give directions to associations and to terminate associations if they refuse to follow directions. To receive foreign or government resources, CSOs must seek separate and additional approval from the Social Welfare Council (SWC), the government entity responsible for overseeing CSOs. The SWC requires that CSOs allocate at least 80 percent of their budgets for hardware or tangible development outputs, which places undue restrictions on CSOs that focus on advocacy issues.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, except for most refugees, whose freedom of movement within the country is limited by law. Constraints on refugee movements were enforced unevenly. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.
In-country Movement: The government has not issued personal identification documents to Tibetan refugees in more than 20 years, leaving the majority of this refugee population without recourse to present required documents at police checkpoints or during police stops. Some refugees reported being harassed or turned back by police at checkpoints.
Foreign Travel: In an attempt to protect women from being trafficked or abused, the government maintained a minimum age of 24 for women traveling overseas for domestic employment. NGOs and human rights activists viewed the age ban as discriminatory and counterproductive because it impelled some women to migrate through informal channels across the Indian border rendering them more vulnerable to being trafficked.
On August 24, immigration officers at Tribhuvan International Airport detained and prevented from traveling Lenin Bista, a former Maoist child combatant who had been invited to a conference in Thailand on youth in conflict. Immigration authorities told Bista he could not travel because he had not received government permission, although they reportedly were unable to explain why such permission would be necessary.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
The 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks displaced millions of individuals. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, natural disasters in 2017 led to 384,000 displacements.
Many earthquake-affected IDPs remained in camps or informal settlements because they did not hold a title to land and were occupying it illegally when the earthquake occurred. Others stayed because their homes remained vulnerable to or were destroyed by subsequent landslides. The government promoted their safe, voluntary return and had policies in place to help them.
Although the government and the Maoists agreed to support the voluntary return in safety and dignity of conflict-displaced IDPs to their homes following the 10-year civil war, the agreement has not been fully implemented. The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction estimated that 78,700 persons were displaced from 1996 to 2006, but an estimated 50,000 remained unwilling or unable to return home. The reasons included unresolved land and property issues, lack of citizenship or ownership documentation, and security concerns since the land taken from IDPs by Maoists during the conflict was often sold or given to landless or tenant farmers.
The government provided relief packages for the rehabilitation and voluntary return of conflict-era IDPs. Many of those still displaced preferred to integrate locally and live in urban areas, mostly as illegal occupants of government land along riversides or together with the landless population. The absence of public services and lack of livelihood assistance also impeded the return of IDPs.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the determination of individual refugee or asylum claims or a comprehensive legal framework for refugee protection. The government recognized large numbers of Tibetans as refugees and supported resettlement to foreign countries of certain refugees claiming Bhutanese citizenship. The government does not recognize Tibetans who arrived in the country after 1990 as refugees. Most Tibetans who arrived since then transited to India, although an unknown number remained in the country. The government has not issued refugee cards to Tibetan refugees since 1995. UNHCR estimated three-quarters of the roughly 12,000 resident Tibetan refugees remained undocumented, including all of whom were younger than the age of 16 in 1995 or had been born since. More than 500 refugees and asylum seekers from other countries, including Pakistan, Burma, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, lived in the country. The government continued to deny these groups recognition as refugees, even when recognized as such by UNHCR.
Freedom of Movement: The government officially restricted freedom of movement and work for the approximately 6,500 refugees asserting claims to Bhutanese citizenship residing in the two remaining refugee camps in the eastern part of the country, but those restrictions were largely unenforced for this population. After China heightened security in 2008 along its border and increased restrictions on internal freedom of movement for ethnic Tibetans, the number of Tibetans who transited through the country dropped significantly. UNHCR reported that 53 Tibetans transited the country in 2017, and 31 from January through September. The government issued UNHCR-facilitated exit permits for recent arrivals from Tibet who were transiting while traveling to India. While Nepal-based Tibetans with refugee certificates were eligible to apply for travel documents to leave the country, the legal process was often arduous, expensive, and opaque and travel documents were typically valid for one year and one single trip. A 2016 government directive authorized chief district officers to skip the verification step, which required witnesses and a police letter, for Tibetans who had previously been issued a travel document. For individuals whom the government did not recognize as refugees, even when recognized by UNHCR, the government levied NRs 563 (approximately $5) fines per day out of status–and a discretionary penalty of up to NRs 50,000 (approximately $500) to obtain an exit permit. The government maintained its policy enabling Nepali government-registered refugees destined for resettlement or repatriation to obtain exit permits without paying these fines.
Access to Basic Services: Most Tibetan refugees who lived in the country, particularly those who arrived after 1990 or turned 16 after 1995, did not have documentation, nor did their locally born children. Even those with acknowledged refugee status had no legal rights beyond the ability to remain in the country. The Nepal-born children of Tibetans with legal status often lacked documentation. The government allowed NGOs to provide primary- and secondary-level schooling to Tibetans living in the country. Tibetan refugees had no entitlement to higher education in public or private institutions and were denied the right to work officially. They were unable legally to obtain business licenses, driver’s licenses, bank accounts, or to own property, or consistently document births, marriages, and deaths. Some in the Tibetan community resorted to bribery to obtain these services.
The government allowed UNHCR to provide some education, health, and livelihood services to these refugees, but the refugees lacked legal access to public education and the right to work.
Durable Solutions: The government does not provide for local integration as a durable solution. The government officially does not allow the approximately 6,500 refugees asserting claims to Bhutanese citizenship to work or have access to public education or public health clinics, but it allows UNHCR to provide parallel free education and health services to refugees in the camps. Since 2007 the government permitted third-country resettlement for more than 109,000 refugees claiming Bhutanese citizenship.
An estimated 5.4 million individuals (24 percent of the population age 16 and over) lacked citizenship documentation. Citizenship documents, which are issued at age 16, are required to register to vote, register marriages or births, buy or sell land, appear for professional exams, open bank accounts, or gain access to credit and receive state social benefits.
Constitutional provisions, laws, and regulations governing citizenship discriminated by the gender of the registering parent, which contributed to statelessness. The constitution states that citizenship derives from one Nepali parent, but it also stipulates that a child born to a Nepali mother and a non-Nepali father may obtain citizenship only through naturalization. In some cases, mothers faced extreme difficulties in securing citizenship papers for children of Nepali parents, even when the mother possessed Nepali citizenship documents, except in cases in which the child’s father supported the application. These difficulties persisted despite a 2011 Supreme Court decision granting a child Nepali citizenship through the mother if the father was unknown or absent.
The constitution states that the children of unidentified fathers may obtain citizenship through their mothers, but if it is later determined that the father is a foreign citizen, the child will lose citizenship by descent and be eligible for naturalization. In practice many single women face difficulties registering their children as citizens by descent. The Supreme Court ruled in May 2017 that government authorities must not deny the registration of birth and citizenship of children of Nepali mothers and fathers who cannot be traced. According to human rights lawyers, although this provision applies to the children of single mothers, including rape and trafficking victims, it does not address situations in which the identity of a child’s father is known but refuses to acknowledge paternity. The legal and practical restrictions on transferring citizenship imposed particular hardships on children whose fathers were deceased, had abandoned the family, or (as was increasingly common) departed the country to work abroad.
Since naturalization is not a fundamental right under the constitution, although it could be an option for those not eligible for citizenship by descent, it is subject to state discretion. Although they lack specific data, human rights lawyers reported that the government has processed few applications for naturalization of children in recent years.
For women and girls to obtain citizenship by descent for themselves, regulations require a married woman to submit a formal attestation from her husband, father, or husband’s family (if widowed) that she qualifies for citizenship and has his or their permission to receive it. This requirement makes a woman’s right to citizenship contingent on her father’s or husband’s cooperation. In many cases husbands refused to provide their wives this attestation. Preventing women from obtaining citizenship documentation precludes their access to the courts and thus their ability to make legal claims to land and other property, which permits the husband or male relatives free to stake their own claims.
Stateless persons experienced discrimination in employment, education, housing, health services, marriage, birth registration, identity documentation, access to courts and judicial procedures, migration opportunities, land and property ownership, and access to earthquake relief and reconstruction programs.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The government held parliamentary, provincial, and local assembly elections over five phases throughout 2017. International observers indicated that these parliamentary and provincial assembly elections were generally well conducted, despite some violent incidents, and logistical and operational challenges, including a notable lack of transparency and adequate voter education by the ECN, which affected the electoral process. According to domestic observer groups, the elections were free, fair, and peaceful and saw high voter turnout. There were three reports, however, of individuals being killed by police and sporadic reports of interparty clashes or assaults, vandalism, and small explosive devices and hoax bombs.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate in local, provincial, and national elections. The constitution mandates proportional inclusion of women in all state bodies and allocates one third of all federal and provincial legislative seats to women.
Section 7. Worker Rights
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and provides penalties ranging from one to 20 years in prison and fines of up to NRs 200,000 ($2,000). The law does not criminalize the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of persons by force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor. The government made significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking despite limited resources, but the country continued to be a source, transit, and destination for men, women, and children who were subjected to forced labor.
Government enforcement of the laws against bonded labor was uneven, and social reintegration of victims remained difficult. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.