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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination examines report of Nepal

GENEVA (1 May 2018) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined seventeenth to twenty-third periodic report of Nepal on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Deepak Dhital, Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, reminded that Nepal had made several noteworthy achievements in the domestication of the Convention and its effective implementation, most notably through the promulgation in September 2015 of a federal, democratic and republican Constitution, and through the formation of local governments.  The Constitution guaranteed equality before the law to all Nepalese citizens, and it sought to eliminate all forms of discrimination based on origin, race, caste, tribe, sex, economic condition, language, religion, ideology or any other ground.  Any act of discrimination was punishable by law, and victims could claim compensation.  Nepal was committed to tackling inequality and discrimination by collecting better disaggregated data and information on the impact of multiple forms of discrimination on the rights of different groups, and thereby tailoring appropriate responses through laws, policies and programmes, Mr. Dhital stressed.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts observed that despite the abolition of untouchability, the Dalits and Madhesi continued to experience deep-rooted racial discrimination.  It seemed that social and economic conditions for the Dalits, Madhesi and indigenous communities had not improved.  Experts further inquired about the number of complaints of caste-based discrimination and hate speech, indigenous people’s disposal of land and resources, consultation with indigenous peoples on infrastructural projects, low rate of representation of the Dalits, Madhesi and indigenous peoples in higher education, bonded labour, citizenship, trafficking in persons, early and forced marriage, reproductive healthcare services for Dalit women, capacity-building programmes for civil servants responsible for implementing anti-discrimination laws and the rights enshrined in the Convention, refugees, the Kathmandu valley road improvement project, imprisoned indigenous leaders, inter-caste marriage, women’s representation in diplomacy and civil service, representation of minority groups among policy makers, Nepal’s reservations to articles 4 and 6 of the Convention, attitudes towards cow slaughter, and effects of the 2015 earthquake on the most vulnerable populations.

In concluding remarks, Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Nepal, noted that it was clear that there was will on the part of the State party to forge ahead and change the reality in the country, and added that the current legal framework of the country should be used to respect the different views of all citizens, rather than to impose a singular view.    

Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, commended the State party’s efforts to implement the Convention.  Nevertheless, additional measures were still needed to ensure a more comprehensive implementation.

For his part, Mr. Dhital took note of the Committee’s views and ideas, and said that he would communicate them to the capital.  They would be useful for Nepal’s efforts to advance the rights of all disadvantaged people in the country.  

The delegation of Nepal included representatives of the Permanent Mission of Nepal to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 

The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to consider the eighth to fourteenth report of Mauritania (CERD/C/MRT/8-14). 

Report

The Committee has before it the combined seventeenth to twenty-third periodic report of Nepal: CERD/C/NPL/17-23.

Presentation of the Report

DEEPAK DHITAL, Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, reminded that Nepal had made a number of noteworthy achievements in the domestication of the Convention and its systematic and effective implementation, most notably through the promulgation in September 2015 of a federal, democratic and republican Constitution, and through the formation of local-level governments.  The Constitution guaranteed equality before the law to all Nepalese citizens, and it sought to eliminate all forms of discrimination based on origin, race, caste, tribe, sex, economic condition, language, religion, ideology or any other ground.  It enshrined a comprehensive list of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including provisions for the effective promotion and protection of the rights of women, Dalits, indigenous peoples, and marginalized and minority groups.  Any act of discrimination was punishable by law, and victims could claim compensation.  The Constitution was inclusive and it contained clear provisions of the proportional inclusion and participation of women, Dalits, indigenous and ethnic groups, and marginalized and minority groups in political decision-making positions.  In the National Assembly, women made up 37 per cent, indigenous peoples made up 15 per cent, Dalits made up 12 per cent, persons with disabilities made up 12 per cent, and Madhesis made up seven per cent.  Women comprised about 41 per cent in provincial parliaments, which was one of the highest rates of female representation in the Asia-Pacific region.  The Constitution also provided a system of affirmative actions to do justice to the traditionally disadvantaged and marginalized groups in the area of health, education, employment and social security.  Affirmative actions taken by the Government had shown results in public sector employment, where women comprised 18 per cent of the civil service, of which 5.8 per cent were in the national police, Mr. Dhital noted.    

In 2017, the Government had enacted a new set of laws to deal with the issues of inequality and discrimination, namely the National Penal Code Act, the National Criminal Procedure Act, and the Criminal Offences Act.  The Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability Act of 2011 ensured the legal rights of Dalits, with provision for remedies.  It imposed a penalty of up to three years of imprisonment, or a fine for any act of discrimination.  The severity of the punishment doubled if the perpetrator was a State official.  The Bonded Labour Prohibition Act of 2002 had come into force to free certain groups from bonded situations.  Other acts, such as the National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities Act of 2002, the Good Governance Act of 2008, and the Local Government Operation Act of 2017, encompassed provisions to fulfil the socio-economic and civil and political rights of indigenous peoples, Dalits, ethnic communities, and of socially and economically disadvantaged groups.  The Constitution had expanded the space for several affirmative actions to combat specific and inter-sectional discrimination affecting indigenous women and women belonging to disadvantaged castes or ethnic groups.  The authorities had provided additional grants to the landless victims of the 2015 earthquake, launched the National Plan of Action against Child Bonded Labour, and adopted measures to abolish the Badi practice of abusing women and girls in the sex business, and to eliminate the harmful traditional practice of witchcraft allegations against vulnerable women and men.  

The Government had enacted community forestry programmes to ensure the sharing of benefits of land and forest resources with local indigenous peoples, and offered free of charge education for all Dalit children, and life skills education and training to out-of-school adolescent girls.  The Government had been making efforts to encourage a change in attitudes towards inter-caste marriage through social awareness programmes.  Nepal’s overall legal framework did not discriminate against non-citizens, including migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees, and the Government respected the principle of non-refoulement.  Special protection mechanisms were in place under the National Plan of Action against Human Trafficking 2011-2021.  Nepal was committed to tackling inequality and discrimination by collecting better disaggregated data and information on the impact of multiple forms of discrimination on the rights of different groups, and thereby tailoring appropriate responses through laws, policies and programmes, Mr. Dhital concluded.    

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Nepal, observed that it would have been better to have a delegation from the capital to allow for a better dialogue, and he regretted the lack of an updated core document.    

Mr. Cali Tzay inquired whether the State party would consider adopting the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Despite the abolition of untouchability, the Dalits and Madhesi continued to experience deep-rooted racial discrimination.  It seemed that social and economic conditions for the Dalits, Madhesi and indigenous communities had not improved.  Did the State party have any statistics on how much different communities had been able to benefit from legal changes?  Were there judicial cases in which the Convention had been invoked and applied?  

How many complaints of caste-based discrimination had been made and what was their outcome?  The 2011 Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability Act did not seem to specify discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or colour as per the Convention.  How could the low number of complaints be explained?  

The National Inclusion Commission was not yet operational.  What were the resources at its disposal?  As for combatting hate speech, Mr. Cali Tzay inquired about the number of relevant cases, and whether the police, prosecutors and judges received training on hate speech.  

The Country Rapporteur also raised the issue of compensation, participation of indigenous peoples in the drafting of the 2015 Constitution, and indigenous peoples’ disposal of land and resources in the context of infrastructure projects, and their right to receive support after the 2015 earthquake.    

The rate of representation on higher education by the Dalits, Madhesi and indigenous peoples was much lower than the national average.  What measures had the State party taken to resolve that problem?  

Mr. Cali Tzay reminded that the practice of bonded labour persisted, as well as the lack of land ownership among the Dalits and other disadvantaged groups.  Turning to citizenship, he inquired about structural discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and class, and reminded that no new laws had been passed.  A large number of persons were stateless, even though they should be granted citizenship.

The Country Rapporteur also reminded of the discrimination of the Dalits by civil servants.  With respect to trafficking in persons, did the State party aim to outlaw all its forms?  Why had there been a significant drop in the number of reported trafficking cases?  Why were there no shelters for victims?  

Mr.  Cali Tzay underlined the importance of ending early marriage, and he reminded of limited reproductive healthcare services for Dalit women.  

Were there capacity-building programmes for civil servants responsible for implementing anti-discrimination laws and the rights enshrined in the Convention?

The Country Rapporteur had taken note of the temporary humanitarian shelter granted to the refugees from Bhutan.  

Questions by Other Experts

GUN KUT, Committee Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, informed that the Committee’s previous concluding observations predated the requirement for State parties to submit an interim report.  Mr. Kut reminded that the Committee would request the State party to submit a follow-up report concerning several recommendations within a year.

Other Experts inquired about the practical implementation of the 2011 Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability Act, and about raising awareness about that act.  What was the role of village councils of adivasi janajati (indigenous peoples) in the promotion of indigenous rights in the country?  What activities had been undertaken by the Cultural Heritage Council?  What was the level of participation of tribal leaders in the legislative branch?  

What progress had been made in coming up with procedures for consultation with indigenous peoples on decisions and laws that concerned them?  What measures had been taken to ensure education of adivasi janajati, and in their mother tongue?  The Dalits should participate in the writing of their own history to counter discriminatory narratives.

Turning to the effects of the 2015 earthquake, Experts asked about increased poverty levels among the affected populations.  What measures had been taken to prevent prejudice against vulnerable populations in the context of natural disasters?  What were the Government’s plans to target the most vulnerable populations in disaster relief policy?    

Experts raised the issue of the Kathmandu valley road improvement project and the lack of consultation with indigenous peoples.  How could the State party explain the difficulties faced by the Dalits on an everyday basis despite numerous laws that safeguarded their rights?  Segregation and exclusion existed despite constitutional safeguards.  How could Nepal address structural discrimination?    

What was the situation of imprisoned indigenous leaders?  Dalit women and girls suffered from multiple forms of discrimination, such as early and forced marriage.  An Expert noted that education for Dalit women and girls should be free of charge.  

Was human rights training for law enforcement officers indeed distributed only in writing?  How did the State party explain the suspension of support for inter-caste marriages?  Was there statistical data on behavioural changes in the country, and on low fines imposed for cases of discrimination?          

The deep-seated differences and inequalities in Nepal, especially when it came to land ownership, were alarming, and they needed to be addressed with audacious measures, an Expert observed.  What percentage of land was owned by women?

What had led to the adoption of the law criminalizing witchcraft?  Why had it taken so long to draft a new Constitution?          

As for Nepal’s reservations to articles 4 and 6 of the Convention, did the State party intend to lift those reservations?

What was the level of women’s representation in diplomacy, and how many belonged to minority groups?      
 
Replies by the Delegation

DEEPAK DHITAL, Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, explained that it had taken a long time to discuss the new Constitution among leaders and parliamentarians due to social complexities.  Poverty and inequality were also linked with the geographical diversity in the country, and the fact that social services could not be delivered everywhere equally.  The Constitution had been approved by the overwhelming majority of parliamentarians, which was a proof that it was owned by the Nepalese people.  Nevertheless, the country could not change overnight.  The Constitution provided a good legal framework to address the existing challenges.  A number of policies and programmes had started yielding results, which could generate more success coupled with political stability and economic development, Mr. Dhital underlined.  

As for land ownership by Dalit women, Mr. Dhital explained that there was little arable land in Nepal.  More than 50 per cent of the people owned less than 0.5 hectares of land per household.  The Government provided incentives for land registration and currently 26 per cent of women owned land.  

Women comprised 11 per cent of higher level public servants, whereas they made up 18 per cent of the overall number of public servants.  The President of Nepal was a woman, Mr. Dhital reminded.  The health sector was dominated by women.  The authorities needed to spread education among the Dalits, and then they could occupy any civil servant position.    

With respect to human rights education and awareness raising among law enforcement forces, it was integral to the training of security officials.  It was disseminated through the media.  Human rights was a buzz word in Nepal; even people in remote areas knew something about human rights and wanted to learn more, Mr. Dhital stressed.

Bonded labour was a matter of the past, and in 2000 that harmful practice had been abolished.  The Government provided shelter and educational support to victims of bonded labour.  Hate speech was not part of the Nepalese culture.  The Nepalese people had taken ownership of the peace process after the 1996-2006 civil war.  

The Ambassador thanked Committee Experts for their questions about the 2015 earthquake, and explained that it had affected 14 districts and that the Government had set up the National Recovery Committee to deal with its consequences.  

Mr. Dhital explained that the delay in the submission of the State party’s report was due to the political changes that the country was going through.  He reiterated that the new Constitution provided a good legal framework for the protection of the rights of all citizens.  Nepal was a diverse country, with many ethnic groups, geographically varied regions, and different levels of economic development.  The Government had in place a scheme of support for vulnerable Dalit and indigenous families, and families living in very remote and backward areas, such as education support and free school meals, Mr. Dhital clarified.  

Mr. Dhital explained that there was no delegation from the capital due to the multiple obligations of the Government in the implementation of the new Constitution.  As for the lack of an updated core document by the State party, it was due to the turbulent times during the civil conflict of 1996-2006 and its aftermath.  The situation had stabilized after the promulgation of the 2015 Constitution.  The Government was now in a position to pursue its path and international commitments.  

The authorities would look at reservations to articles 4 and 6 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  As for the adoption of other international conventions, the Ambassador said that the Government was now focused on the implementation of the conventions to which Nepal was party to.  The Government needed more capacity-building before it took on more obligations.  The main task at hand was the proper implementation of the 2015 Constitution.  

The representation of women in civil service used to be quite low, except in the health sector.  The Government had thus taken affirmative action to change that situation.  Out of a total of 278 diplomatic staff, women made up 33 per cent.  More and more women were competing for posts in civil service.  There was a quota for minorities, women, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and people from economically backward areas.  

Untouchability was abolished in 1963.  The Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Act, and the Criminal Offences Act of 2017 had defined elements of discrimination on the basis of untouchability.  There was much more social awareness about that harmful practice.  In urban areas, there was probably a better understanding of the principle of equality, whereas in rural areas with a low level of education and awareness, harmful practices continued.  Local governments had a responsibility to counter harmful practices at the local level, including difficulties with inter-caste marriages.  Reporting of caste-based discrimination had increased.  It was not true that police officers did not pay heed to such cases, Mr. Dhital clarified.

The Constitution clearly laid out conditions for the acquisition of citizenship.  Nepalese women married to foreigners could pass on Nepalese citizenship to their children.  For a long time, birth registration was voluntary.  Compulsory birth registration came into force in 1976.  The situation of a certain number of stateless persons was due to the failure of their families to register their birth.  The authorities offered financial incentives to Dalits to register the birth of their children.  

The Government had launched the Education for All Campaign to ensure that all children received education, as well as incentives for the communities with low education outcomes.  The Government was ready to launch various commissions to promote the rights of minority groups, such as the Dalits, Madhesi, indigenous peoples, and Muslims.  

Human rights training for law enforcement officers and civil servants had become an integral part of their formation.  In 2018, 369 training sessions, workshops and programmes had taken place.  The media played an important role in raising awareness about human rights, and in giving visibility to human rights violations.  The human rights culture was becoming very strong in the country, Mr. Dhital stressed.  

Turning to refugees, Mr. Dhital reiterated that Nepal was not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and to the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and that it hosted refugees on humanitarian grounds, in line with the country’s capacities.  

The Government had started to allocate gender responsive budgets, amounting to 27 per cent of the overall budget.  Gender was an important issue in Nepal where women were traditionally behind their male counterparts in many fields.  Gender responsive budgets would allow to improve the situation of women across sectors, the Ambassador explained.

As for the Kathmandu valley road expansion project, Mr. Dhital clarified that the project was necessary due to the expansion of the city’s population.  The Government had compensated the owners of demolished houses, and it had provided timely information to the owners.  The project had been conducted in the best interest of the citizens of Kathmandu.  
 
The legal age of marriage in Nepal was 20, and early marriage was punishable by law.  Marriage practices in society were changing.  In some rural areas, early marriage could be more pronounced.  The authorities tried to educate the population about the disadvantages of early and forced marriage.      

With respect to imprisoned indigenous leaders, Mr. Dhital clarified that the Government had asked different groups to refrain from staging any socially provocative acts.  
       
Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts

GAY MCDOUGALL, Committee Vice-Chairperson, applauded the State party for having introduced gender responsive budgets, but asked for allocation details.  She also inquired about the representation of minority women in civil service, and about the process undertaken to consult citizens about the Kathmandu valley road expansion project.  

As for imprisoned indigenous leaders, the Committee wanted to know details about the charges against them, Ms. McDougall noted.  

JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Nepal, reminded that 95 per cent of hydropower projects in the Kathmandu region were placed on indigenous peoples’ land, which would displace millions of people.  The military had occupied indigenous peoples’ sacred sites.  

Mr. Cali Tzay noted that many indigenous peoples had been imprisoned for having consumed beef, which constituted religion-based discrimination.  The Country Rapporteur also pointed out the high malnourishment figures among the Dalits, Muslims and other minorities.  

There was a contradiction in the delegation’s statement that there was no caste-based discrimination, whereas at the same time there were three committees tasked with combatting it, the Country Rapporteur underlined.  What happened to the status of those who married someone from a lower caste?

Mr. Cali Tzay recalled that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights could assist the Government of Nepal in determining the benefits of the ratification of the remaining international conventions.  He also expressed concern that discriminatory material from school textbooks had not been removed.
   
Replies by the Delegation

DEEPAK DHITAL, Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that there was no one-size-fits-all solution for the problems in Nepal, adding that Nepal could not be compared to other countries.  The main aim of the Government of Nepal was to bring the fruits of development to all citizens.  Most settlements consisted of people of various ethnicities and religions.  Groups did not tend to congregate, and thus the Kathmandu valley road expansion project did not specifically affect a particular ethnic group.  The Kathmandu valley was sacred and culturally important for all the people of Nepal.

Cow slaughter, when done in public, was offensive to the overwhelming majority of people in Nepal who worshiped the cow as a sacred animal, Mr. Dhital explained.  Caste-based discrimination was illegal and anyone who practiced it was liable to punishment.  It should be eliminated but it still existed in traditional parts of society.  

Capacity-building of civil servants was increasing, but it would take time to deal with all the complex issues.  

Second Round of Questions by Committee Experts
   
An Expert reiterated the Committee’s concern about the Dalits and indigenous communities because they were very isolated.  Some 80 per cent of the population of Nepal lived in rural areas 24 years ago.  What was that figures nowadays?  

Experts observed that very light sentences were handed down for caste-based discrimination.  Had the State party considered the reversal of the burden of proof?  Were racism and racial discrimination considered aggravating circumstances?

Experts further asked for more information about the ancestral lands and education of adivasi janajati (indigenous peoples).  Did the State party plan to ratify article 11 to allow individual petitions directly to the Committee?    

How were indigenous peoples protected from land seizure threats?  Would the State party consider handing down harsher sentences against those who threatened inter-caste marriages?  

Was there proper representation of minority groups among policy makers, given that Dalit women suffered from multiple discrimination?  What measures had the authorities adopted to deal with discriminatory practices?  

Replies by the Delegation

DEEPAK DHITAL, Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, confirmed that 80 per cent of the population still lived in rural areas.  Nevertheless, more transport networks and modern communication tools connected people across the country.  

Nepal was party to the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169 and it held dialogue with indigenous peoples regarding development projects on their ancestral lands.  They were entitled to receive part of the proceeds.  The Government was keen to strengthen community-based resilience in case of land seizure due to development projects, Mr. Dhital noted.

Inter-caste marriage was a personal choice and the Government would support such couples if they needed support.  Social attitudes were changing.  The level of economic and social development influenced the way society viewed inter-caste marriages.  

The Government had tried to come up with targeted programmes for Dalit women and girls, with an emphasis on education.  Proportional representation of minorities was clearly stipulated in the Constitution.  The Government had asked vulnerable groups to get organized and to raise their concerns.

The authorities were not currently considering the ratification of article 11 of the Convention on communications, Mr. Dhital said.  

Concluding Remarks

JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Nepal, thanked the delegation and encouraged it to consider criticism in a constructive light.  He noted that it was clear that there was will on the part of the State party to forge ahead and change the reality in the country.  The current legal framework should be used to respect the different views of all citizens, rather than to impose a singular view.  The Committee was concerned about imprisoned indigenous leaders, discrimination against the Dalits, and access to education, health and political participation, Mr. Cali Tzay concluded.  

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, and commended the State party’s efforts to implement the Convention.  Nevertheless, additional measures were still needed to ensure a more comprehensive implementation.  He reminded that the Committee would select several focused recommendations for immediate follow-up.  

DEEPAK DHITAL, Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, took note of the Committee’s views and ideas, and said that he would communicate them to the capital.  They would be useful for Nepal’s efforts to advance the rights of all disadvantaged people in the country.  The primary responsibility for that rested with the Government, but international partners could also play a role.

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