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Nepal: Retaliations against human rights defenders over business complex ‘deplorable’, say UN experts

14 May 2024

GENEVA (14 May 2024) – UN experts* today expressed concern over reports of ongoing retaliations against human rights defenders because of their opposition to the development of the Chhaya Center retail and entertainment complex in Nepal.

Retaliatory acts against human rights defenders are “deplorable and unacceptable”, the experts said. “The targeting of human rights defenders for the sole exercise of their right to freedom of opinion and expression violates international human rights norms.”

Construction of the Chhaya Center in the Thamel tourist district in Kathmandu has led to destruction of the historic Kamal Pokhari pond and disrupted the daily rituals and cultural practices of the Indigenous Pradhan Newar community. About 100 shops, a cinema, and restaurants are now operating, with another 100 retail outlets due to open.

Indigenous human rights defender Bhagabat Narsingh Pradhan has led the campaign to restore the Kamal Pokhari pond, believed to date back to the Licchavi kingdom existing from about 450 AD to 750 AD. Because of his activism, Pradhan has faced threats, including intimidating house visits by trade union leaders employed at the Chhaya Center and a contempt of court case filed against him in the Supreme Court of Nepal.

The UN experts said they were dismayed by the heightened feeling of insecurity faced by human rights defenders, activists and locals, like Bhagabat Narsingh Pradhan, who are involved in advocating for the demolition of the Chhaya Center and the restoration of the pond and surrounding land.

The involvement of U.S.-based company Marriott International has also amplified concerns among the experts. Marriott International is operating the five-star Aloft Kathmandu Thamel Hotel within the Chhaya Center, despite an ongoing legal dispute over land it sits on.

“We urge Marriott International to immediately suspend its involvement in the Chhaya Center until the Supreme Court reaches a final decision,” said the experts. They also called on Marriott international to use its leverage with the Chhaya Center to ensure non-retaliation against defenders and activists involved and respect of human rights, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Following Nepal’s release last year of a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, the UN experts also called on the Government to implement the guidance  of the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises on ensuring respect for human rights defenders.

“The Government of Nepal must fulfil its duty to protect human rights defenders and ensure accountability for any abuses. We also urge prompt resolution of court cases related to the Chhaya Center,” the experts said.

The UN experts have raised their concerns with the Government of Nepal and relevant private companies, including Chhaya Devi Complex Pvt. Ltd and Marriott International, along with the Government of the United States, the headquarters of Marriott International. The UN experts have yet to receive a response. The communications are available here.

*The experts: Mr. Robert McCorquodale (Chairperson), Ms. Fernanda Hopenhaym (Vice-Chairperson), Ms. Pichamon Yeophantong, Mr. Damilola Olawuyi , and Ms. Elżbieta Karska, of the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples; and Ms. Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Nepal

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