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Nepal: Women human rights activists continue to face violent attacks despite promises of govt protection

A note from Amnesty USA and and Urgent Appeal from WOREC Nepal

by sacw.net, 14 April 2009

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Amnesty International, USA

Press Release

Nepal’s government fails to protect women human rights activists

10 April 2009

Uma Singh, a young woman journalist and activist, was murdered for raising the issue of violence against women in Nepal. Uma, who worked for Radio Today FM and the Women’s Human Rights Defender Network, was hacked to death by a gang of men on 11 January 2009.

On 10 April 2008, a new Constituent Assembly in Nepal was elected. The elections brought hope for placing human rights at the heart of the Constituent Assembly work and the new Maoist government made specific commitments to end impunity and improve the human rights situation in Nepal, including the rights of women and women human rights defenders.

In July, the government established a task force to make recommendations regarding violence against women and criminalization of domestic violence, following an extended protest by women human rights defenders, initiated after the alleged murder of a women human rights defender and the subsequent failure of police to properly investigate. The task force has yet to submit its report, which was due within two months.

A year on, very little has changed in reality, as women activists continue to face barriers to access justice and seek redress for domestic and sexual violence and gender discrimination. Two women’s rights activists in Nepal have been murdered since the new government came to power, with no significant attempts made to investigate or prosecute the crimes.

An Amnesty International mission visited Nepal in November 2008 and spoke to a wide range of women human rights defenders; Hindus, Muslims, Dalits, Janajatis and other marginalized groups, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists. Women activists shared stories of their challenges, struggles and hopes, while taking up the issue of women’s human rights.

Amnesty International has found that, in spite of the election promises made by the government, women human rights activists continue to be at high risk of attack because they dare to challenge Nepal’s patriarchal system. Many have become social outcasts for raising the issues of domestic and sexual violence and can face intimidation, beatings and even death. The Nepalese police often refuse to file a complaint or to fully investigate attacks and offer no protection, leaving women to face further persecution in their families and communities.

"When the Maoist Government came to power it made commitments to protect women’s rights but these now seem like false promises," said Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director. "Now that they are in government, all the revolutionary rhetoric has not resulted in real improvements in women’s lives.

"Women activists play a crucial role in Nepal, where many women are unaware of their rights and are afraid of confronting social and government authority," said Madhu Malhotra. "Women activists are singled out for violent attacks as it further promotes a culture of silence and discourages women experiencing violence to speak out."

Each woman activist’s experience was unique and differed depending on the areas in which they work. Those engaged in policy advocacy in the capital city, Kathmandu, have to tackle attitudes in the patriarchal society that regard women as second-class citizens. One women activist said that, "even human rights activists do not seem to take women’s rights seriously."

Rita Mahato is a 30-year-old health counsellor with the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) in the Siraha district, an organization helping survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Rita was threatened with rape and murder in June 2007 when men who objected to WOREC’s work raided her office. The police have failed to initiate any investigation into the attack.

In Nepal, women activists often work in remote locations with minimal communication facilities and support mechanisms. They encounter discriminatory cultural practices such as early child marriage and boxsi (witchcraft). One activist told Amnesty International, "Whenever a woman takes a step forward she is accused of boxsi".

Women activists in Eastern Terai, southern Nepal, are equally vulnerable to gender based violence. Reported violations tackled by women activists include rape by landlords and members of armed groups, violence in the family including by intimate partners and dowry deaths.

Dev Kumari’s story

Dev Kumari Mahara is a colleague of Rita Mahato. In April 2007, she was called to a crime scene near her home. A neighbour was accused of the rape of the wife of a mute husband. The victim had been beaten, her blouse torn and her face swollen. The victim recognized her attacker.

Due to her past experience of hostility from the police, Dev Kumari first contacted the women’s human rights defender network. The police didn’t turn up to the crime scene despite Dev Kumari’s phone report, so she had to take the victim to hospital.

There are no free medical services for rape victims in Siraha. The doctor who examined the victim did not file a rape report that could be used as evidence. According to Dev Kumari, the alleged rapist is from a rich family and was able to bribe the police and the doctor.

After Dev Kumari filed a formal complaint about the rape case, the accused contacted a group of supporters who started to harass her. When the women’s human rights defender network tried to file a complaint about the rape and subsequent harassment, a gang of men gathered outside the police station.

"They threatened to kill me, to chop off my legs, to rape me and burn me alive," said Dev Kumari. Despite witnessing the threats, the police failed to challenge and investigate the incident.

Dev Kumari said that the common way to settle rape charges in Siraha is for the rapist to pay a settlement for the victim’s forgiveness.

Amnesty International’s research showed that instead of investigating incidents, women are pushed by police, family and community to accept traditional informal community justice where payment of bribes, discrimination and the lack of importance of the crime committed often prevent real justice. Women activists told Amnesty International that they are often humiliated when they attempt to report incidents to the police.

Victims often turn to the quick fix of community justice solutions. Traditional dispute resolution systems are common across Nepal given the barriers to accessing formal justice mechanisms.

The state’s duty to protect women from violence is explicitly stated in the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which Nepal has ratified. States should pursue by "all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating violence against women" (Article 4). Under international human rights law, the state has an obligation not only to ensure that its agents and officials do not commit violence against women, but also to protect women from violence committed by private individuals and bodies including members of their own families and communities.

Activists like Dev Kumari live in hope of justice. She says, "I will keep on fighting but I want the members of Constitution Assembly to take up the rights of women. We are waiting for justice."

Women’s Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC), Nepal

- From: WOREC Nepal
- Sent: Sunday, April 12, 2009 11:27 AM
- Subject: Urgent Appeal Nepal - WHRDs assaulted and beaten by Police in Sunsari District

AN APPEAL FOR SOLIDARITY AND SUPPORT

URGENT:

WOREC Nepal and the National Alliance of Women Human Rights Defenders (NAWHRDs) request for your attention and urgent intervention in the following situation in Sunsari District, Eastern Region.

Introduction:

WOREC Nepal and NAWHRDs is appalled and deeply shocked on hearing the cruel brutality of the Police against Women Human Rights Defenders of Chimdi Village Development Committee (VDC) of Sunsari district. Around 14 WHRDs have been severely beaten and injured by Police who charged them with batons and rear of the gun. The WHRDs were in a non violent sit in protest condemning the Police for not registering a complaint and the denial of access to justice by the government responsible bodies.

Background:

Shree Lal Sardar, aged 21 and Lalita Gurung, aged 20 were in love with each other and planned to get married however since it was a inter caste/class relation between a boy from the dalit community and a girl from ethnic community, this was vehemently rejected by the relatives of the Lalita. It was also been reported that both Lalita and Shree Lal were beaten up by the relatives of Lalita for talking to each other in a public sphere.

On 9 April, 2009 this incident was shared to Kara Devi Sardar, Woman Human Right Defender who said that "it is the fundamental right of any person to get married and to the person of their choice" but however her of "voice of defending the rights of the couple" turned bitter and she was instead brutally beaten by the relatives( Mr. Natiya GUrung) of Lalita. Kara Devi then approached the Illaka police station of Chimdi to file a complaint about the attacks on life, bodily and mental integrity on her however to her disappointment, the Sub Inspector Rajesh Chaudhari mistreated her with harsh and abusive words and sent her back without filing the complaint. Kara Devi reported the incident to the Women Human Rights Defenders Network Sunsari.

Sunsari District is situated in the Eastern Development Region of Nepal. The district has been known for a haven for criminal activities given the advantage of open border and also the cases of Violence Against Women that is perverse and at times, repeated too. There is proliferation of corruption, armed groups that is a common feature of Sunsari especially Chimdi VDC. This is not the first time that the Women Human Rights Defenders have been attacked in this district. There have been repeated attacks on Women Human Rights Defenders for defending and promoting rights of women especially Dalit Women who are marginalized and discriminated. It is through the support of such Women Human Rights Defenders that the Women are able to share their cases and stories given that the attitude and behavior of the Police is feudal and patriarchal in nature. This systematic web of violence further marginalizes the women, breaking their silence that ends in torture, harassment and threats that further pushes them into a cycle of violence against them. Such systematic violence needs to be addressed urgently otherwise this will put women on even riskier situation.

On 10th of April, around 500 women from 8 VDC and Women Human Rights Defender walked together towards the Police Station in Chimdi VDC demanding a) The assault on Kara Devi must be taken seriously, b) Corrupted Police must be reprimanded and c) evoked the statement of the Prime Minister on 25 January, 2009 who committed to establish a complaint centre for women to register cases as within a month an objective to end all forms of Violence Against Women and criminalized caste based discrimination against dalits. This protest was done through organized rallies, slogans and pressurized the Police to register the complaint. The strategies of the WHRDs were non violent and they held a peaceful sit in protest and padlocked the Police station as a way to show their pain and suffering towards an irresponsible and insensitive government. However their efforts went in vain as the Police publicly humiliated them with insults and abuses trying to break down their confidence. The Women Returned home disappointed and abused by such state actors that are to provide security and protection.

On 11 April, 2009, the Women Human Rights Defenders continued their campaign with the same demand to access justice and also an apology from the Police Officers for their demeaning misbehavior and degrading treatment towards the Women. As the Women Human Right Defenders along with other 500 Women maintained their sit in protest in front of the Police station, they were assaulted and charged with batons and rear end of the Gun by around 10 Police Officers and 4 other unknown goons. The use of force by the Police on the Women was on head, chest, thighs and legs and some even tried to force the stick into the vagina of some women. At least 14 women were injured out of which 5 were seriously injured; a) Thakani Mehta ( awarded Amapro Award for her contribution towards women’s movement and promoting Human Rights of Women and Social Justice), b) Sita Kamat, c) Bina Chaudhari, d) Sunita Sah and e) Laxmi Chaudhary respectively.

The Women were then rushed to the Koshi Zonal hospital immediately for medial treatment. It has also been reported that the journalists such as Rajan Niraula, Krishna Bhattrai, Gopal Kolirala and INSEC representative Sukudev Chaudhari who had gone to investigate the incident to the Police Station were also manhandled and their vehicle vandalized by the Police and the goons. Likewise Binod Chaudhary, Staff of WOREC Nepal, Sunsari district has been threatened by the goons too. In addition, the Police snatched a digital camera and mobile sets of the Women respectively.

Such incidents of insult, abuses, threats, use of force, denial of access to justice by the structures of the responsible and accountable government of New Nepal is an indication that the Political restructuring has not been implemented in actions. In the current political context of state restructuring that has ensured women’s rights and their active and meaningful participation in nation building, the interim constitution 2063 that incorporated Women’s Rights as Fundamental Rights, ratification of CEDAW Conventions such human rights violations of women in Sunsari district is seriously denounced.

In regards to the Declaration of Human Rights Defenders 1998

Article 12

1. Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

2. The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or dejure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.

3. In this connection, everyone is entitled, individually and in association with others, to be protected effectively under national law in reacting against or opposing, through peaceful means, activities and acts, including those by omission, attributable to States that result in violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as acts of violence perpetrated by groups or individuals that affect the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedom.

However the state stands inconsistent and insensitive to such declaration and instead committed serious violations on Women Human Rights Defenders.

We strongly urge the government and the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal to investigate and condemn the structural violence against women and women human rights defenders in accordance with the principle of due diligence. We also urge international human rights institutions to collaborate, support and pressure the government to fulfill its obligations towards its citizens.

Women’s access to justice must be ensured to protect, promote and fulfill women’s human rights. Denial and delay of access to justice is a gross violation of human rights. It is even worse when an atmosphere is created in which women fighting for the rights of the other women are unsafe and insecure and their security is not guaranteed.

This example is a clear indication of a rampant culture of impunity in Nepal and failure of the state to protect and promote the right of freedom of expression and the right to live in dignity. There is no rule of law and the state structure is a complete facade in Nepal. Women human rights defenders around the world have been experiencing similar attacks in order to silence us. However these attacks cannot stop us from defending human rights and the fundamental freedoms of women and women human rights defenders.

If the following demands of the Women Human Rights Defenders are not respected and recognized then the Women Human Rights Defenders will be forced to organize a nationwide protest.

CALL TO ACTION:

  1. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Article 9 and 12 that states that Right to Remedy/Justice for violation of Rights and right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms respectively;
  2. Request the authorities to proper investigation of the incident and the steps to penalize the perpetrator;
  3. Provide compensation to the injured Women Human Rights Defenders and Journalists;
  4. To engage with the National Human Rights Commission Nepal, Government of Nepal and Office of the High Commission of Human Rights Nepal to ensure that the due process of law is respected;
  5. Denounce irresponsible and distrustful behavior of the Area Police Office of Chimdi VDC especially Sub Inspector Rajesh Chaudhary;
  6. Stop intimidation and harassment of other Women Human Rights Defenders who are fighting for the Justice;
  7. Immediate assurance that the Women Human Rights Defenders do not face violence and threats and end all forms of Violence Against Women Human Rights Defender;

PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal
- Prime Minister’s office
- Singha Durbar
- Kathmandu
- NEPAL
- Fax: + 977 1-4428220

2.Mr. Bam Dev Gautam
- Home Minister
- Singha Darbar
- Kathmandu
- NEPAL
- Fax: +977 1 4211232
- Email: moha at wlink.com.np

3. Mr. Janardan Sharma
- Minister for Peace and Reconstruction
- Peace Secretariat
- Singh Durbar,
- Kathmandu, Nepal.
- Fax: +977 1 4211186 and 4211173
- E-mail: info at peace.gov.np

4.Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare
- Singha Durbar
- Kathmandu, Nepal
- Fax: 977-1-4241516
- E-mail: mowcsw at ntc.net.np

5. Ms. Nainkala Thapa
- Chairperson
- National Women’s Commission
- Bhadrakali Plaza
- Kathmandu, Nepal
- Fax: 977-1-4256783
- E-mail: nwc at htp.com.np

6. Mr. Kedar Nath Udadhaya
- Chairperson
- National Human Rights Commission ( Headquarter - Kathmandu)
- Harihar Bhawan, Pulchowk, Lalitpur, Nepal
- G.P.O. Box: 9182, Kathmandu, Nepal
- Fax: +977-1-5547973
- E-mail: nhrc at nhrcnepal.org

7. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal ( OHCHR)
- Museum Road, Chhauni, G.P.O. Box 24555, Kathmandu
- Telephone +977 1 4280164, 4280326, 4280542
- Fax +977 1 4670712, 4670713, 4671256 (security)
- Email registry.np at ohchr.org
- Spokesperson Marty Logan: mlogan at ohchr.org

8. Mr. Richard Bennet
- Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal ( OHCHR)
- Museum Road, Chhauni, G.P.O. Box 24555, Kathmandu
- Fax: 977 1 4670712, 4670713

9. Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal ( Prachanda)
- Chairman Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
- Lalitpur
- Nepal
- Fax: 977-1- 4784045

10. Mr. Jhala Nath Khanal
- Member Secretary
- Nepal Communist Secretary ( UML)
- Fax: Fax: 9771-1 425184, 4112241

11. Mr. Lilamani Pokharel
- Janamorcha Nepal
- Kathmandu
- Nepal
- Fax: 977-1- 4251841

12. Ms. Margaret Sekaggya
- Special Representative of the Secretary General for human rights defenders
- Att: Melinda Ching Simon
- Room 1-040, c/o OHCHR-UNOG
- 1211 Geneva 10
- SWITZERLAND
- Tel: +41 22 917 93 88
- Fax: +41 22 917 9006
- E-mail: MChingSimon at ohchr.org

13. Ms. Yakin Erturk
- Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women
- Room 3-042
- c/o OHCHR-UNOG
- 1211 Geneva 10
- SWITZERLAND
- Tel: +41 22 917 9615
- Fax: +41 22 917 9006 (ATTN: SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN)

14. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
c/o Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs
- United Nations Secretariat
- 2 United Nations Plaza
- DC-2/12th Floor
- New York, NY 10017
- United States of America
- Fax: 1-212-963-3463

15. Mr. Githu Muigai
- Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
- Palais des Nations
- CH-1211 Geneva 10
- Switzerland
- Fax: +41 22 917 9006
- Email: racism at ohchr.org

See Also:

Text of Memorandum submitted to Prime Minister by WOREC [in Nepali]