Freedom Forum organized a talk program on ‘Freedom of Expression and Journalists’ Rights focused on Universal Periodic Review’ in Kathmandu on December 27, 2019. The talk program attended by FoE practitioners and advocates ranging from academia to media, free press defenders and law practitioners and government representatives had thorough discussion on Nepal’s Nepal’s compliance to UPR 2015 especially on freedom of expression and journalists’ rights. It also sought views from the experts relating to FoE and journalists’ which could be addressed in the UPR 2020.
On the occasion, FF Executive Chief Taranath Dahal made aware the participants that FF and ARTICLE 19 had prepared UPR 2015 and submitted to UNHRC. He explained some pressing issues surrounding FoE and journalists’ rights: there was failure to reform the constitution to bring it in line with international standards on freedom of expression; failure to fully protect human rights defenders and journalists, and to end impunity for violations against them; failure to bring the legal framework into conformity with international standards on freedom of expression, continued use of the legal framework to harass and intimidate journalists and Internet users; no initiative to strengthen the National Human Rights Commission and restore its independence.
He also shared plan how FF was planning the contents for next UPR submission: review of UPR 2015 recommendation, law and policy watch, impunity relating to crimes against journalists, presence of social/new media, and recommendation.
According to him, participation of stakeholders was not inclusive and transparent in policy making process. Decriminalization of defamation law was the major concern. The criminal and civil codes were yet to decriminalize the defamation which is very detrimental and discourage environment for free expression. He shared that attacks on media practitioners, human rights activists and RTI seekers were on rise of late in Nepal. Nepal government’s 15th plan has not paid attention on safety of journalists. SDG Goal 16.10.1 is safety of journalists but it is not reflected in Nepal’s preparation. No indicators and data of safety of journalists are in Nepal’s document to supplement SDG.
Dahal further reminded that even the query by UNESCO Director General to Nepal’s Prime Minister reminding the status and follow up on justice to the slain and disappeared journalists were not responded.
“I hope the recommendations FF and you make will be helpful to the government representatives to discuss the UPR in Geneva,” he stressed.
Deliberations and inputs
Maniram Ojha, Secretary, National Information Commission (NIC)
NIC has also asked government to amend the RTI Act. The idea of RTI ombudsman is also mooted. Some provinces have drafted bill on the commission but there are some inconsistencies. Maybe there would be chances for limiting information flow. Half of the local governments have come to the RTI practice as it is informed.
Baburam Aryal, FoE advocate
We are in regressive mode in terms of response (journalists safety), non-responsive on journalists rights
Let’s look after internet freedoms. I feel that people’s confidence and trust is losing. If it comes the authoritarian regime will rise.
Prof Kapil Shrestha, noted human rights activist
UPR is very important for reviewing human rights. Overall background with holistic perspectives should be written with national and international instruments.
It is very unfortunate that the state repression is growing.
Though many things have been expressed by government I am worrying what they would translate into action.
The traditional partners like UK and Switzerland are very critical to the human rights situation in Nepal.
This time the situation is more severe. How Nepal would face criticism this time? In framing media Media Council Bill and other bills, were the commitments to international instruments Nepal referred? Foundational laws such as transitional justice mechanisms are in trouble which have tarnished Nepal’s glory in the international arena.
Human rights, democracy and freedom of expression are under threat in Nepal. No threat and curtailment of the fundamental things are accepted. The world has every right to know and no one can hide things. It would be counterproductive in the technology-mediated open world.
Quality of country’s democracy would enhance when international instruments are considered well. It has direct bearing on several things of the country including tourism and development activities.
Sudip Pathak, Member, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
UPR is a global review to take stock of the human rights status. All 193 countries are under review. It is a global effort to improve human rights.
Despite several instruments HR did not improve. It is what UN thought. Commitment of the countries to HR needs to be checked. NHRC has been effortful for preparing this year’s UPR for the past six months.
If country is weak in human rights commitment, UPR process involves country system and countries are empowered by involving in this process. Three sessions in every year and turn comes in 4.5 years. According to him, 140 minute is given to speakers for recommendations and 70 minute is given to a country and NHRC got three minutes last time. Nepal accepted 152 recommendations last time. UPR discussion is to be held on November 2020. Government’s report directly goes to Human Rights Council while other reports go to OHCHR. NHRC will get only space for 10 pages in the report.
Mention the implementation status of previous UPR in the report : whether FoE is guaranteed and journalist safety ensured these in laws, and is it practiced? This should be well prepared.
Report writing is more important and speech does not make sense. Let’s analyze which laws have made what provisions on freedom expression, information and association.
Criminal code law has limited free expression. How government can ensure this freedom to writers and journalists? What the government is doing to make public the status of journalists killed and disappeared?
Laxman Duta Pant, Chair, Media Action Nepal:
UN Safety Manual has three mandates; one is making judiciary effective for ending impunity. Where are we in seven years? It should be reviewed in the report.
Role of police, attorney and prosecutors should be reviewed. What is the trust level on their roles in guaranteeing FoE? Role of Constitutional bodies – mechanism has also to be strongly reviewed. Not only government’s impunity dealing bodies but also the role of NIC and NHRC should be reviewed. There are information requests in NIC but it is not working much.
Local government has the capacity for making laws but the international instruments are overlooked.
NHRC should be responsible for ending impunity. NHRC is in international fear and space for CSOs should be provided.
Namrata Sharma, Ex President, Centre for Investigative Journalism
Press freedom and safety of journalists – state of impunity should be addressed. Institutional fear is there. Corruption stories are coming in light but there is impunity. No action is taken. We are looking forward with ratification of international instruments. I thank FF for very good preparation and content planning of UPR 2020. However, I suggest including data on gender and social inclusion.
Binod Bhattarai, Executive Director, The Writing Workshop
Story of the cases – how the FoE is curtailed within the shrinking civic space? Only buzz words of legal insertion and section/article would be more technocratic. Story in bigger picture with examples and cases should be highlighted. How ETA Section 47 is limiting our right to know and freedom of expression? We need to highlight this.
Santosh Sigdel, FoE advocate
What we did in the implementation of laws, let’s review. What should be the role of three tiers of the governments on FoE law implementation? As all these governments have the role in the implementation of the laws. Previous UPR review should be done in terms of implementation of recommendations while preparing the current status.
Right to Privacy is under threat and it should be linked to FoE. Also need to highlight the state of surveillance. Tracking and implementation mechanism of UPR recommendations should be made and it should be the issue of advocacy. Independent mechanism to take stock of the implementation of seven major treaties and UPR is a must.
Undersecretary at Human Rights Desk of Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers
The report FF prepares and the recommendations it makes will be taken into consideration. You can also include the status of implementation of human rights including on free expression and efforts done by government in dealing with the issues.
Yagyaraj Adhikari, Director at National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
Country is in changed context which it has resulted in practical challenges. This should be clearly mentioned in the UPR report. Facts substantiating the claim such as incidents of press freedom violations should be the part. NHRC and CSO as watchdog role – it would be hollow to allege NHRC in the same basket of accountability.
Let’s see where NHRC role is in implementation of UPR recommendations. NHRC law has reflected the nature of our State. The government efforts to amend NHRC Act were flatly against Paris principles. NHRC can’t be controlled by government. But, government’s recent step to control NHRC with amendment of NHRC Act is a serious threat.
Sheetal Mahato, Secretary, Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ)
The report must reflect how efforts are deepened to strangulate media freedom and free expression in Nepal. FNJ is against such ill efforts against free press.
Human Rights Cell of Nepal Police:
Nepal police is serious in ensuring safety to journalists and is working 24 hour in service for providing information. Whether there has been any Sector-wise study how journalists are working? However, it creates problems when a person does crime in the guise of journalist.
Dinesh Tripathi, Senior Advocate
Without free expression, there will be no guarantee of other rights. Nobel Laureate has also written: there will be no famine when there is free press. Famine occurs when the State does not ensure citizen’s right to expression and information.
Currently in Nepal, state of emergency has not been declared officially but state of emergency is in place. Democratic State means limited government and citizens have umpteen rights. Government tendency is totally wrong. Registration of case against anyone for exercising FoE is a serious thing.
Moral policing is the subversion of law. Constitution is vehemently violated and its spirit is being killed. Laws are being made without consistency with constitution.
It is the individual who can go to legal recourse when affected not others. Everywhere, fear of cybercrime is spread, thereby creating panic. This indicates the move towards totalitarian regime.
Rajan Kuinkel, human rights activist and journalist
Blame game based on some bad practices of few media must come to an end. Why the State agencies always de/cry one-sidedly over the weakness of some particular media and generalizing it to others? Such trend needs to cease.
Meera Rajbhadnari Amatya, central member, Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ)
There is tremendous role of media for change in society, country. Serious social ill practices as Chhaupadi has been criminalized because of the watchful media stories.
Rammaya Lamichhane, advocate and law educator
State is confused on some legal provisions. Roles and responsibilities of National Information Commission (NIC) should be explored to make it effective. Nepal governments ex-employees are appointed as commissioners. Where is our belief on independent judiciary? We should however keep the door open for this.
Dinesh Bhattarai, Former Ambassador
How we can boost our image? CSOs role for UPR is positive. Now, Nepal is for filing candidacy for Human Rights Council membership. The responses to human rights cases would make sense for this. World Summit has come up with outcome document to improve the status of human rights. Every country has right to present report on human rights laws. UN Charter, UDHR and state party of the instrumental rights have developed foundation for others to question the implementation.
Focus, how constitutionally guaranteed rights on FoE, journalist’s rights are being implemented.
Currently, the content of the related bills are very malicious so the government is likely to take cost of it.
Follow up and implementation by government is not satisfactory. The advanced countries ask Nepal to ratify the instruments but they did not do by themselves too.
The government at present is deepening politicization of institutions. Practice of making inclusive institution is grossly ignored.
State failure is the failure of state institutions. Extractive institutions are harmful to system. There is eroding public trust on state responsibilities in Nepal too.
NHRC’s recommendations were not implemented and Apex Court orders not taken into actions. Issues of Bhutanese refugees, urban refugees and Rohingya refugees are glaring. The cultural rights have to be guaranteed which we have committed. It should be raised. Nepal’s State diplomacy is heading towards failure.
FF thanked the participants for their relevant suggestions to upcoming UPR.