Our Priority Should Be The Fundamental Human Rights Of Citizens

The world is now terrorized by the pandemic of COVID-19. During this interview, the number of corona infections in Nepal had reached 50,000 and about 900,000 people have lost their lives worldwide. In Nepal, the first case of the virus was confirmed on January 23, 2020. The country has been going through a state of captivity since the initiation of Lockdown from March 24, 2020. Some of the rights listed as the fundamental rights of the constitution have been fragmented in this complex situation. At this juncture, we spoke with Mr Sushil Pyakurel, the founding chairperson of INSEC and a former member of the National Human Rights Commission, about the role of human rights activists and civil society and what the government should do. Here is his interview with Ramesh Prasad Timalsina, Editor of INSEC Online:

What role should civil society and human rights defenders play in the complex situation caused by the pandemic of COVID-19?

COVID-19 has terrorized the world. Corona has made every powerful nation of the world helpless and hopeless. It is being studied and researched and we don’t know how long is it going to take. Therefore we are in ignorance. Ways to fight it also has varied from country to country. In Nepal too, we have adopted various processes from the beginning. As soon as corona was seen in Wuhan, China, we rescued the Nepali students. At that time, after we rescued the students from there and brought them here, and thought everything would be done but nothing was done after that.

After that, the number of Nepalese dying of corona outside Nepal increased.

The main remedy in practice around the world is the act of lockdown. In such a case, the working procedure of everyday life has changed. Basic human rights issues such as education, health and employment have been affected in Nepal All the dimensions of human rights have been affected. There is no area that has not been affected by the pandemic. It has also confused us. The Human Rights Commission issued a statement saying, “Make good arrangements for quarantine.” The court said, “Make arrangements for ventilators.” Parliament has asked for the provision of 10,000 ventilators immediately. It’s not that easy.

What is our capacity? What is the economic situation? These three bodies are well aware of that. Human rights activists need to be aware that the public is watching and talking. We need to focus on the protection of human rights to the best of our ability. In such a situation, not all human rights can be enjoyed, but the protection of basic human rights must be emphasized. Not only health workers and security personnel are at risk, but also human rights activists have to work to protect the human rights of citizens at risk by adopting safety methods. We have a lot of experience working during the conflict. Even if the situation is different, it is the responsibility of human rights activists to work for human rights.

So what does the tendency to put pressure on the government without looking at its capacity indicate?

We called for an end to violence yesterday. We said that the arrested person cannot be kept in the barracks. We protested against the arbitrary arrest. We asked the government for making arrangements for children’s education. It is said that now there is no situation to open a school and teach. Patients are scared to go to the hospital for treatment. It is not appropriate to blame anyone in such a situation. However, human rights activists need to pay attention to the basics. In order to prevent the spread of corona infection, there should not be a situation where on the one hand there is a need for a ban and on the other hand, there is no right to walk. Human rights activists are concentrating on capital or big cities. Corona’s influence and impact are also seen in densely populated areas. At present, the situation is not the same across the country. Some districts are on the list of zero infected. Why is no one paying attention to educating the children of such places by adopting all the standards of health care? Failure to create a conducive environment for children to go to school and study where they can now change the course of our future.

Are you trying to say that the right to education should be given more priority?

Some schools in the city are even running online classes. I am asking why not teach children in villages where there is no internet access and where there is no corona infection. Until yesterday, we used to say that children need buildings, books and teachers to study. But today, the situation is different. Children also need the internet. Not just the internet. Every student needed a laptop in their hand. Human rights organizations with a nationwide network or human rights activists across the country should show their presence as much as possible. Awareness should be spread. This is also a part of education. It is also the duty of human rights activists to suggest to the government alternatives. It seems that working in the field of education is not impossible in the current situation. Schools should be run in as many places as possible by adopting health safety standards. Students should be involved in educational activities. The constitution gave the right to education at the local level. Why not teach safely inward schools? I am just trying to say that the central government is not the only one to use its power now.

The right to health is guaranteed by the constitution. However, people are dying in the gates of the hospital and wandering around without getting treatment from the hospital. What should the government do in such a situation?

Our main problem at the moment is two types of health systems. The government health system is slow. There is a lack of capacity. There is also a lack of commitment. Management is also not strong. The private health system is engrossed in profit. They are not service-oriented. They also lack commitment. Because of these problems, we are in trouble. This is where human rights activists have to tell the government to make the hospitals accountable. It is the human rights activists who are pushing the government for the safety and commitment of the health workers. We cannot address all the problems at once. Human rights activists should continue to work to help and pressure the government to solve problems by setting priorities and looking at the capacity of the state. We must move forward by prioritizing work. At such a time, it is important for Nepal’s human rights activists to work together for education, health and the right to food. In the early days of the lockdown, there were rumours of relief. The country has been under siege for so many days now. Where is the relief? The government should make arrangements. Rights activists should pay attention to this. This problem can go on for a very long time. Therefore, people should be warned not to panic and to move forward while fighting the problem.

Those at the forefront are being abused. If the government does not pay attention to this on time, the situation will become more complicated!

Civil society and human rights activists also need to play a role in drawing the government’s attention. The government belongs to all of us. Government mechanisms are not efficient. There is also a lack of commitment. As there is no situation for this mechanism to do anything right now, human rights activists should work to make the existing mechanism as accountable as possible. Which body is more accountable then? We have to be able to identify and hold the same body accountable. There are 761 governments in three tiers. Therefore, all governments should be equally accountable. Civil society has an important role to play in increasing accountability.

The pandemic of COVID-19 has changed our daily lives. Fundamental rights have been violated. What should be the priority of civil society and human rights movement in such a time?

Our priority should be the fundamental human rights of the people. We have a list of fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution. Due to the crisis, not all rights are active. However, food, shelter, clothing, education, health and employment needs to be addressed in such a situation. In the days after the catastrophic earthquake of 2015, the hospitals had also provided services under tents when the beds were full. However, now the patients are not allowed to enter the hospital for treatment. This has been reported in the public media. This cannot be done. At the same time, the safety of health workers needs to be taken into consideration. The main priority now is to motivate health workers. The government should be more responsible for that. Civil society should also play a role in creating an environment.

For the audio of the interview, please click here