Human Rights Activists Exercise the Same Rights as Other Citizens

Manoj Duwadi

Manoj Duwadi is a member of the National Human Rights Commission who has been working for the protection of human rights through the legal field since B.S 2043. Ramesh Prasad Timalsina, the editor of INSEC online, has published a conversation with Duwadi for Prachi magazine.

Who can identify themselves as a  Human Rights Defender? 

This is a difficult question. Even, United Nations has not given a specific definition to Human Rights Defenders. Currently, there is no clear distinction between who is a human rights defender and who is not a human rights defender. Generally, this distinction should be based on the actions of a person. Any person who works for the protection and promotion of human rights is a human rights defender. To work in this way, they can work individually or through an organization. These individuals mostly identify themselves as Human Rights Activists. These activists are defenders of human rights. It is difficult to distinguish human rights defenders because they identify them based on their specific actions rather than the entire context of their work.

Then, can one individual, based on their action, can identify as human rights defender in one context and also take on other roles in another context?

Yes. An individual’s work determines their role. One can also be a human rights defender and at the same time not be a human rights protector. For example, when the Nepalese police use force during a peaceful sit-in, they are not human rights defenders. However, police have done many things to protect human rights which also makes them human rights defenders at the same time. It is the same police personnel we are analyzing, but in the context of their actions, their identity differs. Therefore, there is a crucial need for specific laws to distinguish human rights defenders. The Human Rights Commission has realized this. We have prepared a preliminary draft. We have analyzed our draft and also accumulated suggestions and feedback from various human rights defenders within the local and central levels. It is not our job to make laws. Federal law is made by the federal legislature. However, it is possible to make suggestions to organizations authorized to make laws.

In the backdrop of unclear parameters for identification, how has the discussion on the new law helped to alleviate the situation?

Salaried personnel employed through tax revenue of the government along with doctors, teachers, and journalists can be identified as human rights defenders based on their professional duty. They don’t need to be addressed by specific laws and they are protected by their profession or by the organization they are a part of. Our main aim in the discussion of this law is to recognize, be organized, and protect individual human rights defenders who are not protected by their salaried profession or organization.

Does this mean that the number of human rights defenders is extremely low?

Although we have initially prioritized those who work in the field of human rights in an unorganized manner,  we can not isolate others who fall under the definition of the United Nations. Human rights activists, like any other professionals, have the right to organize and form a union. The state should pay special attention to protecting the rights of those organized in this way.

Does striving for specific privileges for human rights defenders contradict the principle of equality of all human beings?

We have not imagined the separate and privileged rights of human rights workers. Common Nepali people will have the same rights as any human rights defenders. Our only concern is that human rights workers should not be deprived of their fundamental rights. Security and protection of Human rights defenders are of specific nature. A Human Rights Defender should have equal rights to information as any other general public and shouldn’t be deprived of it. We are interested in this because of the existing threat to human rights defenders from the state or other organized and unorganized sectors. When human rights workers work, there is a danger of retaliation from the stakeholders.

There have been instances of Human Rights Activists taking up an issue without fact-checking. In such instances, who will monitor and prosecute their work?

We have not drafted a law to control human rights activists. Human rights activists must always respect the rule of law. Those who do not follow the rule of law can not be categorized as human rights activists. Since that is the case, one cannot go beyond the limits of the law. If the limits set by the law are crossed, they will be prosecuted according to the existing law. Our aim is to ensure the freedom of Human Rights Activists to work within the legal framework.

What are the basic questions of human rights defenders in the current context?

Human rights workers, in some cases, have not been able to enjoy the rights enjoyed by ordinary citizens. We also have complaints of physical harm and threats. The queries regarding identification, protection and promotion are most relevant in the current situation.

Regarding the complaints submitted to the commission, we have witnessed some complaints taking years to be resolved.  This has led to a lot of The complainants being disappointed. Sometimes people choose not to complain at all because of this particular problem. When will it be resolved?

It is true,  that this problem exists. We are also responding to such complaints. The complaint mechanism is procedural in nature and has procedural delays. However, we have always addressed the complaints that we have received. After receiving a complaint, it takes some time to investigate, investigate, look at the evidence, etc. We acknowledge the amount of time it takes to go through the procedures and it is not our intention to cause intentional delay. We are working more sensitively on the issue of human rights defenders.

How far has the work of creating laws related to human rights defenders progressed?

We recently held a National level human rights defender conference. Krishnabhakta Pokharel, Chairman of the Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee of the House of Representatives, attended the conference and said that the committee would finalize the draft law and submit it to the Parliament. He also assured that if the government does not advance this bill, it will be submitted to the parliament as a ‘private bill’. We are enthusiastic about his response.

What is the National Human Rights Commission doing for the rights of human rights defenders?

The commission has already made guidelines on the basis of which we have been advocating to address problems faced by human rights. The Ministry of Home Affairs has also issued a directive that signifies the positive attitude of the government of Nepal towards human rights defenders. We have been working individually and collaborating with other organizations to solve the problems of the defenders.

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