THE ICCPR AND THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE
Nepal signed up to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) in 1991. By doing so, it accepted the obligations set out in the treaty to respect and protect people’s human rights and to provide a remedy if and when these rights are violated. Nepal has also accepted other treaties, which spell out specific human rights obligations (including in relation to torture, to children, and to ending discrimination against women). Some of the most important obligations under the ICCPR – including the prohibition of torture – are also part of general international law and apply to all states regardless of whether they have signed the relevant treaties.
The Human Rights Committee – a body of 18 independent experts elected by States – monitors Nepal’s compliance with the ICCPR. Every four years or so, these experts look at what has happened in Nepal and make recommendations on what Nepal must do to uphold its human rights obligations. You can find a copy of the Human Rights Committee’s most recent review of Nepal here.
The individual complaint procedure
The ICCPR has an optional complaint procedure, which enables individuals who say their rights have been violated to take their case directly to the Human Rights Committee. Nepal signed up to this procedure in 1991. Once a complaint is submitted, the Human Rights Committee will then look at the case and – provided the admissibility criteria are met (see further below) – consider whether Nepal has violated their human rights, and – if so – what steps must be taken to “fix” this and to make amends.
Before a person can take their case to the Human Rights Committee they must show that they have tried all possible avenues for justice in Nepal (for example, through the Nepal courts), or that such avenues are unavailable, ineffective or have simply taken too long. This is known as “exhausting domestic remedies”, and means that Nepal should be given the opportunity to address the case first, before the Human Rights Committee will consider it. Generally, a case should be taken to the Committee within five years of exhausting domestic remedies.
Once domestic remedies have been exhausted, a person can file a complaint to the Human Rights Committee (known as a “communication”), setting out the information required in the Model Complaint Form. They should provide their personal information, a detailed description of the facts, the rights they claim have been violated, and supporting evidence (such as photographs, official records, medical reports and witness statements) that will strengthen their case. They should also stipulate what they say Nepal should do in response (for more information on remedies see here.
The Human Rights Committee will then consider the communication and if it appears to meet the necessary admissibility criteria, the Committee will forward it to the Government of Nepal and ask for a written response. Upon receipt of such a request, the Government will be required to respond within 180 days. In turn, once the government has issued a response, the person making the complaint (the “author”) will then have another chance to respond.
Once all responses have been received, the Human Rights Committee will meet in private in Geneva and consider the case at length. Due to the high number of cases sent to the Committee, from the time the complaint is filed, it will often take several years before this process is completed. The Committee will decide whether the facts alleged have been proven and whether these amount to violations of human rights (and specifically of the ICCPR). If so, it will make recommendations (“Views”) to Nepal about the steps it must take to provide justice to the victim.
The Human Rights Committee also monitors State Parties’ compliance with the recommendations made in the Views, and has recently developed a system by which it rates the level of compliance with each recommendation made. Where a state fails to implement the recommendations the Committee may enter into further dialogue with the state concerned. Further information about the ratings given in each case concerning Nepal is available here.
For more information about the complaint procedure, see here.
The Human Rights Committee’s full rules of procedure and working methods can be found on its website.
Since Nepal has signed the ICCPR and the complementary (optional) individual complaint procedure, it must carry out its obligations under the treaty, as well as the procedure, in good faith. This means that it must cooperate with the Human Rights Committee when a case is filed against it, and provide the Committee with any information about the case that it has.
It also means that, where the Human Rights Committee finds that violations have been committed against an individual, Nepal must take concrete steps to fulfill the recommendations put forward by the Committee and to right its wrongs. As the expert group tasked with monitoring the implementation of the treaty, the Committee is best placed to guide Nepal as to how to fulfil its obligations to individuals under the ICCPR.
A number of non-governmental organisations, including Advocacy Forum, REDRESS and TRIAL, assist people in Nepal to file complaints to the Human Rights Committee. If you would like to discuss your case please contact us here.