The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on 21 November 2006 ended a decade of fighting between the then Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPNMaoist) and the Government of Nepal. This provided an opportunity for security and justice providers in the country to refocus on meeting the needs of all Nepal’s citizens. However, ongoing and emerging security challenges and a lack of resources have hampered the establishment of accountable, affordable and accessible security and justice sector institutions. People continue to feel insecure, although the causes of this insecurity differ from group to group, geographically and depending on people’s gender and economic status. At the same time, there are clear opportunities for effective donor support to the sectors to assist Nepalis in building up their security and justice sector institutions, and thus improving the real and perceived safety and security of the population.
This report investigates the security- and justice-related experiences and perceptions of people living in six districts in Nepal affected by insecurity and weak governance, representing geographically, ethnically and economically diverse communities: Banke, Jumla, Kailali, Nawalparasi, Siraha and Sunsari. It focuses on the concerns of particular groups, including women, youth, marginalised ethnic, caste and religious communities, and security service providers. Some of the problems highlighted by this report are specific to certain groups, while others are more generally shared. The research was conducted in April and May 2009.
The security situation is deteriorating in many areas. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement has improved security in some districts but new armed groups are emerging in others; it is difficult to identify whether their principal motives are criminal or political. Moreover, high levels of violent crime such as extortion, rape, kidnap and murder continue to undermine many ordinary citizens’ security. Gender-based violence remains a grave concern. Violence against women is a serious problem in all the assessed districts. Women do not feel safe to walk alone, suffer harassment in the workplace and experience domestic violence including marital rape in the home. There are also reported incidents of women and children being forced to work for the sex industry.
Political interference damages the security and justice sectors. In all the districts assessed, the public and often representatives from the police and justice sectors complained of political parties or powerful people interfering in the free and fair workings of the security and justice sectors. This undermines trust in police and judges and causes people to turn instead to informal justice mechanisms. Moreover, at the national level, threats to justice workers and political interference hamper the proper conduct of justice.
Political strikes have a debilitating effect. The practice of holding bandhs, which close businesses, roads and state institutions including schools for days at a time, is a serious security concern in almost all the districts assessed. However, in Nawalparasi, an agreement between all local parties, including the police, to stop the bandhs continues to function and an agreement to halt political interference in security agencies has helped the police to maintain law and order.
Security and justice in Nepal: District assessment findings
There are limited mechanisms for women to access security and justice sector institutions. This is in large part due to a lack of female police – which discourages the reporting of crime – and poor training of police (male and female) in womenrelated issues. This affects women’s overall feelings of security.
Police forces are not representative, in terms either of women or of minority groups in a given area. Minority groups in many districts interact with the police less than those from majority groups, while sometimes being more likely to be arrested for crimes. This means the little interaction they have is largely negative. Police are poorly resourced, with insufficient funds, personnel and/or equipment. Where they have resources such as vehicles, they cannot pay the fuel or maintenance costs. Police often need to travel large distances, either to monitor subordinates or to carry out standard duties. Officers interviewed often complained that they had to focus on non-core duties such as guarding VIPs – hampering normal policing duties.
Poor people have little or no access to justice. The cost of travel to often distant district police headquarters or courts, the expense of using lawyers and a perception that justice is reserved for the rich and powerful means poor people struggle to access the formal justice system, and instead turn to informal justice mechanisms. Informal justice and dispute resolution mechanisms are in common use. Vehicles of justice such as paralegal committees and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are generally perceived to be more efficient and cheaper than the formal mechanisms of the state, but some women in particular risk being marginalised from informal mechanisms that are male-dominated.
Chronic poverty causes deep-seated economic insecurity among some groups, as people are unable to afford food, shelter or medicine. Such extreme poverty, where it occurs, needs to be addressed first before higher needs, such as community-police relations or a functioning women’s cell, can be confronted.
In some of the districts and areas assessed there is chronic insecurity (i.e. people fear for their lives on a daily basis). All stakeholders should consider whether, in these cases, there is an overriding need to improve security to a minimum level before undertaking any reform efforts.
There is also a need to link economic insecurity with physical insecurity in reform programmes. For example, employment is also a security need – both because a lack of any legitimate income-generating opportunities can lead people to engage in criminal activities, and because, for the extreme poor, the daily struggle to survive is itself a direct form of insecurity.
Below are suggestions for improving Nepali citizens’ experience of and access to security and justice institutions.
To security and justice providers
- Establish an independent service commission to oversee the recruitment, transfers, promotions, incentives and punishment of security providers.
- Institute a zero-tolerance policy towards internal corruption including an appropriate disciplinary system with civilian oversight (could be linked to an independent service commission).
- Increase the representation of women in the security and justice sectors. Also increase the outreach and personnel of the women and children’s cell of the Nepal Police so that it is able to respond to the security needs of women and children across the district by being represented at every police post.
- Prioritise improving approaches to gender-based violence in all areas of the security and justice sectors.
- Ensure fairness to all, regardless of gender, age, caste, religion, ethnicity or language. Orientation and capacity-building activities to change the attitudes of security personnel and justice providers regarding marginalised communities would increase their efficiency in tackling such cases.
- The police should increase their visible presence and trust among the local people through interaction, community policing and joint initiatives to address justice and security needs and concerns.
- Introduce citizen charters and provide for a public relations officer at courts to assist public understanding of the judicial process and legal services.
To national and local government
- Support the police in developing short- and long-term strategies to improve access to justice and security, including the provision of more resources to local-level policing initiatives.
- Introduce appropriate criteria to establish police stations and deploy police personnel on the basis of population and geographical conditions.
- Establish a common understanding among politicians, youth political wings and other stakeholders to respect humanitarian needs during the protests.
- Build capacity for and enforce gender-sensitive practices and approaches in the justice and security systems and all related government agencies.
- Introduce mechanisms to become more inclusive of marginalised groups, including at the more senior levels in the justice and security sectors. Existing acts related to inclusion need to be revised to close loopholes.
- Explore the current role of the informal justice system in Nepal and examine ways in which such mechanisms can a) respect certain justice ‘norms’, including human rights norms, and b) be used to relieve pressure on the formal sector, in a way that does not undermine the state’s right to maintain a monopoly on provision of security and justice for its citizens.
To civil society
- Work with the police to develop local coalitions – including political parties, labour unions and other key stakeholders – that aim to limit the practice of bandhs and violent protests.
- Raise public awareness about the issue of gender-based violence, including laws and procedures, support mechanisms and knowledge of women’s rights.
- Work with men to raise understanding and awareness of the concept and impact of gender-based violence in order to change deep-seated attitudes.
- Build upon existing networks and alliances, and create new ones with a larger diversity of sectors and stakeholders, to speak out against political interference in security and justice.
- Increase public discussion of security and justice issues, including respect for the rule of law, by working with security and justice providers, and with younger people.
- Take a co-ordinated, holistic and long-term approach on assistance to Nepal’s security and justice sectors.
- Undertake a thorough assessment of the security and justice sectors at the programme-design stage.
- Support initiatives that make the link between security and economic development. Insecurity in parts of Nepal threatens to undermine economic recovery by severely restricting economic activity (e.g. through bandhs or extortion of businesses in the eastern Terai). Draw attention at the decision-making level to the economic costs of insecurity. Work with economic actors to advocate for improved security and justice provision.
- Support initiatives that aim to understand better the role of informal justice and security mechanisms at the local level. Look at ways in which these mechanisms can be better co-ordinated with the formal sectors – this may include supporting initiatives that seek to build the capacity of these informal mechanisms to be inclusive, transparent and respect human rights norms.
- Support initiatives that aim to reduce the information gap between Kathmandu and the districts. This could include supporting media initiatives that aim to share information, or initiatives that aim to increase local participation and consultation in issues related to security and justice provision/reform.
- Support the government to ensure that security and justice policy reform is gendersensitive.
- Support programmes focusing on improving access to justice for women, the very poor, marginalised religious, ethnic or caste groups, geographically remote communities and youth.