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With the evaluation of Nepal’s human rights record at the United Nation’s (UN) Human Rights Council concluding in January, 2021, all countries in South Asia have now finished the Third Cycle (2017-2022) of their Universal Periodic Review. Starting with this edition, and in the lead-up to the Fourth Cycle, SAC will report on the progress — or lack of it — that each country has made with regards to major commitments made and recommendations received during the Third Cycle. Our focus will be on minority rights and the freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), and broader civil and political rights, particularly as they apply to marginalised communities.

In this edition, we analyse the progress made by Bangladesh, India and Nepal. Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will be covered in the next edition of our Bulletin, scheduled for release in June, 2021. (click here to subscribe)

At the Third Cycle, Bangladesh, India and Nepal all received recommendations underlining the need to set in place adequate protection measures for vulnerable and marginalised groups, including religious and caste minorities. National governments opted to merely ‘note’ and not ‘support’ many important recommendations pertaining to issues that are considered politically sensitive in their respective countries, such as the persistence of violence and discrimination against various vulnerable groups in each country. Even in cases where national governments officially recorded their ‘support’ of specific recommendations, state inertia has resulted in very little progress being made on several important fronts, such as India’s almost-25 year old failure to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture, Bangladesh’s almost-25 year old failure to follow through on important commitments made to the indigenous tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and Nepal’s failure to adequately set up National Commissions for Dalits and Women despite the presence of new Constitutional provisions enabling the same. In some cases, such as India’s in particular, state policy since the Third Cycle has been openly hostile to specific vulnerable groups, with grave implications for minority rights and FoRB.

Click the links below for more detailed analyses from each country on key recommendations received during the Third Cycle of the UPR.

Last evaluated: May, 2018 (Third Cycle)

Previous evaluations: April, 2013 (Second Cycle) and February , 2009 (First Cycle)

Next evaluation: October, 2023 (Fourth Cycle) (tentative)

At the Third Cycle, the Bangladesh government received 31 recommendations relating to the rights of marginalized and vulnerable groups 31 recommendation. Of these, Bangladesh accepted 23 and merely noted 8. (Source: UPR-Info Database)

A brief of their implementation has been given below:

No. Key Recommendations Analysis
Freedom of Religion
147.63 Work with Civil Society to develop a roadmap to implement HRC resolution 16/18 on combating religious intolerance.  

Recommending State: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
In Bangladesh, freedom of religion or belief continues to be impacted, especially for the country’s religious minorities—including Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and Ahmadiyya Muslims. These communities face a number of new and existing challenges. Among them are the ongoing problems with the legacy of the Vested Property Act; the introduction and enforcement of the Digital Security Act with provisions that criminalise blasphemy; the rise of religious extremism; and challenges posed by local law enforcement.

No new public policies have been put in place targeting vulnerable groups in order to achieve SDGs. Since the 2015-16 fiscal year, Dalits’ (overwhelmingly Hindu) special status with regard to the allotment of social safety-net support was taken away. Dalits now have to compete with other economically and socially marginalised communities to receive support, and as a result have been deprived of services in many cases. As of date, the Uniform Family Code has not been codified yet and thus, discriminatory practices continue to persist in personal laws regarding inheritance, marriage, divorce, custody and guardianship.

No planning is in place with regard to the implementation of HRC resolution 16/18 on religious intolerance. Despite having equal rights and constitutional status, religious minorities in Bangladesh live in a state of intimidation due to perennial societal discrimination, harassment and violent targeting. Successive post-Independence governments have failed to adequately respond to the problem of violent attacks on Bangladesh’s Hindu community. Hindus are also underrepresented in politics and in the other important sectors of the state.

A report of the United Kingdom’s Home Office stated that political parties in Bangladesh continue to use religiously divisive language and, on occasion, act in ways that exacerbate rather than diminish religious and communal tensions. Violent assaults on religious minority communities are often not investigated or prosecuted. While the above-mentioned circumstances make the religious minorities voiceless, the recent trend of violence against them on social media added further risk to their freedom of speech and expression. In recent times, dozens of attacks on minorities have taken place following Facebook posts that apparently hurt the attackers’ religious sentiments. However, no trial has been confirmed yet against any communal attack on religious minorities including the attack on Buddhist temple of Ramu in 2012, and the attack on the Hindu community in Nasirnagar in 2016.
147.64 Continue working on enhancing religious freedom and prevention of extremism and violent extremism.  

Recommending State: Holy See
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
147.156 Ensure the effective investigation and sanctioning of all cases of violence against religious minorities.  

Recommending State: Austria
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
147.28 Advance its policy of promoting a culture of peace, supporting collective measures against racism, xenophobia, hatred of Islam, and protecting the victims of these crimes.  

Recommending State: Oman
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
Enactment of the Anti-Discrimination Act
147.25 Further accelerate the process of adoption of the anti-discrimination legislation.

Recommending State: Georgia
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
As per a recommendation by the Law Commission of Bangladesh, a draft Elimination of Discrimination Act was prepared in 2014.

The draft was first submitted to the Law Ministry in 2014. While the Law Minister publicly noted on a number of occasions that the law would be passed, it was sent to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for further revisions in 2017. In April 2018, the NHRC sent a revised draft of the Act to the government. However, it has remained under review since then, causing frustration among stakeholders.  
147.26 Expedite the formulation of the Elimination of Discrimination Act.

Recommending State: Thailand
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
147.27 That the Anti-discrimination law be drafted to protect the rights of marginalized communities and that it is consistent with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Recommending State: South Africa
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
147.30 Establish a legislative framework to eliminate discrimination against marginalized and disadvantaged children.

Recommending State: Madagascar
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
147.32 Continue to promote a culture of peace and support anti-racism measures.  

Recommending State: Sudan
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
147.36 Continue to carry out inclusive public policies targeting vulnerable groups in order to achieve the sustainable development goals.  

Recommending State: Senegal
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
147.155 Continue implementing the legal, policy and administrative measures to protect the rights of ethnic minorities.  

Recommending State: South Africa
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
147.151 Adopt legislation and comprehensive public policies to guarantee the human rights of persons in a situation of human mobility, with a gender, intergenerational and intercultural focus.  

Recommending State: Ecuador
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
149.24 Adopt without delay, a new non-discrimination legislation with view of promoting gender equality and that it, without discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion or any other status, criminalize all forms of violence against women and girls, including marital rape, irrespective of the age of the victim, domestic violence and all forms of sexual abuse and harassment, ensuring also security and justice to the victims.  

Recommending State: Finland
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
Rights of the Indigenous Peoples
147.157 Guarantee the protection and rights of persons belonging to minorities.  

Recommending State: France
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
The Constitution of Bangladesh does not recognise ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities as indigenous people. Through the 15th Amendment to the Constitution in 2011, the government recognised ‘tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities’ obliquely referring to the indigenous peoples, while categorising all the people of Bangladesh, irrespective of their ethnic, linguistic and cultural backgrounds, collectively as ‘Bangalee’, the dominant ethno-linguistic group in Bangladesh.

On 18th December 2019, the NGO Bureau Affairs of the Government of Bangladesh issued a notice requesting all NGOs to change their names, within one month, if they used the term(s) ‘Adibashi/Indigenous’. It also highlighted how under Article 23A of the Constitution, there is no community recognised as ‘Adibashi/Indigenous’ in Bangladesh. This complete disregard and non-recognition of the indigenous peoples of the country further increased the possibility of them facing violence. Besides, ethnic minorities in these regions continue to face harassment and violence at the hands of  Bangla-settlers as well as the military. In 2020, many individuals from ethnic minority groups were arbitrarily arrested and beaten up by the army and by army-backed vigilante groups. Indigenous communities living in remote areas of the plains of Bangladesh also faced starvation, with little or no food relief. While the pandemic has affected the indigenous people in various ways in terms of food shortage and access to medical services, the harassment and intimidation by the security forces and the activities of these vigilante groups have continued to aggravate the situation.
149.57 Comprehensively review the legislation in order to recognize gender equality and the protection of indigenous people and ethnic minorities.  

Recommending State: Honduras
Bangladesh’s response: Noted
149.58 Strengthen policies and measures to protect indigenous peoples.  

Recommending State: Islamic Republic of Iran
Bangladesh’s response: Noted
149.59 Step up efforts in order for indigenous peoples; especially the jumma as well as the dalit fully enjoy their human rights.  

Recommending State: Peru
Bangladesh’s response: Noted
Implementation of Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord of 1997
147.9 Establish a plan of action to ensure full implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord.  

Recommending State: Australia
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
Despite 23 years elapsing since the Peace Accord was signed, the implementation of a majority of the Accord has not started yet. The government of Bangladesh claims that 48 out of 72 clauses of the CHT Accord have been fully implemented and 15 clauses have been partially implemented, while remaining 9 clauses are under implementation process. However, according to the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (one of the signatories of the CHT Accord), only 25 out of 72 clauses have been fully implemented, 13 clauses have only been partially implemented and 34 clauses remain totally unimplemented, which implies full implementation of only about one-third of the Accord’s provisions have been fully implemented. Major provisions of the Accord, including resolving land disputes through CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission, withdrawal of all temporary military camps and de-facto military rule, rehabilitation of internally displaced persons and Indian repatriated tribal refugees, election of Hill District Councils, etc. still remain unimplemented.

According to Amnesty International, the status of the implementation of the Accord and the human rights situation in the CHT region remains depressingly similar to 2013. While the government has enacted and amended laws and formed the CHT Accord Implementation Monitoring Committee, the changes have had little impact on the ground in the absence of a constitutional framework acknowledging the special status of the region.
147.10 Launch a road map with a clear timeline for the speedy, proper and full implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord.  

Recommending State: Denmark
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
147.11 Continue efforts to implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord and ensure that the ethnic minorities fully enjoy their rights.  

Recommending State: Maldives
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
147.12 Increase efforts to implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord.  

Recommending State: New Zealand
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
Rohingya Community
147.164 Continue efforts to host the forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals until they voluntarily return to their homeland in safety, security and dignity.  

Recommending State: Yemen
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
Although Bangladesh has struggled to cope with the scale of the crisis that has unfolded since 2017 and the influx of large numbers of Rohingya refugees into the country, it continues to host them till date.

On 3rd March 2020, UN agencies and NGO partners launched the 2020 Joint Response Plan (JRP) for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, aiming to raise US$877 million to respond to the needs of approximately 8,55,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and over 4,44,000 vulnerable Bangladeshis in the communities hosting them.

However, due to the heavy strain being put on resources, many Rohingya continue to suffer from acute humanitarian and protection needs. Additionally, there have been multiple news reports of illicit or unauthorised activities taking place within and outside the camps which have also resulted in a heavy-handed and, at times, indiscriminate security response from authorities, with frequent instances of extrajudicial killings, under the guise of ‘crossfire’ during the anti-drug campaigns. Registered Rohingya living in recognised camps are also not permitted to move freely. Local authorities have enforced tight restrictions on Rohingya movement in Teknar, Ukhiya and other areas of Cox’s Bazar, to the extent that even Bangladeshi citizens have to carry national identity cards in these areas. These restrictions have a heavy impact on the economic livelihoods and the ability to access relief assistance. Rohingya working illegally face the constant threat of arrest, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by employers and harassment.

It is to be noted that the government of Bangladesh made an attempt back in August 2019 to repatriate some Rohingya people to Myanmar; however, later, due to the uncertainty of their safety and security, the repatriation was stopped. When the Rohingya initiated protests, authorities responded with a crackdown on NGO activity and imposed further restrictions on mobile phone services within the camp, accompanied by plans to create a barbed wire security fence to curb free movement.  
147.165 Continue to pursue strong efforts bilaterally as well as internationally and with help and assistance from the international community, to the sustainable resolution of the Rohingya crisis.  

Recommending State: Azerbaijan
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
147.166 Continue to work with international partners and Myanmar to find a sustainable solution that enables those displaced to return home voluntarily, safely and with dignity.  

Recommending State: New Zealand
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
147.167 Continue to hold constructive dialogue with Myanmar and make efforts to implement the bilateral agreement, aiming at steady and rapid repatriation of refugees.  

Recommending State: Japan
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
148.4 Ensure legal and constitutional protection of indigenous and religious minorities, and facilitate the reporting of violations of their rights.  

Recommending State: Estonia
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
148.22 Continue improving Rohingya refugees’ conditions and investigating allegations of abuses and human rights violations against them in accordance with international standards.  

Recommending State: Holy See
Bangladesh’s response: Supported
148.23 Step up efforts to guarantee the rights of refugees, with full respect to the principle of non-refoulement.  

Recommending State: Mexico
Bangladesh’s response: Noted
148.24 Strengthen those measures that had been taken to ensure that all children and young persons among the refugees have effective access to the right to education, as well as guarantee the registration of all refugee children born in Bangladesh regardless of race, religion, national origin or citizenship of their parents, particularly those children of Bangladeshi and Rohingya couples.  

Recommending State: Argentina
Bangladesh’s response: Noted
149.51 Ensure that all refugee and stateless women and girls have effective access to justice without being threatened with arrest, by amending the 1946 Foreigners Act.  

Recommending State: Iceland
Bangladesh’s response: Noted
149.60 Ensure access to justice to refugees and stateless individuals, in particular women and girls, including those belonging to ethnic minorities.  

Recommending State: Brazil
Bangladesh’s response: Noted

Last evaluated: May, 2017 (Third Cycle)

Previous evaluations: May, 2012 (Second Cycle) and April, 2008 (First Cycle)

Next evaluation: October, 2022 (Fourth Cycle) (tentative)

India’s human rights record was last evaluated as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government was beginning the fourth year of its first term. Though anti-minority policies, repression of dissent and general disdain for human rights were yet to escalate to current levels, the situation for minorities and for advocates of civil and political rights had already taken a clear turn for the worse. A spike in anti-minority hate crimes—aimed primarily at Muslims, Dalits and Christians—with near-impunity for perpetrators had already been noted worldwide, and several prominent civil society organisations and activists, including students, had been openly targeted. And the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir had just come off a six-month long period of violent unrest on the back of the killing of a popular militant commander.

There was, however, very little voicing of these concerns by state parties during the Third Cycle. There was no mention of the escalation of violence against civilians and security forces’ abuses in Kashmir. Nor of the campaign of anti-minority hate, harassment and violence across the country. Only Pakistan and, in one instance, Switzerland asked for specific actions related to Kashmir and against impunity of state agents committing human rights violations. These were easily brushed aside by India. This weak calling out by the world community, of the targeting of minorities, even as the county was boiling up, is remarkable. Even those issues that were raised, were barely acknowledged by Indian government. Of a total of 263 recommendations received, only 120 (46%) sought clear and specific (Category 5) actions from India. Only nine (8%) of these dealt with minority rights or the freedom of religion and belief (FoRB). Of these, India ‘supported’ only 3, none of which related to religious minorities, reflecting the BJP government’s lack of commitment to religious pluralism and equality. (Source: UPR-Info Database)

On the 46 specific actions supported by India, progress has been limited and, in some cases, non-existent. 21 of the actions related to a commitment to ratify the Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), on which there has been virtually no movement on the legislative front. Commitments made on women’s rights (20%) and child’s rights (28%) have also led to little positive change on the ground. Advances made on other fronts, such as the rights to health, housing, food, livelihood, and education, among other economic, social, and cultural rights, have also been severely impacted, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this section, we briefly review major, post-2017 developments related to seven selected recommendations that India received during the Third Cycle. These recommendations have been shortlisted based on their implications for minority rights and broader civil & political rights.

No. Key Recommendations Analysis
161.7 Ratify, before the next universal periodic review cycle, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Recommending State: Czechia
India’s response: Supported

[Similar recommendations received from 20 other countries, including the US, Russia, Australia, Italy - all supported by India]

India signed the UNCAT in 1997 but remains one of only five countries yet to ratify it. Custodial torture in India has continued at a systemic level and is considered almost a routine part of law enforcement and interrogation, even in areas that are not marked by conflict. Despite various UN bodies repeatedly expressing concern about the prevalence of torture — for example, in 1997 (HRC), 2007 (CERD), 2008 (CESCR), in addition to several mentions by the OHCHR in its observations and reports on Kashmir, and multiple recommendations received in all three previous UPR Cycles ­— a comprehensive legislation to define, prevent, prosecute and punish torture is yet to be put in place in India.

Major developments since 2017:
  • At the Third Cycle, India defended its failure to ratify the UNCAT by pointing to a then-ongoing report of the Law Commission of India that was looking into the implementation of the same through legislation.
  • In October 2017, the Law Commission in its report reiterated the need to ratify the UNCAT, and appended a draft legislation (‘The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017’) for introduction in parliament. This Bill was a modified version of a draft law that had been introduced in parliament in 2010, which had been improved further by a parliamentary select committee before lapsing. Legal scholars noted that the Law Commission version made several key dilutions to the select committee version, including restricting the definition of torture to physical pain and suffering, removing specific mentions of accountability for senior officials, and removing an emphasis on the context of sex, race and religion-based discrimination. Even this diluted draft, however, has not been introduced in parliament in the three years that have passed.

  • The National Campaign Against Torture’s (NCAT) Annual Torture Report for 2019 highlighted, once again, the prevalence of torture in India, and impunity for the same:

    • In 2019, India witnessed 1731 instances of custodial deaths, an average of around five per day.
    • Between 2005 and 2018, in cases related to 500 deaths allegedly due to torture in police custody, there was not even a single conviction.
    • Victims are disproportionately members of the Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim communities—who together account for only 39% of India’s population but make up 53% of the prison population—and almost exclusively from poor families.
    • Torture has also taken the form of sexual crimes against women.
    • Minors too have been subject to torture, with at least 5 deaths reported in 2019.

  • In September 2020, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) made inquiries into all cases of custodial deaths mandatory, and not merely of cases where there was suspicion of foul play, as was the practice before. Passing off torture deaths as natural deaths has been common practice.

  • In December 2020, the Supreme Court (SC) mandated the installation of close-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in police stations and the offices of other investigative agencies. Legal scholars noted that while the judgment is significant, the step will have a meaningful impact on ending impunity for torture only if other, long-pending reforms are implemented.
161.32 Accede to and fully implement the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Recommending State: Slovakia
India’s response: Noted

[Similar recommendation received from Kenya]

India does not have a national refugee law or policy, and also does not legally recognise stateless persons. Different refugee groups are treated differently: some receive full state protection, some receive support from the UNHCR, and some do not have their presence officially acknowledged at all. The ascent of the Hindu nationalist BJP government to power has added a new level of religious arbitrariness to this regime, with Muslim refugees being treated with particular hostility.

Major developments since 2017:
  • In 2018, in a direct violation of non-refoulement, India declared that all Rohingya Muslims in the country were ‘illegal immigrants’ and a threat to national security. Multiple rounds of deportations followed.

  • In 2015, non-Muslim from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan were, by decree, allowed to stay on in India without proper documentation. In 2019, this discriminatory distinction that explicitly leaves out Muslim refugees was codified into law by amending India’s Citizenship Act (the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019), relaxing the residence requirement for naturalisation and hence making it easier only for the aforementioned refugee groups to claim Indian citizenship.

  • Additionally, a drive to detect and deport ‘illegal’ foreigners — mostly Muslims, who have also been referred to as ‘termites’ by India’s home minister — from the state of Assam via a National Register of Citizens (NRC) has been closely monitored and directed by the Indian Supreme Court since 2013. The process culminated in August 2019, with the publishing of a final NRC that left 1.9 million residents of Assam off the list and at risk of mass statelessness. The legal redress awaiting these individuals has been found to be opaque, arbitrary and awash with anti-Muslim prejudice.

  • The Indian government has announced its intention to conduct a similar National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) exercise for the whole of the country, leading to nationwide protests over fears that the CAA-NRIC combination could result in the mass disenfranchisement of India’s Muslims. Mass detention centres for alleged foreigners have already been constructed in several states across the country.

161.82 Take urgent measures to repeal the norms that discriminate against castes, and investigate and sanction the perpetrators of acts of discrimination and violence against them, in particular against Dalits.

Recommending State: Argentina
India’s response: Supported

Caste-based discrimination is one of India’s oldest forms of institutionalised structural violence. While the government has enacted the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to punish perpetrators of caste violence, perpetrators have largely gone unpunished due to the inherent caste bias present in the police and other state institutions.

UN bodies have repeatedly noted that caste-based discrimination, violence and state complicity are violations of various international declarations and conventions. India has consistently avoided the inclusion of caste in the understanding of race, which makes international laws on racial discrimination inapplicable.

Major developments since May 2017:
  • Caste-based violence, including sexual violence, has continued unabated in India. The rape and murder of a minor Dalit (‘lower caste’) girl in a village in Uttar Pradesh in 2020 once again highlighted the particular vulnerabilities faced by Dalit women. The ‘upper’ castes in neighbouring villages rallied in support of the alleged attackers, and the UP government alleged that an ‘international conspiracy’ was behind the media outcry over the case.

  • State institutions, including the police and judiciary, continued to be marked by a lack of adequate representation of ‘lower’ castes. In an illustrative example, a report in 2019 revealed that 68% of the police officer-level posts in Uttar Pradesh that were reserved for members of ‘lower’ castes were lying vacant.

  • The conviction rate in caste atrocity cases under the SC/ST (PoA) Act has remained abysmal, at 29.8% in 2018 and 32.6% in 2019.

161.97 Revise the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to bring it into compliance with the obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with a view to fighting impunity.

Recommending State: Switzerland
India’s response: Noted

[Similar recommendation received from Pakistan]

AFSPA, a law that gives special powers to armed forces operating in ‘disturbed areas’, was first introduced in India’s north-eastern states to curb insurgency, and in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in 1990. The law gives extraordinary powers to security forces, and exempts security personnel operating in such areas from being held accountable even for deaths caused in the course of maintaining ‘public order’.

Since the law came into effect in Kashmir, the region has seen over 70,000 killings, over 7,000 unmarked graves, over 8,000 disappeared persons and numerous instances of systematic sexual violence and torture. Armed forces personnel accused even of committing war crimes are not prosecuted.

The law and the culture of impunity it has enabled have been consistently criticised by international rights bodies, including UN bodies and various special rapporteurs, who have all called for its urgent repeal. Repealing or revising AFSPA has been consistently recommended at each of the previous UPR Cycles.

Major developments since May 2017:
  • In March 2018, India’s deputy Home Minister informed parliament that the government had no plans to repeal AFSPA in J&K.

  • In July 2020, despite signing a peace framework agreement with local insurgent groups, India extended AFSPA in the north-eastern state for six more months. Nagaland has been under AFSPA for almost six decades.

  • In 2018, 160 civilians were killed in Kashmir, out of which 71 were reportedly killed by armed forces. One minor girl was reportedly raped and killed by Special Police Officers of Jammu and Kashmir police.

  • In 2019, 80 civilians were killed in Kashmir, of which 12 were women and 8 were children.

  • In the first six months of 2020 there were extrajudicial executions of at least 32 civilians in J&K including 3 children and 2 women. In January 2021, several army personnel were charged by local police with orchestrating ‘encounter’ killings of civilians (see Latest Developments)
161.126 Strengthen efforts to guarantee freedom of religion and belief, especially by retracting so-called anti-conversion laws.

Recommending State: Holy See
India’s response: Noted

[Similar recommendations received from Kenya, Italy]

While India has no national-level anti-conversion law, state-level statutes regulating religious conversions are now in place in nine out of India’s 29 states (provinces). Most of these laws were enacted (or reinforced) while Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been in power in the respective states. These laws, which prescribe a range of penalties in different states, have often provided institutional backing for the violent targeting and malicious prosecution of India’s religious minorities – especially Christians, including Christian faith leaders, besides being violative of the freedom of conscience ethos of the Indian Constitution.

The OHCHR, in its General Comment No. 22, noted that anti-conversion laws violate the freedom to change one’s religion, enshrined in Article 18 of the ICCPR. Several state parties have recommended, including in previous Cycles, that India repeal its discriminatory anti-conversion laws. However, India has never officially expressed its acceptance of such recommendations.

Major developments since May 2017:
  • Rather than abolishing existing discriminatory laws, state-level BJP governments in five states — Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh — have in fact enacted new (or made more stringent amendments to pre-existing versions of) anti-conversion legislations.

  • Faith-based human rights organizations have recorded over 1400 instances of violence against members of the Christian community over the past 5 years. All states that have anti-conversion laws in place have high incidences of anti-Christian violence.

  • In December 2020, in an apparent bid to fight ‘love jihad’ — a conspiracy theory that alleges a plot by Muslim men to seduce and convert Hindu women en masse — the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, passed its own anti-conversion ordinance, targeting inter-faith relationships. Similar statutes against ‘love jihad’ are reported to be in the offing in several other BJP-ruled states. (see Latest Developments section)
161.135 Amend the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act to ensure the right to freedom of association, which includes the ability of civil society organisations to access foreign funding, and protect human rights defenders effectively against harassment and intimidation.

Recommending State: Germany India’s response: Noted

[Similar recommendations received from the US, South Korea, Norway, Switzerland, Czechia]

The FCRA was originally enacted during the Cold War era with the stated intention of curbing the influence of foreign money in domestic politics. In 2010, FCRA was rehauled, with the focus now shifting squarely to NGOs, making it mandatory for them to receive special FCRA licenses to be able to access foreign funds. These registrations are to be renewed every five years, and a cap was also put on the proportion of foreign funds that could be used for administrative expenses – including salaries – essentially allowing the government to control how NGOs spent their money.

The FCRA was criticised separately in 2016 by numerous UN SRs as ‘not in conformity with international law, principles and standards’, and for ‘being used more and more to silence organisations’.

Major developments since May 2017:
  • The BJP government has escalated the abuse of the FCRA, targeting in particular NGOs involved in the advocacy of civil, political and environmental rights. Thousands of NGOs have lost their FCRA licenses as a result of the periodic renewal requirement. Several high-profile NGOs have been hounded by investigative agencies and had their licenses cancelled for alleged FCRA violations. In December 2019, the BJP government revealed that as many as 14,500 NGOs had been barred from accessing foreign funding since it came to power in 2014. It also revealed that the amount of foreign funds raised by Indian NGOs had fallen from $ 2.2 billion in 2018 to $ 295 million in 2019.

  • In September 2019, government tightened FCRA rules further, requiring individual office-bearers of NGOs to declare periodically that they had not been prosecuted or convicted for promoting conversions, and that they were not likely to engage in ‘propagating sedition’.

  • In September 2020, government went even further, enacting further stringent amendments to the FCRA. The new provisions, which prohibit the sharing of foreign funds with other organisations or individuals — a move that will affect grassroots NGOs — and further restrict the proportion of foreign funds that can be used for administrative expenses such as salaries, have been described as sounding the ‘death knell’ for the NGO sector in India. Weeks after the amendment was enacted, Amnesty International wound up its operations in the country.
161.249 Immediately ban the use of pellet guns and hold accountable perpetrators who have used lethal force against unarmed civilians in "Indian-Occupied Kashmir".

Recommending State: Pakistan
India’s response: Noted

Introduced in 2010 as a ‘less lethal’ way to quell street protests after over 120 civilians were killed by state forces using live ammunition in Kashmir, the use of pellet-firing shotguns has resulted in what has been described as an as ‘epidemic of dead eyes’ and the ‘world’s first mass blinding’.

Major developments since May 2017:

  • According to the UN report on the situation of human rights in Kashmir, 1253 civilians were blinded by metal pellets used by security forces from mid 2016 to 2018.

  • In 2018, one person was killed due to pellet injuries. Between 1st to 9th May 2018, 74 have received pellets with 60 among them fired on their eyes. A surgeon at a hospital in Srinagar noted that the injuries showed ‘the intention of the government forces to kill’.

  • After the government unilaterally abrogated Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status on 5th August 2019, protests erupted in the region. Police are reported to have fired pellet guns at over 10,000 protesters on the same day. At one of the protest areas, many women and children jumped off a bridge to escape pellet shotguns.

  • At least 4 civilians died of pellet gun injuries in Kashmir in 2019. This included a 12-year-old who was shot with pellets while he was playing in a field near a polling booth, and class 11 student who was shot while playing cricket.

  • In May 2020, at least 14 protesters were critically injured and one was killed by the use of pellet guns and live ammunition by security forces firing at protesters after the killing of a local militant commander. In August 2020, pellet guns were used against a Shia Muslim religious procession, resulting in at least 19 injuries.

  • Victims of pellet guns are also reported to be routinely harassed by police officers when they seek redress for their injuries. Many, either partially or completely blinded by pellet guns, are also under detention under the Public Safety Act that allows for ‘preventive’ detentions.

  • There has been a total of only one enquiry in cases of civilian casualties caused by the use of pellet guns. Both the National Human Rights Commission and the J&K State Human Rights Commission have failed to provide any concrete relief to pellet gun victims. The J&K High Court as well as the Supreme Court of India, both have rejected motions, including those brought by a network of victims, to ban the use of pellet guns in Kashmir.

Last evaluated: January, 2021 (Third Cycle)

Previous evaluations: November, 2015 (Second Cycle) and January, 2011 (First Cycle)

Next evaluation: January, 2026 (Fourth Cycle)

Nepal’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was undertaken at the 23rd session of United Nations Human Rights Council in November 2015. In the period leading up to the UPR session, Nepal underwent some disastrous events, starting with the earthquakes in April and May 2015. In the same year, Nepal promulgated its new Constitution, with the country being declared a secular, federal democratic republic. While the Constitution was welcomed and lauded as progressive, many in the Tarai region of Nepal objected with violent protests due to fears of further marginalisation. The constitution also worsened Nepal’s relationship with India, leading ultimately to an economic blockade. The Indian embargo on Nepal was placed on September 24th 2015 and lifted on 3rd of February 2016.

At Nepal’s second UPR session in 2015, the recommendations covered a range of issues including women’s rights, gender equality, sexual orientation and gender identity, caste-based discrimination, and transitional justice among others. The Government accepted 152 of 195 recommendations made by the UN member states. During the dialogue, Nepal received and accepted all five recommendations on caste-based discrimination and untouchability. Of the 32 recommendations made on women’s rights and gender equality, Nepal supported 31 and noted one. Nepal received only four recommendations on the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity, of which three were supported and one noted. Nepal supported five and noted one recommendation on the issue of indigenous and minority’s issues.

The third cycle of the Nepal UPR started in January 2021. The country accepted several recommendations on sexual and gender-based violence, discrimination against minorities, and freedom of expression. However, failure to implement many of the recommendations have been voiced by the UN report and stakeholders’ report in the third UPR cycle. The outcome of the review has not been released yet but the evidence that Nepal has failed to live up to its commitments on addressing sexual and gender based violence are plenty with laws that discriminate against women, minorities and curb freedom of expression. There are reports questioning whether Nepal deserves another term at United Nations Human Rights Council given the number of recommendations the country has failed to follow through.

This brief reviews post-2015 developments on the recommendations received on the second cycle of UPR by Nepal related to minority rights. It also looks into national, UN and stakeholders’ reports during the third UPR cycle (18–29 January 2021), to examine how the country has fared since.

No. Key Recommendations Analysis
1. Investigate all acts of discrimination against the Dalit community.

Recommending state: Spain
Nepal’s response: Noted  
The Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability Act 2011 criminalised caste-based discrimination and untouchability in Nepal. However, Dalits continue to face discrimination, untouchability, and violence. In the third cycle of Nepal’s UPR, the UN report stated that despite laws that criminalise caste-based discrimination, segregation and incidents of violence linked to inter-caste marriage and caste-based segregation were prevalent. The UN report recommended that Nepal ensure that law enforcement officers thoroughly investigate hate crimes and conduct awareness programmes to eliminate caste-based hate.

The stakeholders’ report also confirmed the stigma of untouchability and violence faced by Dalits. They informed that Dalits had continued to face discrimination which affected their access to education, health care, employment, water, land, justice. Despite the Constitution ensuring Dalits the right to proportional participation in State bodies, it has not been the case.

There is evidence that all cases against Dalits are not handled with the gravitas that they deserve. In May 2020, a Dalit man was beaten to death along with his four friends by the relatives of an ‘upper caste’ girl who was allegedly his girlfriend when he went to her village to claim her in marriage. In another instance,  a 12-year-old Dalit girl was reportedly killed after she was forcibly married to her alleged ‘upper caste’ rapist. According to media reports, an elected local official was arrested for his involvement in the killing of the Dalit men, and in the case of the killing of the girl, another elected official was part of the team who forcibly married the child to her alleged rapist. The involvement of local government representatives show that the discrimination is systemic.

In several of these and other cases of violence against Dalits, police intervention is also either late or perfunctory. Cases can go unreported because of fear from the police and a ‘complete lack of accountability’ where police refuse to file case of crimes against Dalits. Dalits being allegedly tortured in police custody has also made headlines in Dhangadhi and Rautahat. The Prime Minister too, reportedly failed to issue a statement or take any action in the aftermath of the aforementioned killings.

The 2015 Constitution provisioned for a national Dalit commission in order to end discrimination against and promote the rights of Dalits. However, even five years later the government had failed to appoint any commissioners.
2. Take further steps to eliminate discrimination against vulnerable or marginalised groups, including on the basis of gender or caste, by enacting laws to criminalise all forms of discrimination.  

Recommending state: United Kingdom
Nepal’s response: Noted
Article 18 of the Constitution of Nepal has provisioned that all citizens shall be equal before law. No person shall be denied the equal protection of law and there shall be no discrimination on grounds of origins, gender, caste, sex and others. However, such discrimination continues. The UN report on the third cycle of UPR recommended that Nepal amend the Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability Act to extend the statute of limitations for submitting a complaint, ensure the provision of quality education for all children without discrimination, and provide communities affected by gender-based violence access to gender-based violence elimination funds. The committee also recommended sexual violence to be recognised as a form of torture, and to change the definition of rape to align with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The stakeholders’ report from the third cycle confirmed that LGBTI individuals continued to face violence and discrimination. They raised concerns that LGBTI individuals faced unequal rights to citizenship, employment and marriage. They recommended a gender-neutral definition for marriage. The organisations noted that the Constitution discriminated against women with regard to Nepali women’s ability to extend citizenship to foreign spouses whereas foreign females are eligible to apply for naturalised citizenship through their Nepali husbands.

Furthermore, although the Constitution set 33 per cent of federal parliamentary seats for women, they informed that women still faced discrimination in fighting for political seats and that political parties did not commit to the full representation of women.

The National Human Rights Commission reminded the state to act on the recommendations put forward by NHRC and protect the fundamental rights of all citizens including Dalits.  Despite enacting legislations to address and outlaw caste-based discrimination, violence against Dalits and sexual minorities persists. Cases of caste-based discrimination continues with such incidents making headlines while the perpetrators get away with minimal convictions.
3. Eliminate the prohibition of conversion to another religion, which undermines freedom of religion.

Recommending state: Spain
Nepal’s response: Noted
The Constitution of Nepal guarantees the right of religious freedom and prohibits discrimination on many grounds including on the basis of one’s religion. However, there are discriminatory practices against religious minorities in the country, as seen by the campaigns for Nepal to be declared a Hindu state again.

The stakeholders’ report from the third cycle of UPR stated that imprisonment of individuals practising their religion and the country’s Penal Code of 2017 on the prohibition of conversion of persons from one religion to another was ‘vague and overbroad. The report informed that since the new penal code was passed in 2017, more Christians had been targeted by Hindu extremists.

Though Nepal has been declared secular, cow slaughter is prohibited in the country, leading to arrests and attacks on non-Hindu individuals who do not hold the animal with the same religious regard.

The Constitution of Nepal grants the right to freedom of religion but, as mentioned above, Nepal’s Penal Code, 2017, criminalises converting any person from one religion to another, undermining the very definition of freedom. This criminalisation has been used against religious minorities in the country, specifically Christians who engage in proselytisation.

On July 9, 2016, police in Dolakha district arrested eight Christians for allegedly attempting to convert Hindu children at a higher secondary school. The charges were ultimately dropped but cases of assaults on Christian leaders continue with the accusations of conversions and of cow killings. Christian organisations continue to be treated with suspicion. Even government officials have claimed that aid agencies used the cover of the 2015 earthquake to spread Christianity in the country.
4. Provide the National Dalit Commission and the National Women's Commission with sufficient resources to effectively realise their mandate.

Recommending state: Slovenia
Nepal’s response: Supported
Nepal’s 2015 constitution enabled the formation of various commissions to ensure the rights of minorities. The UN report and the stakeholders’ report on the third cycle of UPR reported that no commissioners had been appointed to the National Women’s Commission and the National Dalit Commission. The UN Committee recommended that the government provide National Women’s Rights Commission with the authority to issue rulings and reinforce local governments to address women’s rights.

The stakeholders’ report from the third cycle recommended adequate resources to be provided to the commissions. These commissions have largely remained non-functional. Both the National Dalit Commission, established to protect and promote Dalit rights, and the National Women’s Commission, formed to formulate policies and programmes to support women are still without office bearers. Without resources, these commissions are relegated to doing only administrative work.

The Nepal Police records show an increase in rape cases and attempted rape cases in the year 2019-2020. However, the National Women’s Commission has been unable to carry out investigations and deliver justice as it lacks the human resources to do so.
5. Take the necessary steps to ensure that the new constitution is implemented while protecting human rights and thus ensuring its provisions on gender equality, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and minorities.

Recommending state: Sweden
Nepal’s response: Supported
In 2015, Nepal supported the recommendation to address sexual and gender-based violence. A positive step was the extension of the statute of limitations in 2017 for rape cases from 35 days to a year. However, cases of rapes and murders after rapes are all too common in the country. The UN report and the stakeholders’ report from the third cycle stated that LGBTI individuals had continued to face discrimination and recommended that Nepal enact discrimination laws with respect to employment and social services. The UN committee recommended that Nepal ensure adequate funding for safe shelters throughout the country and strengthen crisis management centres for women. The UN committee also recommended that Nepal amend the Electronics Transactions Act and National Broadcasting Regulations in consultation with the National Human Rights Commission and civil society, to make sure activities and freedom of expression of non-governmental organisations working on women’s rights are not restricted.

Stakeholder organisations recommended amendments to the Citizenship Amendments Bill to guarantee citizenship to LGBTI persons with no requirement for medical proof and to guarantee transfer of citizenship to children.

Despite granting LGBTI people legal protections, the government fails to implement the rulings in practice. The Government of Nepal does not recognise same-sex marriage.  By the recommendation of NHRC, Central Bureau of Statistics of Nepal has taken steps to include sexual minorities in 2021 census. Nevertheless, training and further fleshing out of categories of such minorities is necessary so that reliable data may be collected.

In 2015, Nepal accepted the recommendation to address discrimination against women in their ability to pass down citizenships to their children. This was met with resistance from the government denying women such basic rights. Furthermore, the Citizenship Act in 2020 granted foreign female naturalised citizenship through marriage with Nepali men on the condition of seven years of stay in Nepal. The Act did not address or specify anything on Nepali women marrying foreign men.

In 2018, a UN committee found that the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability Act (2011) does not prohibit discrimination based on colour or national or ethnic origin.

Cover image credits: Amalini/Twitter (Colombo) | Indian Express (New Delhi) | Naseer Ahmed/Reuters (Quetta)

The contents of this Online Bulletin are the sole responsibility of The South Asia Collective and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union or Norad.
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