On Tuesday June 7, 2011 the 17th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council met in Geneva for the adoption of Nepal’s final report on its Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Out of the 135 recommendations the UPR advanced on January 25-27, 2011, delegates from Nepal rejected 15, accepted 56 and were willing to review 36. International delegates raised concerns over Nepal’s treatment of its Tibetan refugee population and the growing influence China has in the matter. While noting the domestic progress Nepal has made since the end of its civil armed conflict in 2006, Manish Nayak of the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO) expressed concern over “the restrictions on demonstrations and freedom of movement of Tibetans, which clearly violate the fundamental right to freedom of expression.”
A joint statement by the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP), the Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network (AITPN), and the Society for Threatened Peoples, urged Nepal to “protect vulnerable refugee populations by allowing for registration of the refugee population in Nepal and by refraining from forcibly returning Tibetan asylum-seekers to China” in accordance with paragraph 109.8 of the UPR, and that Nepal should “accede to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugee, as well as its Protocol…by adopting national legislation pertaining to refugees.”
International delegates raised further concerns over the return of 18 Tibetan asylum-seekers, including eight unaccompanied minors, to China by Nepalese authorities on May 31, 2003 and a December 2010 Wikileaks report containing a secret cable dated February 22, 2010 from the American Embassy in New Dehli, which indicates China is paying off Nepalese police to arrest Tibetans from border areas.
Additional concerns were expressed over actions taken by Nepal to prevent Tibetans from participating in democratic elections for Chief Minister (Kalon Tripa) and parliament members of the exiled Tibetan government. Election observers sent by the Tibetan Election Observation Mission (TEOM) reported that Nepalese authorities confiscated numerous ballot boxes at polling stations organized by Tibetans in the Kathmandu valley. TEOM in its final report stated that such a limitation of the right to self-determination for “Tibetan refugees living in Nepal – reportedly due to political pressure on the Nepalese Government by Chinese authorities – is a reason for serious concern for the international community.”
In a joint NGO statement, Nepal’s former National Human Rights Commissioner, Professor Kapil Shrestra, underscored the value Tibetans have added to the Nepalese economy, boosting tourism and business with the Tibetan carpet industry in Kathmandu. He highlighted that although a minority like Nepal’s Tibetan community may be an easy target, “a denial of Tibetan rights will ultimately degrade the rights and legal recourse of all Nepali citizens.”
In other areas of concern, Nepal was given recognition for passing an “Untouchability Bill” to limit caste-based discrimination, and was praised by Philippe Dam of Human Rights Watch (HRW) for being the first country to include third gender identity as part of its census questionnaire. Delegates from HRW, Amnesty International, and several other NGOs were concerned, however, over the withdrawal of more than 300 conflict-era criminal charges, including cases of rape and murder, prompting the delegation from the United Kingdom to state: “Such a move would constitute an effective amnesty for alleged perpetrators of grave human rights violations and abuses, putting Nepal in potential breach of its international legal obligations.”