Discrimination Against Nepali Dalits Needs Urgent Action, Says Amnesty Report

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    Discrimination Against Nepali Dalits Needs Urgent Action, Says Amnesty Report

    The State of Nepal falls short to protect Dalits, the report says, adding that distrust in the police and justice system goes together with inadequate and insufficient measures to address systemic caste-based discrimination.

    Authorities in Nepal are failing to protect Dalits, particularly women and girls, from systemic and widespread caste-based discrimination, said Amnesty International in its new report published today.

    The report, “No One Cares”: Descent-Based Discrimination against Dalits – documents the experience of systemic caste-based discrimination in Nepal and the challenges they face in accessing justice as the Nepali authorities’ existing legal and protective measures prove insufficient and fail to secure their human rights.

    “The authorities in Nepal are not doing enough to counteract the culture of impunity for human rights violations related to descent-based discrimination in Nepal. Efforts made by the authorities are still inadequate and insufficient, and they seem to exist only on paper but do not translate into real changes in the lives and the human rights of Dalits, Dalit women and girls in particular,” said Fernanda Doz Costa, Amnesty International’s Director for Gender and Racial Justice Programme.

    Despite legal reforms to prohibit caste-based discrimination, Amnesty International has documented examples of how every aspect of everyday life in Nepali society is divided and operates based on the caste system, where discrimination and violence is pervasive for Dalits. They continue to face multiple barriers in access to justice and have no recourse to reparations due to institutional discrimination, including in the police.

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    Culture of impunity

    Impunity is rampant for several reasons, including inadequate statute of limitations in the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability, (Offence and Punishment), (CBDU) Act, lack of representation of Dalits in the justice system and institutional discrimination in the police and justice system, lack of effective oversight mechanisms and accountability.

    Dalits do not trust the police and the justice system in general, and the limited government level data and statistics available (Only 30-43 cases per year registered under CBDU Act in police records) confirm their distrust is well-founded, including for Dalit women confronting caste-based violence. The inactions or limited actions of Nepali authorities, including failing to hold public officers accountable, and closing the trust deficits, are reinforcing this culture of impunity and are sending a message to society that caste and gender-based discrimination and violence are “acceptable” and “natural”.

    Intersectional cases of caste and gender-based violence often go unreported, further perpetuating a culture of invisibility, silence, and impunity. In many instances, the burden of shame and stigma is placed on the Dalit survivors, rather than on the non-Dalit perpetrators.

    Amnesty International documents that in instances when the caste-based incidents are reported, police frequently refuse to register cases to initiate the criminal proceedings in law, including for crimes of untouchability and gender-based violence or rape cases involving Dalit women. Police often prefer to push for informal mediation out of the justice system rather than initiating criminal investigations and prosecutions which results in widespread impunity.

    Barriers to justice

    Access to justice is hindered when police fail to register and effectively investigate cases under the CBDU Act. Rather, as reported by stakeholders, the police often registered such cases under other laws which has the effect of downplaying the discriminatory motive of the offence and dilute the severity of caste-based discrimination.

    There have also been reported incidents in which police have failed to conduct thorough, impartial, fair, and timely investigations into the suspicious deaths of victims from the Dalit community.

    “No one cares”

    Anita Mahara, one of the Dalit women interviewed for Amnesty International’s report said that it seems like “no one cares”.

    Allegations against the police regarding willful negligence of duty in handling caste-based discrimination prompted the Nepal’s Parliamentary Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights to require a Dalit cell in every police station since 2020. This resulted in the creation of 86 Dalit-specific police cells across the country, each tasked with reporting, investigating and coordinating with victims of caste-based discrimination and untouchability. Amnesty International’s researchers visited three district-level police stations in Madhesh Province and discovered that the Dalit desk was not functional, except for a placard labelled “Dalit desk”.

    Despite some encouraging legal protections, the state is failing to fulfil its human rights duty to address caste-based discrimination. The specific legislation created for this, namely the CBDU Act, lacks effective implementation and falls short in effectively combating such an entrenched system of caste-based discrimination.

    The Nepali authorities must create a holistic plan for a truly transformative response to uproot the entrenched caste and gender-based violence and discrimination in Nepal, based on human rights obligations and with an intersectional lens. There is an urgent need to take special measures to improve the situation of Dalit women and girls due to the inter-generational history of oppression and entrenched culture of caste-bias, patriarchy and discrimination.

    “Nepal must fulfil its obligation to provide effective, timely and meaningful access to justice and reparations for survivors. It must move away from merely paying lip service to the ideals of achieving equality for all but take a concrete human-rights centric approach to relegating descent-based discrimination to the dustbins of history,” said Fernanda Doz Costa.

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