Nepal is a federal democratic republic. The 2015 constitution established the political system, including the framework for a prime minister as the chief executive, a bicameral parliament, and seven provinces. In 2017 the country held national elections for the lower house of parliament and the newly created provincial assemblies. Domestic and international observers characterized the national elections as “generally well conducted,” although some noted a lack of transparency in the work of the Election Commission of Nepal.
The Nepal Police are responsible for enforcing law and order across the country. The Armed Police Force is responsible for combating terrorism, providing security during riots and public disturbances, assisting in natural disasters, and protecting vital infrastructure, public officials, and the borders. The Nepal Police and Armed Police Force report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Nepali Army is responsible for external security and international peacekeeping, but also has some domestic security responsibilities such as disaster relief operations and nature conservation efforts. The Nepali Army reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective authority over the Nepal Police, Armed Police Force, and Army. Human rights organizations documented some abuses by members of the security forces.
Significant reported human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by the government; arbitrary detention; serious restrictions on free expression, the press and the internet, including site blocking and criminal defamation laws; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive nongovernmental organization laws; restrictions on freedom of movement for refugees, notably resident Tibetans; and significant acts of corruption.
The government investigated but did not routinely hold accountable those officials and security forces accused of committing violations of the law. Security personnel accused of using excessive force in controlling protests in recent years did not face notable accountability nor did most conflict-era human rights violators.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Ministry of Home Affairs are authorized to examine and investigate whether security force killings were justified. NHRC has the authority to recommend action and to record the name and agency of those who do not comply with its recommendations. The Attorney General has the authority to pursue prosecutions. According to a report by the human rights group Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance (THRDA), 12 of 18 custodial deaths they reported from 2015-20 occurred among members of the Dalit, Madhesi, or other marginalized communities.
On June 10, Shambhu Sada, a member of the Dalit community, died in police custody in Dhanusha District. Sada, a truck driver, turned himself in to police after a traffic accident where he hit and killed a woman. Police reported the cause of death as suicide; however, Sada’s family and community believe police killed Sada or drove him to suicide through physical and emotional torture. Sada’s mother-in-law visited three days before his death and stated that Sada looked scared and told her that he feared for his life.
On July 16, the Nepali Army detained 24-year-old Raj Kumar Chepang and six friends for foraging in Chitwan National Park. They were released later in the day, but Chepang complained of physical discomfort when he arrived home. His health deteriorated and he died on July 22 from injuries that his family and the community stated were sustained while in custody. The army was investigating the incident and an autopsy was conducted.
In June 2019 police in Sarlahi killed a local leader of the Maoist splinter party Biplav. Police reported that they shot Kumar Paudel after he fired at them. The human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Advocacy Forum-Nepal (AF) reported the encounter was likely staged and the NHRC recommended the government suspend the three police officers involved in the incident and conduct a fresh and impartial investigation. In February, Paudel’s family tried to file a report with the Sarlahi police and then the District Attorney’s office. Both offices refused to register the case. A human rights NGO helped the family submit the report by mail. As of September, the NHRC’s recommendation to suspend the three officials involved had not been implemented.
The law formally criminalizes enforced disappearance. There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year.
The fate of most of those who disappeared during the 1996-2006 civil conflict remained unknown. According to the NHRC, 802 cases of disappearances remain unresolved, most of which the NHRC says may have involved state actors. One new conflict-era case was registered in 2020. As of September, the government did not prosecute any government officials, sitting or former, for involvement in conflict-era disappearances, nor had it released information on the whereabouts of the 606 persons the NHRC identified as having been disappeared by state actors. The NHRC reported that Maoists were believed to be involved in 150 unresolved disappearances during the conflict. As of early September, the government had not prosecuted any Maoists or state actors for involvement in disappearances.
In 2017 the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) formed five teams to begin investigating complaints of disappearances filed by conflict-era victims. The commission had before it 3,197 registered cases and ultimately pursued 2,512 cases under its first commissioner, whose tenure expired in 2019. A new commissioner was appointed in January. As of August, the CIEDP reported 2,503 cases completed.
Human rights organizations continued to express concern over flaws related to the CIEDP. According to the International Commission of Jurists, CIEDP investigations suffered from inadequate human and financial resources to handle the large number of cases, opaque appointment processes of investigators, and a lack of measures to provide confidentiality and security of victims and witnesses.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits torture, and the law criminalizes torture, enumerates punishment for torture, and provides for compensation for victims of torture.
According to human rights activists and legal experts, police resorted to severe abuse, primarily beatings, to force confessions. The Nepal human rights group AF also reported that law enforcement personnel subjected violators of the COVID-19 lockdown to inhuman and degrading treatment. Violators were detained for hours in the sun, forced to do sit-ups, frog jumps, and crawl on the road. AF and THRDA reported annual decreases of torture and mistreatment, although THRDA noted that this trend did not hold in the southern portion of the country. AF stated that police increasingly complied with the courts’ demand for preliminary medical checks of detainees.
AF reported that 19 percent of the 1,005 detainees interviewed in 2019 reported some form of torture or ill treatment. These numbers were even higher among women (26.3 percent) and juvenile detainees (24.5 percent).
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one allegation submitted in April 2018 of sexual exploitation and abuse by Nepalese peacekeepers deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission. The allegation is against one military contingent member deployed to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, allegedly involving sexual assault and attempted sexual assault of two children in April 2018. As of September, the Nepalese government was still investigating the allegation and the case was still pending, including identification of the alleged perpetrator.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Both AF and THRDA stated that torture victims were often hesitant to file complaints due to intimidation by police or other officials and fear of retribution. In some cases, victims settled out of court under pressure from the perpetrators. AF and THRDA noted the courts ultimately dismissed many cases of alleged torture due to a lack of credible supporting evidence, especially medical documentation. In cases where courts awarded compensation or ordered disciplinary action against police, the decisions were rarely implemented. There have been no cases brought to the criminal justice system regarding torture committed during the civil conflict.
Prison conditions, especially those in pretrial detention centers, were poor and did not meet international standards, according to human rights groups.
Physical Conditions: There was overcrowding in the prison system. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) reported that in its nationwide assessment of prisons, facilities held 150 percent of the designed capacity of inmates. AF stated that overcrowding and poor sanitation remained a serious problem in detention centers. According to the OAG report, most prisons and detention centers had sufficient windows, daylight, and ventilation, with a few exceptions.
Some facilities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Due to a lack of adequate juvenile detention facilities, authorities sometimes incarcerated pretrial child detainees with adults or allowed children to remain in jails with their incarcerated parents.
The OAG reported that prisoners in the 31 prisons it monitored had a junior health official available to them, but none of the 42 detention centers or juvenile reform homes had designated health officials for medical treatment. Under the law children should be kept only in juvenile reform homes and not in prison. According to AF juveniles were sometimes observed with adult detainees. There were no separate facilities for persons with disabilities. Women were kept in separate facilities, but the facilities lacked the basic amenities.
According to AF, medical examinations for detainees generally were perfunctory and medical care was poor for detainees with serious conditions. AF reported that some detainees slept on the floor due to lack of beds and had access only to unfiltered and dirty water and inadequate food, and that many detention centers had poor ventilation, lighting, heating, and bedding.
Human rights groups reported that many COVID-19 quarantine facilities did not meet Ministry of Health and Population guidelines. Human rights groups reported deaths due to poor sanitation, lack of medical care, transport, and fear of infection. An NGO that works with marginalized groups reported that a Dalit migrant worker returning from India developed diarrhea in a quarantine center. When his condition continued to deteriorate, he was taken to the Provincial Hospital, but he did not receive proper treatment until his COVID-19 test came back negative.
Administration: Authorities including the OAG conducted investigations of allegations of mistreatment. Detainees have the legal right to receive visits by family members, but family access to prisoners varied from prison to prison.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed prison and pretrial detention center visits by the OAG, NHRC, as well as by lawyers of the accused. THRDA and AF reported that they and some other NGOs often were prevented from meeting with detainees or accessing detention facilities, although some independent human rights observers, including the United Nations and international organizations, were given such access. Media had no access to prisons or detention centers. The NHRC could request government action, but authorities often denied such requests.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but security forces reportedly conducted arbitrary arrests during the year. Human rights groups contended that police abused their 24-hour detention authority by holding persons unlawfully, in some cases without proper access to counsel, food, and medicine, or in inadequate facilities. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court.
The law stipulates that, except in cases involving suspected security and narcotics violations, or when the crime’s punishment would be more than three years’ imprisonment, authorities must obtain an arrest warrant and present the suspect to a court within 24 hours of arrest (not including travel time).
If the court upholds a detention, the law generally authorizes police to hold the suspect for up to 25 days to complete an investigation and file a criminal charge sheet. In special cases, that timeframe is extended. For narcotics violations, a suspect can be held for up to three months; for suspected acts of organized crime, 60 days; and for suspected acts of corruption, six months. Human rights monitors expressed concern that the law vests too much discretionary power in local authorities. The constitution provides for detainees’ access to a state-appointed lawyer or one of the detainee’s choice, even if charges have not been filed. Few detainees could afford their own lawyer, and the justice system did not receive sufficient funding to provide free and competent counsel to indigent defendants. There were, however, independent organizations providing free legal services to a limited number of detainees accused of criminal violations.
Authorities routinely denied defense attorneys access to defendants in custody. A functioning bail system exists; the accused have the option of posting bail in cash or mortgaging their property to the court. Unless prisoners are released on recognizance (no bail), no alternatives to the bail system exist to assure a defendant’s appearance in court.
Arbitrary Arrest: The human rights NGO Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) documented 119 incidents of arbitrary arrest (without timely warrant presentation) since January. INSEC noted that the decrease from the previous year’s 234 incidents might be due to COVID-19.
Pretrial Detention: Time served is credited to a prisoner’s sentence and no person may be held in detention for a period exceeding the term of imprisonment that could be imposed on him if he were found guilty of the offense.
Under the law security forces may detain persons who allegedly threaten domestic security and tranquility, amicable relations with other countries, or relations between citizens of different castes or religious groups. The government may detain persons in preventive detention for as long as 12 months without charging them with a crime as long as the detention complies with the act’s requirements. The courts do not have any substantive legal role in preventive detentions under the act.
According to human rights groups, in some cases detainees appeared before judicial authorities well after the legally mandated 24-hour limit, allegedly to allow injuries from police mistreatment to heal. AF estimated in 2018 that 14 percent of detainees did not appear before judicial authorities within 24 hours of their arrests, down from 41 percent in 2015. THRDA stated police frequently circumvented the 24-hour requirement by registering the detainee’s name only when they were ready to produce the detainee before the court.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but courts remained vulnerable to political pressure, bribery, and intimidation.
The law provides for the right to counsel, equal protection under the law, protection from double jeopardy, protection from retroactive application of the law, public trials, and the right to be present at one’s own trial. These rights are largely honored, except for the right to counsel and the right to be present at one’s own trial, which were sometimes ignored. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence, except in some cases, such as human trafficking and drug trafficking, where the burden of proof is on the defendant once the charge sheet establishes a prima facie criminal violation. The law provides detainees the right to legal representation and a court-appointed lawyer, a government lawyer, or access to private attorneys. The government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees only upon request. Persons who were unaware of their rights, in particular “lower-caste” individuals and members of some ethnic groups, were thus at risk of being deprived of legal representation. Defense lawyers reported having insufficient time to prepare their defense. A 2016 Supreme Court directive ordered that the courts must provide free interpretation services to those who do not speak Nepali, and interpreters were made available to interpret a variety of languages. Defense lawyers may cross-examine accusers. All lower-court decisions, including acquittals, are subject to appeal. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort.
Military courts adjudicate cases concerning military personnel under the military code, which provides military personnel the same basic rights as civilians. The law requires that soldiers accused of rape or homicide be transferred to civilian authorities for prosecution. Under normal circumstances the army prosecutes all other criminal cases raised against soldiers under the military justice system. Nevertheless, the Nepali Army has told the government it was willing to cooperate with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and CIEDP. Military courts cannot try civilians for crimes, even if the crimes involve the military services; civilian courts handle these cases.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Individuals or organizations could seek remedies for human rights abuses in national courts.
The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these provisions.
The law allows police to conduct searches and seizures without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, in which case a search may be conducted as long as two or more persons of “good character” are present. If a police officer has reasonable cause to believe that a suspect may possess material evidence, the officer must submit a written request to another officer to conduct a search, and there must be another official present who holds at least the rank of assistant subinspector. Some legal experts claimed that by excluding prosecutors and judges from the warrant procedure, there were relatively few checks against police abuse of discretionary authority.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, although journalists, NGOs, and political activists stated the government restricted media freedom by threatening journalists and news organizations that criticized the government. Human rights lawyers and some journalists stated that both the constitution and law enable the government to restrict freedom of speech and press in ways they considered vague and open to abuse. For example, the constitution lists several circumstances under which laws curtailing freedom of speech and press may be formulated. These include acts that “jeopardize harmonious relations between federal units” and acts that assist a foreign state or organization to jeopardize national security. The constitution prohibits any acts “contrary to public health, decency, and morality” or that “disturb the public law and order situation.”
Freedom of Speech: Citizens generally believed they could express their opinions freely and often expressed critical opinions in print and electronic media without restriction. The government continued to limit freedom of expression for members of Kathmandu’s Tibetan community through its attempts to stop Tibetans from celebrating culturally important events (see section 2.b.).
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, but the number of journalists arrested and charged with cybercrime, reportedly over news articles published online, has posed a new challenge. Under the law any person who makes harsh comments on social media or another online site against a senior government official can be charged with a “cybercrime.” Several editors and journalists reported they faced intimidation by police and government officials and that vague provisions in laws and regulations prompted an increase in self-censorship by journalists.
Journalists claimed to have been targeted by the former minister for communication and information technology, Gokul Prasad Baskota, who resigned in February amid reports of soliciting bribes from a foreign company, and who frequently criticized journalists and supported legislation that would restrict freedom of speech.
Violence and Harassment: According to the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), despite the government’s commitment for better policy and legal restrictions, there were a number of press freedom abuses, and the government did not make sufficient efforts to preserve the safety and independence of media. On April 27, journalists Binod Babu Rijyal from Kayakairan Media and Arjun Adhikari from Radio Triveni were detained by Traffic Police while capturing pictures for the news during the COVID-19 lockdown. Police confiscated the journalists’ mobile phones and both were detained in quarantine facilities for one hour.
The government attempted to stifle news reports that revealed financial irregularities. Journalists stated that they continued to receive vague threats from officials in response to their investigative reporting on corruption. There were also incidents of attacks on journalists. In February, Ajayababu Shiwakoti, editor in chief of Hamrakura.com, who broke the news of Minister Baskota’s involvement in corruption (see section 4), was threatened and his residence surveilled by unidentified individuals.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits prior censorship of material for printing, publication, or broadcasting, including electronically. The constitution also provides that the government cannot revoke media licenses, close media houses, or seize material based on the content of what is printed, published, or broadcast. The constitution, however, also provides for “reasonable restrictions” of these rights for acts or incitement that “may undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality of Nepal, or harmonious relations between the federal units or harmonious relations between the various castes, tribes, religions, or communities.” Speech amounting to treason, defamation, or contempt of court is also prohibited.
Journalists and NGOs stated the law criminalizes normal media activity, such as reporting on public figures, and triggered a significant increase in self-censorship by media. Media professionals expressed concern regarding an additional provision in the constitution that allows the government to formulate laws to regulate media. The law, for example, extends the scope of limitation on freedom of expression compared to the language in the constitution for national security and for maintaining public order, and defines defamation as a criminal offense. The FNJ argued that such laws could be used to close media houses or cancel their registration. The constitution also includes publication and dissemination of false materials as grounds for imposing legal restrictions on press freedom. Media experts reported, however, that these provisions were not enforced against any media houses.
Although by law all media outlets, including government-owned stations, operate independently from direct government control, indirect political influence sometimes led to self-censorship.
Libel/Slander Laws: On April 22, Nepal Police arrested former government secretary Bhim Upadhyay and accused him of defaming the government and its ministers through his social media posts; he was later released on bail. On April 30, Dipak Pathak, a journalist and board member of Radio Nepal, was arrested for reportedly criticizing former prime minister and chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal on social media. Pathak was jailed for defamation and later released on bail.
There were several incidents in which authorities took action under the law in response to material posted on social media. The law prohibits publication in electronic form of material that may be “contrary to the public morality or decent behavior,” may “spread hate or jealousy,” or may “jeopardize harmonious relations.” In 2017 the government issued an amended online media operation directive, which requires all domestically based online news and opinion websites to be registered. The directive gives the government the authority to block websites based on content if it lacks an “authoritative source,” creates “a misconception,” or negatively affects international relationships. The government also has the authority to block content that threatens the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, or harmonious relations. Online sedition, defamation, contempt of court, or indecent and immoral content may also be blocked. The new directive makes the registration, license renewal, and content production provisions for online platforms more complicated, including by requiring a copy of a site’s value added tax or permanent account number registration certificate. Renewals require online platforms to provide updated human resource and payroll records annually. The FNJ expressed concern that the directive’s vague language gives the government power to censor online content.
In April the Press Council Nepal, an autonomous and independent media regulatory body, asked for clarification from 37 online media outlets regarding the spread of disinformation on the coronavirus, which reportedly created public panic.
The law provides for the freedom to hold cultural events. There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, with the exception of events in the Tibetan community, which faced restrictions (see section 2.b.).
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association; however, the government sometimes restricted freedom of assembly and association.
Freedom of assembly generally was respected for citizens and legal residents, but there were some restrictions. Government permits are required to hold large public events. The law authorizes chief district officers to impose curfews when there is a possibility that demonstrations or riots could disturb the peace.
The government continued to limit freedom of association and peaceful assembly for members of Kathmandu’s Tibetan community, including by denying requests to celebrate publicly certain culturally important events, such as the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and deploying large numbers of police offices to Tibetan settlements to monitor private celebrations of this and other culturally important events, including Tibetan Uprising Day and Tibetan Democracy Day. The government cited pandemic-related restrictions on mass gatherings in justifying these actions.
During June and July, an independent youth group staged a series of protests in Kathmandu against the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Named the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign, protesters demonstrated through physically distanced sit-ins and hunger strikes, demanding effective management of the pandemic. Police used force, including batons and water cannons, to disperse protesters and arrested several of them.
The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. NGOs, however, stated the existing legal framework does not adequately recognize the independence of civil society and opens the door to the exercise of excessive discretion by the government. They added that the registration process for civil society organizations (CSOs) was restrictive and cumbersome, the government had wide discretion to deny registration, and requirements varied among various registration authorities, with some entities requiring documents not mentioned in existing laws on an ad hoc basis.
Additionally, the law empowers the government to give directions to associations and to terminate associations if they refuse to follow these directions. To receive foreign or government resources, CSOs must seek separate and additional approval from the Social Welfare Council, the government entity responsible for overseeing CSOs. The Council requires that CSOs allocate at least 80 percent of their budgets for hardware or tangible development outputs, which places undue restrictions on CSOs that focus on advocacy matters.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, except for most refugees, whose freedom of movement within the country is limited by law. Constraints on refugee movements were enforced unevenly.
In-country Movement: The government has not issued personal identification documents to Tibetan refugees in more than 20 years, leaving the majority of this refugee population without required documents to present at police checkpoints or during police stops. Some refugees reported being harassed or turned back by police at checkpoints. The government also restricted the movement of urban refugees of various nationalities whom the government considered irregular migrants (see section 2.f.).
Foreign Travel: In an attempt to protect women from being exploited in trafficking or otherwise abused in overseas employment, the government maintained a minimum age of 24 for women traveling overseas for domestic employment. NGOs and human rights activists viewed the age ban as discriminatory and counterproductive because it impelled some women to migrate through informal channels across the Indian border, rendering them more vulnerable to exploitation.
The 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks displaced millions of individuals. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, natural disasters in 2019 led to 29,000 displacements.
Many earthquake-affected IDPs remained in camps or informal settlements because they did not hold a title to land and were occupying it illegally when the earthquake occurred. Others stayed because their homes remained vulnerable to or were destroyed by subsequent landslides. The government promoted their safe, voluntary return and had policies in place to help them.
Although the government and the Maoists agreed to support the voluntary, safe, and dignified return of conflict-displaced IDPs to their homes following the 10-year civil war, the agreement had not been fully implemented. The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction estimated that 78,700 persons were displaced from 1996 to 2006, but an estimated 50,000 remained unwilling or unable to return home. The reasons included unresolved land and property matters, lack of citizenship or ownership documentation, and security concerns, since the land taken from IDPs by Maoists during the conflict was often sold or given to landless or tenant farmers.
The government provided relief packages for the rehabilitation and voluntary return of conflict-era IDPs. Many of those still displaced preferred to integrate locally and live in urban areas, mostly as illegal occupants of government land along riversides or together with the landless population. The absence of public services and lack of livelihood assistance also impeded the return of IDPs.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, except as noted.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the determination of individual refugee or asylum claims or a comprehensive legal framework for refugee protection. The government recognized only Tibetans and Bhutanese as refugees, and regarded the approximately 700 refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities as irregular migrants. The government continued to support the resettlement to foreign countries of certain Bhutanese refugees, while requiring other refugees accepted for third country resettlement to pay substantial penalties for illegal stay before granting exit permits. The government does not recognize Tibetans who arrived in the country after 1990 as refugees. Most Tibetans who arrived since then transited to India, although an unknown number remained in the country. The government has not issued refugee cards to Tibetan refugees since 1995. UNHCR estimated three-quarters of the approximately 12,000 resident Tibetan refugees remained undocumented, including all of whom were younger than the age of 16 in 1995 or had been born since then. Government opposition to registration has prevented revisions to these estimates. UNHCR reported 578 refugees and 60 asylum seekers from other countries, including Pakistan, Burma, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Somalia, Iran, and Iraq, lived in the country. The government continued to deny these groups recognition as refugees, even when recognized as such by UNHCR.
Freedom of Movement: The government officially restricted freedom of movement and work for the approximately 6,500 refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship residing in the two remaining refugee camps in the eastern part of the country, but those restrictions were largely unenforced for this population. After China heightened security in 2008 along its border and increased restrictions on internal freedom of movement for ethnic Tibetans, the number of Tibetans who transited through the country dropped significantly. UNHCR reported that 53 Tibetans transited the country in 2017, 37 in 2018, 23 in 2019, and 5 as of September. During the year border closures due to COVID-19 prevented transit between the country and India. While Tibetans based in the country with refugee certificates were eligible to apply for travel documents to leave the country, the legal process was often arduous, expensive, and opaque and travel documents were typically valid for one year and a single trip. A 2016 government directive authorized chief district officers to skip the verification step, which required witnesses and a police letter, for Tibetans who had previously been issued a travel document. For individuals whom the government did not recognize as refugees, even when recognized by UNHCR, the government levied fines for each day out of status and a substantial discretionary penalty to obtain an exit permit. The government maintained its policy enabling Nepali government-registered refugees destined for resettlement or repatriation to obtain exit permits without paying these fines.
Employment: Tibetan refugees were denied the right to work officially.
Access to Basic Services: Most Tibetan refugees who lived in the country, particularly those who arrived after 1990 or turned 16 after 1995, did not have documentation, nor did their locally born children. Even those with acknowledged refugee status had no legal rights beyond the ability to remain in the country. The children born in the country of Tibetans with legal status often lacked documentation. The government allowed NGOs to provide primary- and secondary-level schooling to Tibetans living in the country. Tibetan refugees had no entitlement to higher education in public or private institutions. They were unable legally to obtain business licenses, driver’s licenses, bank accounts, or to own property. Some refugees continued to experience difficulties documenting births, marriages, and deaths. Some in the Tibetan community resorted to bribery to obtain these services.
The government allowed UNHCR to provide some education, health, and livelihood services to urban refugees, but these refugees lacked legal access to public education and the right to work. In particular, the government officially does not allow the approximately 6,500 refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship to work or have access to public education or public health clinics, but it previously allowed UNHCR to provide parallel free education and health services to refugees in the camps. During the year some new local authorities allowed Bhutanese children access to public schools on an ad hoc basis.
Durable Solutions: The government does not provide for local integration as a durable solution. Since 2007 the government has permitted third-country resettlement for more than 113,000 Bhutanese refugees.
An estimated 6.3 million individuals lacked citizenship documentation, although the majority of these would be eligible for citizenship under local law. Citizenship documents, which are issued at age 16, are required to register to vote, register marriages or births, buy or sell land, appear for professional exams, open bank accounts, or gain access to credit and receive state social benefits.
Constitutional provisions, laws, and regulations governing citizenship limited women’s ability to convey citizenship to their children (see section 6, Women, Discrimination), which contributed to statelessness. NGOs assisting individuals lacking citizenship documentation stated that local authorities maintained patriarchal requirements, such as attestations from a woman’s male relatives that she qualified for citizenship, a measure that impeded attempts by some individuals to obtain citizenship certificates.
Stateless persons experienced discrimination in employment, education, housing, health services, marriage and birth registration, identity documentation, access to courts and judicial procedures, migration opportunities, land and property ownership, and access to earthquake relief and reconstruction programs.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The government held parliamentary, provincial, and local assembly elections over five phases throughout 2017. International observers indicated that these parliamentary and provincial assembly elections were generally well conducted, despite some violent incidents, and logistical and operational challenges, including a notable lack of transparency and adequate voter education by the Election Commission of Nepal, which affected the electoral process. According to domestic observer groups, the elections were free, fair, and peaceful and saw high voter turnout. There were three reports, however, of individuals being killed by police and sporadic reports of interparty clashes or assaults, vandalism, and small explosive devices and hoax bombs.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws explicitly limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate in local, provincial, and national elections. The constitution mandates proportional inclusion of women in all state bodies and allocates one third of all federal and provincial legislative seats to women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activists noted that this mandate excluded nonbinary candidates from running for office.