Four independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council have drawn the government’s attention to the controversial National Integrity Policy (NIP) that the government is preparing to introduce.
UN Special Rapporteurs David Kaye, Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Michel Forst and Ahmed Shaheed have questioned several provisions of the policy, putting them into three major categories: definition and reporting requirements; restriction of scope of activities; and access to funding.
The six-page document forwarded to Nepal’s permanent mission in Geneva on July 11 states that if the policy is adopted in its current form, it may have negative impacts on the activities of organisations and civil society in general as it would severely impinge on the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association guaranteed under international human rights laws.
The policy initially drafted by the Prime Minister’s Office during the tenure of Sher Bahadur Deuba and pushed forward by the KP Sharma Oli-led government has already drawn criticism from non-government sectors at it envisages far-reaching measures for the management of international and domestic NGOs. The integrity policy, with a 13-point policy on NGOs and 25 matters concerning INGOs, awaits final approval from the Cabinet.
The UN rapporteurs have pointed that the listed reporting and procedural requirements are highly burdensome for organisations, especially for small ones that do not have the same financial capacities and resources. The NIP says that the annual budget and programme need the Finance Ministry’s approval, taxable expenses of an organisation should be brought under the tax remit and audited financial reports submitted. The policy document also classifies NGOs into two categories: those receiving foreign assistance and those without it.
The note from the UN rapporteurs states that articles 9.2.3 (2) and 9.2.3 (4) of the NIP impose heavier reporting requirements for NGOs receiving foreign assistance. “We are worried that the distinction between NGOs not receiving foreign assistance, NGOs receiving foreign assistance and INGOs provides grounds for discriminatory treatment aimed at negatively impacting the work of NGOs on the basis of their source of funding or of their origin,” reads the government’s response to the rapporteurs.
The rapporteurs have also raised concern that the provisions of human resource and other restrictions are unclear and without legitimate objectives. A number of provisions, according to the remarks, limit INGOs’ ability to recruit foreign nationals and stresses that the number of foreign nationals allowed to work should be fixed. The NIP would also bar foreign nationals employed by INGOs to work for more than three years. “We are concerned that the authorities may attempt to control and interfere in the composition of associations and limit their independence and their diversity, and therefore the quality and efficiency of their work,” the communication reads.
The UN rapporteurs have also urged Nepal’s authorities to ensure full compliance of domestic legislation with international human rights norms and standards, in particular reversing or revoking the legislative provisions and other measures that impose undue limitations on freedom of association and freedom of expression.
A senior official at the PM’s Office said they had received no recommendation from the UN rapporteurs.
According to PMO officials, the government has not taken any step to move further the proposed Integrity Policy. “We’ll soon hold a meeting among the government secretaries before it is presented to the Cabinet,” the official said, adding that the suggestions would go into the final draft.