Amnesty International’s new report on Nepal is disappointing

Amnesty International (AI) has launched its 2016/2017 report on “The State of the World’s Human Rights”. The report includes a chapter on Nepal’s state of human rights from pg. 269-271. The report includes five regional overviews and a survey of 159 countries and territories on the state of human rights. With the stature of AI, the report is expected to be one of the widely used reference materials to assess the human rights situation in various countries.

The Concern
The report has drawn some strong criticism in Nepali social media. There have been allegations that the report is biased and there is a wider criticism on the role of AI itself. Upon noticing the views on social media, I decided to study the chapter on Nepal. The brief country chapter makes an easy read. I decided to comment on some of the aspects of the report and its content.

Before moving ahead with the specific observations regarding the report, I would like to put forward few basic facts that I believe are beyond contention.

The state of human rights in Nepal is alarming. There are significant human rights concerns in Nepal. The situation is reflected in the report of National Human Rights Commission and in other relevant documents. So, in terms of human rights observance and implementation, Nepal is not where we’d want it to be. However, this does not mean that there is nothing positive regarding the human rights observance and implementation in Nepal. The human right situation in Nepal needs a lot to be done and is work is progress but there are things that can be considered as positive development.
The generic statements regarding the human rights situation in the report without proper analysis of
the context are not constructive in any way.

The use of few instances or hand-picked cases as per the convenience does not reflect the complete picture. If the human rights report is based on selective cases to draw generic observation, it might yield distorted conclusions.

Any reports being widely disseminated in the matter of critical importance must include adequate information for the reader to understand the issue in totality.

The international organization while reporting on significant issues should not promote or feed a
single narrative on contentious issues. The significant issues if covered in reports cannot be over-simplified to provide incomplete/misguiding information.

The inclusion of positive development in the matter (if available) should be added to the report to make it more credible and balanced.

Here are some specific observations on AI’s report:
The issue raised in the report is genuine but incomplete. The concerns are legitimate but the way they are reported is misleading. Under the heading Excessive Use of Force, the report states, “Protesters blocked border crossing with India resulting in severe shortage of fuel, medicine and construction materials”. This statement, however, does not reflect the situation in question in totality.

This statement overly simplifies the situation which was largely considered as an unofficial blockade. In this instance, the statement included in the report is (partially) true but misleading.
Similarly, the report does not provide enough space on the context of use of excessive forces by the security forces. The generalized and incomplete information fails to show the gravity of the situation and the background context.

Under the heading of migrant worker’s rights, despite the availability of the specific data and details, the report makes vague attempt to generalize the issue without proper reference. The section also fails to include the positive steps taken by the government regarding the issue, rather discredits the effort with broad statements.
Under the section of Torture and other Ill-treatment, the reference of case of Kumar Lama does not show any important relevance. This section also fails to substantiate the findings with any statistical reference.

Under the freedom of expression, the cases which were in media (including social media) are picked up as per convenience. Also the part of report which states that “Madhesi activist Chandra Kant Raut and several supporters faced multiple sedition charges for peacefully expressing political opinions” needs further discussion on the substantive issue. The author needs to establish the action is not permitted under the prescriptive clause of freedom of expression under international law.

The report fails to include important concerns such as rights of ageing population, socio-economic rights, access to justice etc. to name the few aspects missing in the report.

The report completely fails to include positive development in human rights implementation including the decisions of the Supreme Court and steps taken by government. I do not argue the efforts are enough but still it is worth mentioning in the report.

The report makes general statements and does not have synchronization in case reference and is very superficial in terms of content. The court’s order in line with constitution and international practice in the same issues has not been included in the report.

The report has been prepared without adequate research and is based on the superficial analysis. Thus, it gives distorted information on this issue and makes blunt statements without supporting arguments. The report also lacks authenticity as it makes vague statements. For instance, the report claims that “The government’s no-fee recruitment system largely failed because it was inadequately implemented or monitored”.

These sort of claims need research-based findings to back up the statements as the AI report will be further used as reference material in the days to come.

The implication:

As the AI report is disseminated worldwide and will be used as resources in days to come. It is unfortunate that the chapter on Nepal is inadequate and makes generic claims. In days to come, researchers, academicians and practitioners will be citing the report as an authority and considering the content of the report. This will be problematic as the quality and content of the report in itself is questionable.

As a primary harm, the AI report will send a negative message regarding the state of human rights in Nepal. The omission of the positive aspect and other relevant information will give the audience a distorted view dictated by the author of the report. This also raises a serious concern on relying on AI report regarding the state of human rights in other countries.

I am not sure if AI will elaborate the country chapter with proper references and evidences to back up their claim.  I believe they are satisfied with the half-hearted effort they have made in reporting the state of human rights. However, this instance raises some of the very important issues:
How much can we rely on international organization’s narration of human rights situation? Is it now necessary to verify and cross check the reports of institutions like AI to make sure we are not being fed with incomplete information? ( I used to rely on their report during my work and now I that seems like a questionable choice.)

Does AI have to defend its report (or at least elaborate) it with a follow-up report?
Is the omission of information in AI report regarding the observation deliberate or accidental?
Can or should AI walk away with the report which makes generic statements without being critical and complete on the matters of human rights concern?
Should reports include the methodological aspect while coming up with reports?