Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Nepal, a country of approximately 29 million, continues its political transition to a federal democratic republic. In April 2008 the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M or Maoists) won a plurality of seats in the Constituent Assembly (CA) election. Both domestic and international observers accepted the election results as credible, although there were reports of political violence, intimidation, and voting irregularities. The CA fulfills a dual role of serving as a legislature and drafting a new constitution, scheduled to be ratified by May 2010. In May 2008 the CA abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the country a federal democratic republic. In early May 2009 the prime minister resigned after the Maoists' unilateral effort to dismiss the country's military chief led two of the five parties in the multiparty coalition government to resign and the dismissal was blocked by President Ram Baran Yadav. The Maoist-led minority cabinet will remain in power as a caretaker government until a new government is formed.

In 2008 members of the security forces committed some human rights abuses, and the Maoists, the Maoist-affiliated Young Communist League, and members of other small, often ethnically and regionally based armed groups, committed numerous grave human rights abuses. Maoists frequently employed arbitrary and unlawful use of lethal force, including torture and abduction. Violence, extortion, and intimidation continued throughout the year. Numerous armed groups, largely in the Terai region along the Indian border, attacked civilians, government officials, members of particular ethnic groups, each other, or Maoists. Members of the security forces occasionally use excessive and lethal force in response to demonstrations throughout the country, and impunity for human rights violators remains a problem. Threats against the media, violence against women, and trafficking in persons, mainly women and girls, continue.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The United States pursues three priorities to assist in building and sustaining a democratic, well-governed state: consolidation of gains in the peace process, promotion of security sector reform and the rule of law, and strengthening democratic institutions. As part of these priorities, the U.S. Government encourages the Nepalese government to undertake necessary reforms to democratize its security forces, create a judicial system with adequate oversight and accountability, and include traditionally marginalized populations in the political process. In 2008 the peace process remained challenging. Nonetheless, the United States works with the government and its security forces, other members of the international community, the media, civil society, trade unions, and political parties to urge all actors to remain engaged and committed to the peace process. The United States also interacts with key leaders of the Madhesis and other disadvantaged groups.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

U.S. officials talk regularly with the country's political leaders, government officials, and civil society leaders to reiterate the importance of the continuing peace process and political transition. Senior U.S. officials, including the ambassador, urge the government to maintain its commitment to democratic transition, a civilian-controlled military, and holding past and present human rights abusers accountable. In 2008 the United States issued statements supporting the electoral law provisions for greater inclusion of women and underrepresented ethnic and regional groups, congratulating the people of the country for successfully conducting the CA election, criticizing attacks against refugees and humanitarian workers, and condemning assaults on the press. U.S. officials consistently voice concern about the continued use of violence by the Maoists, condemn violent clashes by ethnic minority groups, urge the government to enforce law and order, and advocate for treatment of Tibetans and other refugees consistent with international humanitarian standards. U.S. officials speak to students regularly at local schools and universities about the United States and issues such as discrimination, democracy, and freedom of the press. Through the International Visitors Leadership Program, promising leaders travel to the United States to learn about human rights, grassroots democracy, the U.S. election process and judicial system, the role of the media, and combating trafficking in persons. The U.S. Government encourages participation in university-level studies in the United States. The American Library, which averages 80 to 90 visitors per day, provides information for all age groups about democracy, rule of law, and minority rights.

In 2008 the United States provided technical assistance to the Election Commission to improve its capacity to conduct the CA elections. The United States supported training for political party poll watchers, domestic election observers, and civic education programs that aimed to ensure marginalized groups were prepared to participate in the electoral process. The United States provides legal and technical assistance in the constitution-drafting process, supports training of female political party and civil society leaders to hone their leadership and representation skills, and encourages youth engagement in the political process at both the grassroots and national levels. U.S.-supported programs also assist the government, political parties, and civil society to form local peace committees to discuss the peace process and diffuse conflicts. Other U.S.-supported grassroots civil society programs provide training to individuals on good governance, livelihood improvement, and policy advocacy. One such program empowered women by teaching them to read, assisting them to start small businesses, and helping them to increase their household incomes. Through a grant to a media development foundation, the United States supported a weekly broadcast discussion among CA members, journalists, and the public about the constitution-drafting process. In 2008 the U.S. Government sent three influential local journalists to the United States for academic training in the principles and practices of journalism in the United States and around the world and one journalist to observe the U.S. elections.

The United States helps to build the capacity of the judiciary by improving the transparency and credibility of the Supreme Court and selected appellate and district courts. U.S.-funded court-referred centers promote mediation as an alternative means of dispute resolution. U.S. assistance contributes to training judges in case management, training attorneys in court mediation, and in some districts providing legal aid for women, children, and the disadvantaged. To promote security sector reform and human rights, the United States organizes and funds workshops on democratic control of the security forces, national security strategy development, and security sector legal reforms. Participants from different sectors of government, the security forces, and civil society attend these workshops. The United States sponsors soldiers to attend military education and training programs, many of which include instruction on respect for human rights.

Other U.S. programming targets traditionally vulnerable populations. For example, the U.S. Government hosts roundtable discussions with stakeholders working to combat trafficking in persons and in 2008 hosted a film festival focused on combating gender-based violence and human trafficking. One U.S.-funded program reaches out to survivors and potential victims of trafficking with informal education and vocational training and an orientation on safe migration. The United States continues to support programs to combat exploitive child labor. Through contributions to international organizations and other implementing partners, the United States helps remove children from exploitive child labor by providing them with educational opportunities. The United States works with the government, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Tibetan community to ensure continued safe passage of Tibetan refugees transiting to India through the country. Through contributions to UNHCR and other implementing partners, the United States continues to assist over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in the country. Working with UNHCR and other governments, the United States began implementation of third-country resettlement, considered the only available durable solution currently available to Bhutanese refugees who have been living in camps in the southeastern part of the country for almost two decades.