'SUNDAY EXCLUSIVE' - Interview with Mohna Ansari
Mohna Ansari is a member of National Human Rights Commission of Nepal and well-known rights activist. She is Nepal’s first female lawyer from the Muslim community. Brabim Karki talks with Ansari about her journey and various human rights issues.
Your position is the highest held by a Muslim woman in Nepal, what made it possible despite all odds? Can you share your journey?
This has been a tough journey but pleasant at the same time. Tough in the sense that I had to overcome many social and cultural hurdles which generally women of disadvantaged communities are faced with. Pleasant in the sense that every hurdle gave me an opportunity to grow and it became a journey of learning by doing. It was not a journey to do something remarkable after reaching to a point. I worked to make a difference throughout, starting from the first day of the journey. I was a role model in my society at a very young age.
I was lucky to have a parent who sent me to school despite their economic hardship when educating a girl child was uncommon in Muslim families. Restoration of democracy in 1990 was creating spaces for social and political activities in remote places like Nepalgunj when I involved myself into local journalism, human rights and women rights advocacy forums. My participation and visibility in the public sphere were noticeable.
After completing the law degree, I associated with the Bar Council and later worked with International NGOs. As a law practitioner, I took the cases of women victims of domestic violence to the court and succeeded in providing justice to them. As a gender trainer, I traveled to many districts training young men and women on gender equality. I attended some international forums on gender justice such as Sisters in Islam and Musawah in Malaysia. In 2006 I participated in an event by The Asia Foundation in the USA which presented me together with some Asian women as “Portraits of Leadership”. The same year Nepal weekly featured my legal work with Muslim women’s groups. I moved to Kathmandu with a UNDP job in 2009. In 2010, I was appointed as the member of the National Women’s Commission by the Government. I diligently worked in NWC for four years with many success stories. After NWC tenure, I was reappointed as a member of the National Human Rights Commission by the Government. This is a very demanding position in the current Nepalese context. I have to balance my role as a national commissioner against the high expectation of disadvantaged and underrepresented groups whom I also represent.
My motive has always been to work for improvement in the situation of women, children and weaker sections of the society wherever I am and whatever I do. I am committed to this cause. I didn’t plan my career. It has been a spontaneous journey which I have enjoyed despite all odds.
You tackle issues such as security forces excess and gender discrimination, how do you find these two issues in Nepal?
These two issues are critical in Nepal. The trend of excessive use of force by the security forces has increased in recent years. I think there is a need to better train the security forces on human rights. Given the ongoing political unrest in the country and over stretching demand for the security personnel to maintain law and order, it becomes essential to demonstrate professionalism and not to act based on emotions.
Often, the police are blamed for perpetuating gender discrimination practices. There are reported incidents where victims of gender discrimination were further victimized by police. Victims of rape and sexual abuse have experienced discouragement in seeking justice. I have strongly raised this issue, that security forces should be made gender responsive.
Gender discrimination in Nepal is one of the major problems in Nepal. In your opinion, what are the main factors fuelling this in our society?
Nepal has been a strongly patriarchal society. Our social, cultural and political norms are set with rigid patriarchal perspective, although with variation across different ethnic/social groups. Factors that contribute in perpetuating the gender discrimination are deep rooted. There are social and cultural reasons as well as economic and political factors which contribute in continuation of gender discriminatory practices. As a society, we haven’t been able to adequately address the gender inequality in Nepal. Gender equality, women’s rights, women’s inclusion and representation in public sphere, protection from sex and gender-based violence do not get priority in political discussions at the national level and also at local level. Laws and policies drafted for women’s protection and development are not fully implemented because the implementing institutions are heavily male dominated. Women of disadvantaged and marginalized communities suffer much more exclusion and inaccessibility to state services. Nepal’s feminist movement has failed to embrace an inclusive approach to address diversity in women.
Empowerment and inclusion of women from all groups including rural women are important. Gender equality should be educated to both men and women and bring into practice from childhood.
Are all recommendations made by the NHRC implemented by the government? What is the reason behind it? What are its effects?
So far NHRC has submitted recommendations every year. In this year, that has included 181 case based recommendations and 23 recommendations for compensation to victim families. Several policy recommendations have been made to the government. We have frequently asked the government to work on our recommendations. There may be different reasons for delaying implementation of the NHRC’s recommendation. However, we wish that the governments would prove their commitment towards protecting and promoting human rights in any condition. NHRC has been established based on the Paris Principle as the primary institution to protect and promote human rights, investigate incidents of human rights violation and furnish recommendations to the government. Non-compliance with the NHRC recommendation may lead to adverse consequences such as weakening human rights situation in general, diminishing people’s trust into state institutions as well as it can affect Nepal’s reputation of human rights records. Nepal has signed and ratified many international human rights instruments. It has legal obligations to uphold the human rights.
The term of Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons was extended by a year, but as you know it fell short of investigating into rights violation complaints, what are the reasons behind it?
Establishment of TRC in 2015 was a significant development in the transitional justice of Nepal. NHRC played its advocacy role for a credible and timely action on providing justice to the victims. Although it has been a politicized issue in Nepal and the TRC Act was criticized for not meeting the international best practices of post-conflict transitional justice, particularly regarding the grave violation of human rights, many victims of the conflict era saw a hope towards addressing their overly delayed justice. Reportedly, the TRC also lacked resources and capacity gaps in order to address the overwhelming need of complaint registration, reaching out the victims and managing necessary steps for facilitating the truth and reconciliation. There is a need from the government to show determination towards concluding the transitional justice. The victims have waited exceptionally long. NHRC is committed to support the TRC as necessary and we have had rounds of discussion on identifying area of cooperation.
As there is a saying, ‘Human rights should be same for all and no one should be treated differently,’ is it applied in Nepal?
Of course, human rights should be same for all and no one should be treated differently. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 stipulates that every human is entitled to its rights and freedoms. Our Constitution also recognizes these rights without distinction of race, color, caste, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. However, many countries fail to adhere to their Human Rights commitments and the Charter fully and Nepal is not exceptional.
Moreover, our human rights situation has been affected by the armed insurgencies, political unrest, and prolonged instability. Women’s equality rights and gender parity are yet to be achieved in constitutional and legal frameworks, for example, the citizenship rights. Social, cultural and political rights of women of marginalized communities are compromised due to state negligence. Trafficking of women and children, witchcraft, domestic violence, Chhaupadi, forced divorce, child marriage, child labour and deprivation of girl child from education is rampant.
What is your opinion on the arrests of CK Raut?
NHRC performs its duties as per the Constitution of Nepal, NHRC Act 2012 and its basis in international human rights instruments. In cases of the arrest of any person, whether it is CK Raut or anyone else, NHRC will have an impartial and apolitical view of the situation. Any kind of illegal detention within the territory of Nepal will be of serious concern to NHRC Nepal. We repeatedly stress the need for respecting the rule of law, and that everyone should have the right to justice.