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LEGAL TRAINING RESOURCE CENTER
Nepal, a country of 28 million people, is in a state of transition. The November 2006 peace agreement between the Seven-Party alliance and the Maoists ended the decade-long insurgency and called for the Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force to enforce law and order across the country. However, political turmoil has continued to affect the security and stability of the region.
Since 1996, the number of detainees in Nepal has increased dramatically in response to the Maoist insurgency and the intensified security concerns it has precipitated. As the prison population has swelled, both the right to counsel and the right to habeas corpus have been flaunted by overwhelmed prison officials. Many prisons in Nepal are operating at up to 140 percent of capacity. For women detainees, the overcrowded conditions and abuses are compounded by sexual harassment and inadequate hygiene provisions which cannot be offset by family care because of the detainee’s isolation.
Nepal’s Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007 guaranteed citizen protections and expanded a defendant’s right to a fair trial. These protections prohibit torture, beating, and mutilation. However, security forces routinely engage in such activities to punish suspects and to extract confessions. Of the 3,908 detainees interviewed by Advocacy Forum since April 2006, the organization reported that an astounding 28 percent claimed to have been tortured. Abuse of those in custody included beatings with plastic pipes, submersion in water, sexual humiliation, restricted movement, and prolonged sensory deprivation. Prisoners were threatened with sexual abuse, rape, death, or indefinite detention and sometimes forced to remain day and night in a prone position on a thin mat on the floor with their hands cuffed. In addition to the routine use of torture, police officers routinely falsify evidence to guarantee conviction. Forced abductions and disappearances occur regularly throughout Nepal.
Defense lawyers play a crucial role in stopping human rights abuses and fostering an environment for democracy to flourish and grow. Nepal’s Legal Aid Act of 1997 contained statutory provisions for providing legal aid to indigent people. However, a lack of resources and loopholes in the Legal Aid Act have resulted in neglect for the indigent pre-trial detainees who are at the highest risk of torture and other abuses.
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