Nepal should become a global champion in abolition of death penalty

Nepal is one of the first nations in the world to abolish death penalty. Why can’t Kathmandu capitalize on such a positive history to push for a global abolition of death penalty?

Simone Galimberti

  • Read Time 5 min.

I am more and more interested in the broader issues of human rights. Looking around, we often tend to see the half-empty part of the glass rather than appreciate the accomplishments. This applies to Nepal but probably it is a human tendency everywhere. I do not want to appear overly optimistic about the state of human rights here.

We know there is so much that could be done on multiple fronts, from violence against women to caste-based discrimination to just delayed to the conflict victims.  The National Human Rights Commission does what it can and, given the regulatory and budget constraints, it’s hardly possible to expect more from such an institution. 

Yet despite the enormous challenges, all in all, the quest for human rights in Nepal is a successful story whose insights could be used by the country to promote human rights internationally.

Abolition of death penalty

One of the most important achievements obtained by the country so far is the fact that the Nepal is one of the first nations in the world to have abolished death penalty. It happened in 1946 but, as it often occurs in matters related to capital punishments, it was later on reintroduced for murder and terrorism in 1985. But it was finally abolished in 1990 by amending the constitution.

More than three decades have passed since then and perhaps that’s the reason why we tend to take such milestones for granted.

Unfortunately, considering the Asia Pacific region, Nepal’s position in relation to the death penalty is almost the one of an outlier. There are still a vast majority of nations embracing capital punishment, including top economies like Japan and Singapore.

In South Korea, another economic giant like Japan, an important partner of Nepal, capital punishment is still in the books but no execution has happened since 1997.

There are promising signs in Malaysia where a moratorium is in place and where very recently the government got rid of the mandatory death sentence for a series of crimes. Instead, in India capital punishment is still very much a key pillar of its penal code and hundreds of people have been executed since independence.

If you look at these data with some perspective, if you think that only now a much more developed nation like Malaysia is laboriously and with so much difficulties moving away from capital punishment, you will see that what Nepal has achieved is truly remarkable.

So why can’t Kathmandu capitalize on such a positive history, the history that is made by precious learnings on the values and meanings of life of dignity regardless of the gravity of the crimes committed, and push for a global abolition of the death penalty?

Promoting the end of capital punishment is a right cause. Nepal is really in a better place than many other more sophisticated and developed peers to advocate for its end globally.

Nepal could join other international partners like the EU and the UN and other like-minded stakeholders and vocally claim the ‘false’ moral obligations enshrined with the idea that achieving justice by shedding more blood is not serving anyone well. It is something that is not really doing anything to advance justice and reparations because such kind of revenge will only cause more pain, bitterness and hatred.  

Moreover, Nepal could be a very interesting case study to show that the abolition of the death penalty is not hindering the so-called “deterrence effect” that, for example, is so much brandished by policymakers in Singapore to justify the heavy handling of the capital punishment there.

These could be some very valid reasons for Nepal to pick up the abolitionist cause in the international arena. This could be done with pride and a sense of accomplishment because Nepal has been showing the way to many other nations without even being aware of doing so.

Make it a battle cry

The abolition of capital punishment could strategically be embedded in all the key aspects of the nation’s foreign policy and be made a national “battle cry” to fight for on the global stage. Why not appoint a well-respected human rights defender, someone from the civil society, as Global Ambassador at Large for the abolition of death penalty?

Creating such a position would highlight how seriously Nepal is taking the issue of capital punishment and it could be the official voice of the nation in all the major international human rights forums. Another idea could be the government hosting a global conference on this issue, bringing here all the experts, advocates and political leaders to design new strategies needed to influence and nudge other nations towards doing away with this heinous form of punishment.

Moreover, why can’t the government financially support some global research that are trying to prove that death penalty is not in the best interest of all those countries who still believe in it? For example, the University of Oxford is very much focused on this issue thanks to the work of the Death Penalty Research Unit (DPRU) housed within the Oxford Centre for Criminology. Even a small, symbolic grant could have an impact while, at the same time, giving positive recognition to the country.

The idea of making the abolition of capital punishment one of the cornerstones of the Nepal’s foreign policy should not be taken as a reason to not to keep working on the long and arduous process of improving human rights in the country. The National Human Rights Commission should really be strengthened.

There is still an issue about independence of the Commission, an issue related to the ways the current commissioners were appointed by the previous government but probably, in practical terms, it does not matter so much as long as its members are honest and keep working to protect and safeguard the interests of the common people.  It is clear that the Commission needs to be better equipped in order to be able to carry out its constitutional duties.

At the same time, there is no doubt that, despite being overlooked, the Commission is one of the most essential institutions of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. In June, it organized the third National Conference on Human Rights Defenders, a very key summit that the media did not give much importance to, unfortunately.  Let’s not forget that human rights defenders have such an important role and their job is one of the most relevant in the entire nation and we need to write and talk about their tireless quest for justice.

Moreover, if the nation decides to go big against death penalty, the Commission, together with local legal luminaries and human rights defenders, could do a great deal of work in terms of advocacy and provision of technical insights. At the same time, by promoting human rights globally by calling for the abolition of capital punishment, the Government of Nepal can recommit itself to doing a better job at safeguarding and protecting the rights of the most vulnerable persons in the country.

Promoting the end of capital punishment is a right cause, for which Nepal is really in a better place than many other more sophisticated and developed peers. And surely where there is something others can learn about.

Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE. The opinions expressed are personal.