Business practices in Nepal: Uncovering human rights concerns

The state may use Prem Prasad Acharya’s suicide note as the starting point for an investigation into the private sector's potential neglect of its obligations to respect human rights, so as to prevent future incidents of a similar nature.

Prem Prasad Acharya/ Photo from Social Media

Niyati Adhikari

  • Read Time 5 min.

On January 24, a heart-breaking incident took place in which a young entrepreneur from Ilam, Prem Prasad Acharya, tragically took his own life by setting himself on fire in front of the parliament building in Kathmandu. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was passing by him with a carcade at the time. 

Acharya left a lengthy suicide note on social media, where he has explained the cause, reason and relevant facts about the circumstances which compelled him to take his life.  In a legal perspective, a suicide note is considered a dying declaration. Dying declaration is a statement made by individuals regarding the circumstances surrounding their death, made in their final moments. Dying declarations can take the form of written or oral statements, as well as questions and answers, regardless of length. 

The philosophy of law considers dying declarations to be trustworthy and credible pieces of evidence because of the assumption that a person who is about to die will never lie. The principle governing this belief is “nemo mariturus presumuntur mentri” which means that a man will not tell a lie while meeting with his maker. These types of statements have been given a weight-age of their own under Section 11 of Evidence Act 2034 (1977) carving a path out for justice to prevail. The law understands the possibility of the fact that a person dying will seldom lie, giving a benefit of the doubt that truth comes out of the mouth of a dying man. 

The act of self-immolation reflects the severe level of distress and dissatisfaction that prompted Acharya to take such extreme measures. It is likely that he believed that his death was the only possible outcome of his circumstances and that it was imminent. It is also important to note that by staging the protest in a politically important place, the aggrieved undertook a conscious and strategic act to make themselves and his vulnerability visible. Thus, his protest is a symbolic protest, a statement of disappointment and helplessness and an indication that the state is failing. Furthermore, in a state that is lacking in strength and functioning inadequately, the government and its agencies can lose control and authority. This can lead to the exploitation of power by corporations and rogue elements within the state. In the suicide note, Acharya condemned the government, political system, and highlighted the abuse of power by corporations and private sectors, who have used their sway within the state for their personal advantage. Thus, the suicide note provides evidence of abuse by the private sector and raises the issue of the state’s responsibility to protect, respect, and remedy human rights. 

Responsibility of the state 

The examination of a suicide note reveals information about wrongdoings committed by the private sector, specifically in regards to late or non-payment for goods sold at a high profit margin. The payment he was legally entitled to receive for the services rendered was denied either wholly or partially. It may be argued that Acharya has been a victim of human rights abuse committed by the private sector. The idea of human rights is as simple as it is powerful: that individuals have the right to live with human dignity; one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Nepal. International law imposes an obligation on states to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. This includes the obligation to protect, a positive obligation that requires states to take measures to ensure that individuals within their jurisdiction do not experience human rights violations by third parties, including private enterprises. Private enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights, and in the event of a failure to do so, it is the state’s responsibility to hold the enterprise accountable and provide a remedy to the victim. At the same time, as the guardian of human rights, the state can be held accountable for the actions of the private sector, making it important for the state to take measures to ensure that businesses are complying with human rights regulations. 

Rabi Lamichhane meeting the families of Prem Acharya after latter’s death. Lamichhane was Home Minister at the time.

The state may use the suicide note as the starting point for an investigation into the private sector’s potential neglect of its obligations to respect human rights. This inquiry is aimed at preventing future incidents of a similar nature. Furthermore, this unfortunate event should prompt the government to increase their scrutiny on the business practices of manpower agencies, to ensure they are following proper regulations and not engaging in unethical recruitment actions such as wage theft. Annually, new evidence emerges indicating the prevalence of abusive recruitment practices in Nepal, where recruitment agencies deceive and exploit individuals looking for external migration without fear of punishment. These business enterprises view people as mere commodities for profit, a mentality that human rights experts argue undermines the moral fabric of society and results in human rights violations, such as the right to live with dignity. This highlights the need for stronger measures to be taken by the government to crack down on these practices and hold recruitment agencies and business enterprises accountable for their actions.         

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights  

The United Nations Human Rights Council is a set of regulations endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011 to prevent human rights violations by corporations. The principles serve as guidelines for both states and businesses and are based on the three pillars of Protect, Respect, and Remedy. They provide a framework for businesses to align their practices with international human rights standards and promote accountability and transparency in the corporate sector. 

While laws exist which ensure the rights of the private sectors to run business enterprises, it is imperative to have regulations that enforce private companies’ compliance with human rights. Lack of such regulations leads to poverty, poor working conditions, exploitations or issues of non-payment.  

The Constitution of Nepal guarantees the freedom to establish and operate any industry, trade and business throughout the country. While laws exist which ensure the rights of the private sectors to run business enterprises, it is imperative to have regulations that enforce private companies’ compliance with human rights. Lack of such regulations leads to poverty, poor working conditions, exploitation or issue of non-payment. At present, Nepal lacks any legal or regulatory framework that imposes a duty on businesses to respect human rights. It is therefore urgent for the country to incorporate UNGP into its domestic legal framework. This could be achieved by incorporating the UNGP into existing laws such as the Labour Law, Company Law, and Environment Law, and by requiring all private sector companies to include these principles in their human resource policies. 

A comprehensive evaluation by the government is required to evaluate the effectiveness through periodic audits. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), as a constitutional guardian of human rights, should exercise due diligence in monitoring the actions of corporations to ensure that they do not participate in human rights abuses. This requires the NHRC to be diligent in its periodic evaluation and examination of companies harboring the most vulnerable and marginalized group of this country. There is a higher likelihood of human rights violations happening there. These individuals often lack access to adequate resources to seek justice and are susceptible to abuse by the private sector, protected by bureaucratic and political affiliations.

Adherence to the UNGP by Nepal will align the country with the standard operating principles, placing a responsibility on the state and the private sector to protect and respect human rights.

Niyati Adhikari has a master’s degree in law from Bangor University, UK, and is currently working as a research associate at the Governance Lab. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect the stance of the organization she is affiliated with.