Rights defenders ask Kathmandu Mayor to respect the human rights of street vendors

‘Focus your attention towards rerouting yourself towards a path of establishing yourself as a democratic leader who operates under the rule of law.’

NL Today

  • Read Time 5 min.

Kathmandu: Prominent human rights activists in Kathmandu have demanded that Mayor of Kathmandu Balen Shah should be accountable for the ‘attack’ by the city police on street vendors in Sundhara area of Kathmandu on February 28. Issuing an open letter on Sunday, rights defenders Anita Neupane Thapliya, Illa Sharma, Kanakmani Dixit, Kamal Bi Ka, Krishna Gautam, Kundan Aryal, Charan Prasai, JB Vishwakarma, Dinesh Tripathi, Dhan Bahadur Mijar, Nitu Pokhrel, Nirajan Thapaliya, Bidur Subedi, Prakash Maharjan, Prakashmani Sharma, Prem Sapkota, Bikas Basnet, Bhakta Bishwakarma, Bhagvati Adhikari, Bhavana Bhatta, Manogya Sharma, Marissa Taylor, Ramesh Prasad Timilsina, Raju Prasad Chapagain, Renu Adhikari, Laxman Basnet, Sharmila Shrestha, Saroj Fuyal, Surendra Singh, Sushil Pyakurel, Som Niraula, and Hari Sharma have asked the Kathmandu mayor to respect the human rights of street vendors and to ensure that such incident does not happen again.

Here is a full text of the letter:

Respected Mayor Balendra Shah,

We, the below mentioned human rights activists, have written this open letter to communicate our concern on the human rights abuses as a result of a series of atrocities committed by the authorities of Kathmandu Metropolitan City under your leadership against the street vendors who are making their living through self-employment.

You, the mayor of the federal capital city, should have been the most generous and democratic. We have had to take the help of this open letter to convey our message to you in the context where you have shut the doors for consultation with the stakeholders, and are establishing an undemocratic image through your own working style and behavior.

The fact that you won the election by sharing the dream to be a pillar to the people living in poverty and accepting the coexistence of all and making an inclusive city is not hidden from anyone. But after being elected, the municipal government led by you has become ruthless towards the citizens of Kathmandu who are in poverty. In particular, your government is bent on making, in an organized manner, the lives of the people who subsist on street vending and are battling against their poverty more painful. The municipal government is becoming increasingly ruthless towards the underprivileged people (in particular women, people with disabilities, children and persons from marginalized communities) who are, in fact, entitled to the special protection of the state. We are deeply saddened to witness such an unexpected and unimaginable situation. We are likewise also concerned at the extreme apathy shown by the Federal government towards making street vending a dignified option.  

Lately, on the evening of 28 February, a group of city police under the metropolis suddenly attacked the street vendors in Sundhara area of Kathmandu and they not only destroyed the goods of the street vendors but also beat them black and blue with batons, seriously injuring some of them. Not only that, the injured street vendors, once held under control and put in the police van, were subjected to abuses akin to mental torture and cruel, inhuman and humiliating treatment. You should be aware that the audio-visual evidence of the incident is publicly shared and clearly visible to all. We strongly condemn this criminal and violent incident. The rationale of the criminal act committed with the deliberate abuse of excessive force cannot be justified under any circumstances, and there can be no legal and moral validity of this act.

We have not seen you show any feeling of remorse towards the incident even as the audio-visual material of the abusive incident committed by the Metropolitan Police Force went viral in the national and international world and became a subject of widespread condemnation and criticism from the stakeholders. It has not come to our notice that you have taken steps towards investigating such a criminal act including identifying the responsible officers involved in the crime and making them accountable. We have also not been able to feel that you have expressed your sympathy towards the victims of that incident and that you have shown your willingness for a public apology. On the contrary, it has been seen that you and the officers under your command are trying to spread misinformation by distorting the truth about the incident and making an illicit attempt to shield those involved in criminal activities. Such odd behavior and tendency displayed by a publicly elected representative belonging to a new generation has taken us aback.

In addition, these circumstantial facts may be inferred to indicate that the incident of violation occurred with your direct or indirect order or consent and that you bear the ultimate responsibility for that order. What is clearly visible from the state authorities themselves viciously attacking the street vendors on their head and other sensitive body parts with the use of batons, and the subsequent deliberate inhuman treatment unto them after taking them under control is that there has been a serious human rights violation (of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment) which is prohibited by the Constitution of Nepal (Articles 16 and 22), the National Penal (Code) Act, 2017 (Articles 167, 168, 183 and 191), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (Articles 6 and 7) and Convention against Torture, 1984 (Articles 1, 2, 4, 6). It is our understanding that you know and understand that torture is absolutely prohibited under any circumstances including situations of both war and peace, and that there is absolute impermissibility of amnesty on this crime, and that it even attracts universal jurisdiction.

Therefore, as the head of the metropolis, we call upon you to be accountable for the said criminal act and human rights violation, to ensure that such incident does not happen again, and to facilitate towards holding accountable those who are found responsible in that incident through investigation. Also, we have a special request that the metropolis fulfills its obligation to apologize to the victims and provide them with proper relief and compensation. We also make a serious appeal to abandon the discriminatory and exclusionary policy towards the people in poverty, to respect and protect the rights to self-esteem, dignity and livelihood of the disadvantaged citizens including street vendors.

We advise the Kathmandu Metropolitan city to find the right option for the street vendors on the basis of constructive dialogue and collaboration bearing in mind the relative obligations of the tiered governments in line with the constitutional guarantees of socialism and social justice, the right to dignified life, the right to earn a living by doing businesses, the right to employment, the right to labor, the right to social security and the right to social justice, and we thereby want to see the Kathmandu metropolis make itself an example not only for the rest of the municipalities in the country but also for the world. We shall be together with you in this regard to create the necessary pressure to remind and fulfill the he federal government of its obligations. 

It is equally important to be aware of the fact that the continuous sharing of audio-visual materials worldwide depicting a series of abuses on to the street vendors by the authorities of Kathmandu Metropolitan city, which is considered a hospitable city, will tarnish its image internationally and the tourism business will have a significant negative impact. We urge you and the metropolis authorities to be mindful in that regard as well.

There is an urgent need for special training for the Kathmandu Metro City police in the areas of human rights-friendly behavior towards the common people, general public and public welfare tendencies, and compliance with the minimum standards of civility. We request that you and other Mayors give due regard to this matter. Also, our initiative will continue for the amendment of the federal law to clarify the jurisdiction of Nepal Police, Traffic Police and the City Police, scope of authority and their interrelationship.

Finally, we wish you to make the necessary modifications and adjustments in your thinking and modus operandi, abandoning the path of making your own bad image as a dictator, autocrat and human rights violator, and focus your attention towards rerouting yourself towards a path of establishing yourself as a democratic leader who operates under the rule of law.

Thank you,

3 March 2024