On April 16, 2020, the Press Council, an independent statutory authority, shut down 17 online news portals for allegedly publishing disinformation related to COVID-19. For more details, see the ECNL-ICNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker’s entry for Nepal.
The Women and Social Welfare Committee of the House of Representatives has directed the Social Welfare Council (SWC) to nullify non-governmental organizations that fail to renew their registration under prevailing law. At a meeting held with office-bearers of the SWC in Kathmandu on September 29, 2020, the House of Representatives panel warned that many NGOs had not renewed their registration at the SWC when it said, “A report from the SWC shows that there are nearly 50,000 NGOs across the country. Many of them got registered with the SWC but don’t get renewed as per the rules. Despite non-renewal of the organizations, they have not been nullified.” It added, “We direct the SWC to furnish a reason as to why it did not take initiative for cancelling such NGOs.” The panel also directed the SWC to select and approve projects proposed by NGOs based on national priority, while ensuring equitable mobilisation of their budget for regional balance.
Civil society has gained strength in Nepal in the past three decades. Though the number of civil society organizations (CSOs) rapidly increased with emergence of a favorable environment following the dawn of multi-party democracy in 1990 the broad concept of civil society is not yet well understood by most Nepalese, including civil society members themselves. As a result, civil society is divided on what the legal enabling environment for CSOs should be.
Nepal’s commitment to human rights is reflected in policy documents that repeatedly affirm the intent to provide the Nepali people an open and free environment to enjoy their rights, including the freedoms of assembly, association, information, and expression. At the same time, however, CSOs often criticize the existing legal framework for carrying forward the controlling legacy from the authoritative regime. Moreover, CSOs have been critical of the government’s attempts to restrict civic space in one way or another through proposals to change the legal framework. The confusing and contradictory statements and remarks of government officials and political leaders often lend credence to such criticisms.
The Nepali legal framework follows the common law tradition. Nepal used to be a unitary country, but following the people’s movement that overthrew the monarchy in 2007, the country was declared a secular, inclusive, and federal democratic system. The Constitution of Nepal, which was promulgated in 2015, reinforces this structure. Attempts during the Constitution-drafting process to make Nepal a Hindu state and a monarchy were rejected by the vast majority of Constitution Assembly members.
The governments across the levels (federal, provincial, and local) are entitled to develop many laws in the spirit of the new Constitution. After the three elections at the three levels of government, which were held in December 2017 as a part of the process of implementing the Constitution and the formulation of sample Acts by the Federal government, local governments have begun preparing several Acts. Though some local governments proposed Acts to regulate CSOs and media, they withdrew such Acts after heavy criticism from the CSOs and the media sector. Despite this, it is not clear yet how the laws affecting civil society will be impacted by the new legal framework promulgated by 761 governments (1 federal, 7 provincial, and 753 local).
The regulation of CSOs is not streamlined, and as a result, even the number of registered CSOs vary from one regulating body to other. Moreover, there is no centralized database that gives an exact and updated number of registered CSOs. The other existing databases are also not updated reqularly.
|Organizational Forms||Association||Foreign CSOs|
|Registration Body||The Ministry of Home Affairs and its district offices, such as the District Administrative Office.||The Social Welfare Council (SWC), the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.|
|Approximate Number||Unofficial sources claim the number of associations to be around 84,000. As of July 2019, only 50,358 associations are registered with the Social Welfare Council (SWC), an umbrella body regulating CSOs (see SWC site). The official SWC website continues to reflect this number. At the same time, in the MoF’s latest report, “A Study on Foreign Aid Mobilization in Federal Nepal”, there are 39,759 NGOs registered with the SWC. As registration with the SWC is not mandatory, the number of CSOs registered with District Administration Offices is likely much higher.||As of October 2019, the database from SWC shows that 254 international CSOs are affiliated with the SWC (see SWC site). In addition, there are a few CSOs directly aligned with other ministries.|
|Barriers to Entry||(1) Mandatory registration.|
(2) Only citizens may form associations.
(3) A minimum of 7 members required for registration.
(4) Annual re-registration.
(5) Citizenship requirement for founders.
|Foreign CSOs are not allowed to partner with Nepali CSOs if these CSOs are not registered with the Social Welfare Council.|
|Barriers to Operations||(1) Mandatory re-registration on annual basis. Prior to the renewal process with the District Administration Office, clearance letters from the Ward Office (the most local level of government ) and the District Development Committee are required. Both agencies impose service charges for the clearance letters.|
(2) Mandatory audit requirements.
(3) No limited list of objective grounds for dissolution.
(4) Advance approval of project plan and budget if support is sought from other agencies.
(5) Tax Clearance Certificate from the local Tax Office.
|Foreign CSOs must implement programs through local CSOs or government agencies by entering into project-specific agreements.|
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||No legal barriers. The District Administration Office, however, may impose temporary restrictions and seek advance information.||n/a|
|Barriers to International Contact||CSOs must receive prior governmental permission to accept international volunteers, materials and funding from outside the country.||n/a|
|Barriers to Resources||CSOs must receive prior governmental permission to receive assistance from the Government of Nepal or foreign entities.||Foreign CSOs may not engage in fundraising from domestic sources. However, some international CSOs have been able to access foreign assistance earmarked for approved national projects or programs.|
|Barriers to Assembly||Only “citizens” have the right to assemble; the government restricts assemblies in sensitive political areas and has used excessive force to break up assemblies.||Only “citizens” have the right to assemble. In recent years, some foreigners have been deported for alleged involvement in “anti-government” activities.|
The government restricts assemblies in sensitive political areas and has used excessive force to break up assemblies.
|Population||30,327,877 (July 2020 est. per CIA World Factbook) or 30,116,424 (2020 est. per Nepal’s Central Bureau of Statistics)|
|Type of Government||Federal Democratic Republic|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Male: 68.8 years|
Female: 67.6 years (2016 est.)
|Literacy Rate||Male: 78.6%|
Female: 59.7% (2015 est.)
|Religious Groups||Hindu: 81.3 %; Buddhist: 9.0%; Muslim: 4.4%; Kirant: 3.1%; Christianity: 1.4%; (2018 est)|
|Ethnic Groups||There were 125 caste/ethnic groups reported in the 2011 census, including: Chettri: 16.6%; Brahman-Hill: 12.2%; Magar: 7.1%; Tharu: 6.6%; Tamang: 5.8%; Newar: 5.0%; Kami: 4.8%; Muslim: 4.4%; Yadav: 4.0%; and Rai: 2.3%.|
|GDP per capita||$2,700 (2017 est.)|
Source: CIA World Factbook and Nepal Central Bureau of Statistics (www.cbs.gov.np)
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale|
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||147 (2019)||1-188|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||27 (2018)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||39 (2018)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International (Corruption Perception Index)||113 (2019)||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Partly Free|
Political Rights: 25
Civil Liberties: 31 (2019)
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free|
1 – 40
1 – 60
|Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index||Rank: 49 (2020)||178 – 1|
|World Giving Index||53 (2019)|
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1991|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||Yes||1991|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1991|
|Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)||No||—|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||1971|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1991|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||Yes||2007|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1990|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||No||—|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2008|
|South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation|
Two regional treaties were signed in 2000 in regard to protection and welfare of children and women
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
- Articles 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 43 relate to various individual freedoms, including civil rights (right to life, dignity, equality and freedom, right to information, right to justice, right to social security, etc.) and political rights (rights to association, expression, and exchange of ideas, participation in the state system, etc.)
- Articles 17, 25, 29 33, and 34 outline economic rights (rights relating to opportunity for proper employment, freedom from exploitation, freedom from hunger, right to food security and food sovereignty, right to select one’s occupation, etc.)
- Articles 31, 35, 38, 39, and 40 guarantee social rights (rights to education, rights to health and medical facilities, rights of children, rights of women, rights of Dalits, etc.)
- Article 26 and 32 guarantee cultural rights (rights to religious freedom, right to participate in religious cultural and traditional practices without hurting the sentiment and dignity of others).
- Part 3, Article 17 guarantees a set of freedoms for an enabling environment for civil society. Article 17(1) states “Except as provided for by law no person shall be deprived of her/his personal liberty.” Article 17(2) lists the following freedoms for every citizen:
- Freedom of opinion and expression;
- Freedom to assemble peacefully and without arms;
- Freedom to form political parties;
- Freedom to form unions and associations;
- Freedom to move and reside in any part of Nepal; and
- Freedom to engage in any occupation or be engaged in employment, establish and operate industry, trade and business in any part of Nepal.
However, each of these freedoms is subject to a separate clause on “reasonable restrictions” on acts that may undermine a number of things, including the “nationality, sovereignty, independence, and indivisibility of Nepal”; “national security”; or the “harmonious relations” between federal units or people of different castes, ethnicities, religions, or communities. Article 51 outlines policies that the state will pursue, including “policies regarding social justice and inclusion.” It states that the government will adopt policies “involving NGOs and INGOs only in the areas of national needs and priority, by adopting a one-door policy for the establishment, endorsement, engagement, regulation and management of such organizations, and by making the investment and role of such organizations accountable and transparent.”
On January 23, 2016, Nepal amended the new constitution for the first time. Article 42, which addresses marginalized groups such as Dalits, ethnic and sexual minorities, and citizens in underdeveloped regions, was amended to specify that their employment in state structures and public service will be guided by the principle of proportional inclusion. Article 286 was also amended to require population to be the first priority and geography the second when determining the 165 electoral constituencies of the House of Representatives.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:
- The Association Registration Act(1977) is the primary framework law for CSOs in Nepal. Registration under the Association Registration Act is required for an organization to function legally. Under the Act, an “association” means an association, institution, club, circle, council, study centre, etc. established for the purpose of developing and extending social, religious, literary, cultural, scientific, educational, intellectual, philosophical, physical, economical, vocational, and philanthropic activities. It also includes friendship associations.
- The National Directorate Act (1961) (Rastriya Nirdeshan Ain 2018)aims to ensure that professional organizations and groups engage in both the development of their members and nation building, with pre-approval and consent from the government. CSOs registered under this Act include the Nepal Bar Association, Nepal Press Council, Teachers Union of Nepal, Nepal Federation of Journalist Associations and the NGO Federation of Nepal. Unless formed by the government itself, any group wishing to register under this Act must apply and receive approval from the Cabinet through the relevant line ministry or be established or envisioned in the law. For instance, the formation of a single Teachers Union was envisioned in the Education Act.
- The Social Welfare Act (1992) governs the provision of “social welfare” activity and “social service” activity. To receive foreign funding and implement programs with foreign support, local CSOs must receive advance approval from the Social Welfare Council.
- The Local Governance Act (2017) that replaced the Local Self-Governance Act (1999) encourages CSOs, including NGOs, user committees, cooperative institutions, and other social and community organizations, to work in coordination with local governments (Ward offices, Rural Municipalities, Municipalities, and Metropolitan cities). Several types of work require coordination and prior approval from the local governments, under the clause 25 of the Act: (a) To carry out any kind of study, survey or programme only on the basis of an agreement with the local level; (b) To include its annual plan, programme and budget in the local level’s annual plan, programme and budget; (c) To adopt the joint monitoring and progress reporting system as designated by the local level. Local officials may halt the implementation any activities an organisation conducts in violation of this clause. According to Clause 15 of the Act, the rural municipality and municipality may, while carrying out development works and service delivery related work at the local level, encourage the mobilization and promotion of users, private sector, community organisations, cooperatives and non-government sector within its area.
- The Company Act (2006) (paragraph 19, articles 166 and 167) provides the legal basis for registration of not-for-profit business organizations and consultancy companies. Registration requires at least five citizens coming together to promote any profession, business, intellectual, educational, social, charity, or welfare activities, with a non-profit intent.
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
1. The Government of Nepal has proposed the Social Organization Act – 2075, which is intended to facilitate organizations’ registration in the changed Nepalese political context. The Act would supersede three other Acts – Association Registration Act, National Directorate Act, and Social Welfare Act – to simplify the registration of domestic and international NGOs. The Act was drafted by the Ministry of Home Affairs and envisions NGOs/INGOs becoming registered at either level (federal, province, and local) and renewed at the level where the organization was registered. In contrast, existing provisions allow NGOs to be registered with District Administration Office only.
According to the proposed Act, NGOs registered with National Directorate Act would also be considered registered with this Act but would continue to get privileges guaranteed by National Directorate Act, including not having to go through the annual renewal process. Unlike the earlier provisions that provided for regulation through the Ministry of Home Affairs and its district chapters (District Administration Offices), the proposed Act assigns the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens to regulate domestic and international NGOs registered under this Act.
Despite some positive provisions, NGOs continue to advocate for a more enabling legal environment. They strongly believe the proposed Act still carries a “controlling mindset” and does not facilitate the type of legislation for which they have been advocating. For more information in Nepali, see this link.
2. On April 15, 2018, the Government of Nepal proposed the National Integrity Policy (NIP), 2018. The proposed Policy has drawn heavy criticism for its controlling approach. The draft NIP includes provisions governing national and international NGOs (INGOs). For example, INGOs would be required to secure approval for their annual work plans and budgets from the Ministry of Finance and would be subject to limitations on the number of foreigners they could employ. The draft NIP also envisions a special mechanism under the Ministry of Home Affairs to exercise oversight over their activities.
Four independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteurs David Kaye, Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Michel Forst and Ahmed Shaheed, have outlined concerns about the draft NIP. They have questioned three categories of provisions of the draft NIP: definitions and reporting requirements, restrictions on scope of activities, and access to funding. They have pointed out that the reporting and procedural requirements in the NIP would be highly burdensome for NGOs, especially small ones that do not have strong financial capacities and resources. The requirement for an NGO to obtain the Finance Ministry’s approval of its annual budget and programme are likewise burdensome. In addition, the four experts are concerned that Articles 9.2.3 (2) and 9.2.3 (4) impose heavier reporting requirements for NGOs receiving foreign assistance and have raised concerns that the NIP would limit INGOs’ ability to recruit foreign nationals and would bar foreign nationals employed by INGOs from working for more than three years in the country.
The Prime Minister’s Office plans to hold a meeting among the government secretaries before the draft NIP is presented to the Cabinet,” with suggestions from the meeting going into the final draft.
3. As of January 2018, the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority is reported to be drafting a new Corruption Prevention Act aiming to bring under its purview even Nepalis working in foreign government offices and international organizations in Nepal. The initiative is reportedly intended to make the country’s anti-corruption law compatible with the UN Convention against Corruption, which Nepal signed in 2011.
4. According to the new Constitution, provincial governments are entitled to develop laws that are not contradictory to federal laws on various issues as defined in the Annexes of the Constitution. The government of Province 3, which, like most of the country’s seven provinces, is yet to have a formal name, has lagged behind other provinces in drafting a bill to regulate NGOs.  The CSOs that have reviewed Province 3’s draft law have stated that it has a “controlling mindset” and contains several ambiguities that are subject to multiple interpretations. NGOs submitted suggestions to improve the draft bill to Province 3’s government in November 2018. Similarly, Province 5 has also promulgated laws regulating NGOs in the province. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs, in responding to a query from the Rukum District Administration Office, issued a circular and has asked all 77 District Administration Offices to continue regulation of CSOs under the Association Registration Act, as the topic is still under the jurisdiction of Federal Government. This circular has quoted the constitutional provision and clearly denied that Province governments have the privilege of preparing and enacting laws regulating. The federal-level law is in the process of being drafted, and it is unclear when it will be passed.
 Only Karnali and Sudur Paschim provinces have new names, while political tensions have made it difficult for other provinces to confirm new names.
The primary legal form for CSOs in Nepal is the association, Section 2 of the Association Registration Act defines as “an association, institution, club, circle, council, study centre etc. established for the purpose of developing and extending social, religious, literary, cultural, scientific, educational, intellectual, philosophical, physical, economical, vocational and philanthropic activities, and also includes friendship associations.”
It is also possible to register as a professional organization under the National Directorate Act (1971) or as a not-for-profit company under the Company Act (2006). The remainder of this report will, however, focus on associations, since associations are overwhelmingly the most common form of CSO in Nepal.
Public Benefit Status
Article 2 of the Income Tax Act 2058 (2002) recognizes a category of tax-exempt organizations that includes organizations of a “social, religious, educational or benevolent organization of public nature established with non-profit motive.” Legal identity alone is not sufficient for CSOs to access tax exemptions, and most CSOs have found application of Article 2’s criteria unclear. For organizations that have received a tax-exemption certificate from the Department of Internal Revenue, income from grants, donations, and investments is not taxed. The certificate remains valid so long as the organization carries out the public benefit purposes mentioned in the organization’s by-laws and does not conduct income generating activities.
Barriers to Entry
Mandatory registration. Registration is mandatory, and failure to do so can result in a fine. Under Article 3 of the Association Registration Act, “no person shall establish or cause to be established any association without having it registered pursuant to this Act.” Moreover, according to Section 12 of the Act, “If an association is established without having it registered pursuant to Section 3 or if an association is operated without having it registered pursuant to Section 7, the Local Authority may impose a fine of up to 2,000 Rupees on each member of the management committee of such an association.” The 2,000 rupee (20 USD) penalty imposed on “each member of the management committee” may in some cases be costly enough to deter people from participating in founding an association. Despite the provisions of the law, associations are generally not punished for operating at the local and district level without registration.
Permissible Founders. First, foreign persons do not have the right to found an association or participate as members with voting rights. The law requires all founding members to submit their citizenship certificates upon application for registration. The requirement of citizenship certificates, in practice, excludes not only foreigners from enjoying the right to association, but also the many people who are born and live in Nepal but do not possess citizenship certificates. Foreigners can, however, be honorary members (without voting rights) of associations.
Second, under Section 4 of the Association Registration Act, “any seven or more persons willing to establish an association shall submit to the Local Authority an application setting out the following details of the association, accompanied by one copy of the statute of the association, and with the prescribed fee.” The required minimum threshold of 7 founding members is arbitrary—it is not clear why a smaller group of people cannot form an association.
Third, the District Administration Office, which is responsible for registering associations, is not adequately staffed with competent professionals. Its lack of capacity can significantly delay the registration process, especially considering the ever-increasing number of people interested in forming associations in Nepal.
Barriers to Operational Activity
Mandatory Re-registration. Associations are required to renew their registration annually. The renewal process requires the association to submit a progress report, including audit, minutes of the annual general meeting, and the plan for the next year. The renewal fee is 500 rupees, but organizations that do not renew are subject to a penalty which increases incrementally each year that the registration is not renewed. After five years of not renewing, an organization is subjected to a 5000 rupee (45USD) fee on top of the unpaid annual renewal fees. If the registration is not renewed within five years, the registration will automatically be cancelled. As a result, associations that voluntarily suspend activities for five years are forced to pay the 5000 Rupee fee plus the unpaid annual renewal fees to begin operating again or, alternatively, must establish themselves anew, which is a burdensome and costly process.
Reporting Requirements. Reporting to responsible state agencies, such as the District Development Committee and District Administration Office (DAO), is required and is part of the registration renewal application. In addition, all associations are required to undergo an annual audit conducted by a certified accountant or a registered auditor appointed by the annual general assembly. If an organization fails to submit the proper financial documentation to the DAO, the DAO may impose a fine of up to 500 Rupees on each member of the management committee.
Section 22(2) of the Social Welfare Act reinforces the audit requirement for social organizations or institutions affiliated with the Social Welfare Council by requiring them to “submit an audit report to the Council within six months after the completion of the fiscal year along with the detail descriptions of last year’s progress and next year’s work and activities.” Section 18, Sub-Section (5) of the Social Welfare Act provides that if the Social Welfare Council “so wishes, [it] may inspect or cause to inspect the accounts document along with cash and kind of the social organization and institutions affiliated with the Council at any time.”
Dissolution. Section 14 of the Association Registration Act states that “[i]f an Association is dissolved due to its failure to carry out the functions pursuant to its Statute or for any other reasons whatsoever, all the assets of such Association shall devolve on Government of Nepal.” This provision raises two concerns. First, it does not provide a limited list of objective grounds for dissolution. Instead, dissolution may follow where there is a failure to carry out statutory functions or “for any other reasons whatsoever,” thus opening the door to the exercise of subjective government discretion. Second, upon dissolution, the assets of the associations are transferred to the State. The same is true for associations that dissolve voluntarily. This creates perverse incentives in the government’s regulatory role. The preferred practice is for any remaining funds to be transferred to another CSO performing the same or similar activities as the dissolving organization, especially in cases where the CSO is designated as a public benefit or tax-exempt organization.
Foreign CSOs. Foreign CSOs can establish branch offices under a general agreement with the Social Welfare Council, but they must implement their programs through local CSOs by entering into project-specific agreements. This can be a burdensome process because the project-specific agreement requires approval from as many as seven different ministries.
In August 2016, the Government of Nepal requested all Chief District Officers (CDOs) to refrain from any activities in their districts that are organized by INGOs, unless the CDOs are given prior approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs. The government defended the decision as necessary to ensure that CDOs are fulfilling their governance responsibilities.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
There is no legal provision expressly prohibiting advocacy activities. Indeed, many Nepali CSOs pursue advocacy activities. There is a perception, however, that CSOs must be non-political, which deters some organizations from engaging in activities that support or oppose particular government policies. Whenever CSOs participate in a public demonstration to advocate for a public issue, they are vulnerable to being accused of engaging in political activities.
The issue of freedom of speech on social media has taken on heightened importance. One of the latest examples of the the chilling of the freedom of expression on social media relates to a former secretary of the Government of Nepal, Mr. Bhim Upadhyaya, who was arrested but released on bail of Rs 25,000. The Kathmandu District Government Attorney’s Office filed a charge sheet at the District Court against former Upadhyay on the charge of misusing social media for character assassination and defaming the government and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. The cyber bureau of Nepal Police had arrested Upadhyaya for allegedly committing a slew of cybercrimes on April 23, 2020.
Barriers to International Contact
There are no barriers to cross-border communication. CSOs are free to communicate with whomever they wish.
CSOs must, however, receive prior permission to receive funding from outside the country on a case-by-case basis. Details are found in the following section.
Barriers to Resources
While CSOs in Nepal are allowed to use resources from both domestic and foreign sources, CSOs must receive prior permission to receive funding from the Government of Nepal or from outside the country on a case-by-case basis.
According to Article 16(1) of the Social Welfare Act, social organizations and institutions wishing to receive any kind of assistance from the Government of Nepal, foreign countries, international social organizations and institutions, missions, or individuals shall submit a project proposal and application along with other details to the Council as prescribed for approval. After receiving an application, the Council shall provide permission in coordination with the concerned ministry or agency within 45 days. The review process is lengthy because each project funder must be vetted. Section 16(2) of the Act states that no permission for annual assistance may be given to projects that are “against the national interest,” but “against the national interest” is not defined.
For projects of up to Rs 200,000 that will be finished quickly, organizations need only give prior notice to the Council and submit a report to the Council within three months of completing the work. CSOs must also receive prior permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs to engage in public fundraising.
In July 2012, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs started asking INGOs to register with the Aid Management Platform at the Ministry of Finance, a process which NGOs have criticized as lengthy, bureaucratic, and vulnerable to corruption. In addition, a Cabinet decision made it mandatory for anyone taking any kind of foreign aid or loan to seek prior “suggestions” from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nearly two years later, on June 26, 2014, the Council of Ministers approved a Development Cooperation Policy (DCP), which, like previous initiatives, included several provisions that immediately drew criticism from donors and civil society.
According to the unofficial translation of the DCP released by the Ministry of Finance in June 2014, the government will not accept grants below $5 million, concessional loans less than $10 million, and commercial loans below $20 million per program or project (2.3, 2.4.3, and 2.5.2). In addition, development cooperation must be channeled through the Ministry of Finance, rather than directly to civil society (3.9.10). The Social Welfare Council (SWC), umbrella organization that coordinates CSOs and plays a role in registration, wrote in a briefing that the DPC contradicts the Social Welfare Act and “is intended to make SWC defunct and powerless.” The SWC opposes the DCP because it would make it difficult for INGOs to receive earmarked funds to Nepal from donors and make it mandatory for INGOs to seek permission from government to seek funds for their programs and projects. There are reports, however, that the DCP is not strictly implemented in all cases.
Barriers to Assembly
Section (17)(2)(b) of the Constitution of Nepal states that “every citizen shall have … the freedom to assemble peaceably and without arms.” This definition restricts the freedom of assembly to only Nepali citizens, in contravention of international law. In addition, Section 17 stipulates that the freedom to assemble will not “be deemed to prevent the making of an Act to impose reasonable restrictions on any act which may undermine the nationality, sovereignty, independence and indivisibility of Nepal, or jeopardize the harmonious relations between federal units, or public law and order situation.” Similarly, the Civil Rights Act, 1955, limits the right “[t]o assemble peaceably and without arms and ammunitions” only to “citizens.”
Although there is no law specifically regulating assembly or public gatherings, the Local Administration Act (1971) defines an “assembly / meeting” as “a group of Twenty Five or more than Twenty Five persons gathered with an intention in an organized or unorganized manner in a public place to address particular objectives.”
Time, Place and Manner Restrictions
The government has the right to declare restricted zones. Such restrictions have been declared in some areas considered sensitive from a security point of view. In Kathmandu, assemblies or public gatherings may not be held in the following restricted places:
- In front of the Office of the President;
- In front of the Parliament; and
- In front of the Administrative Headquarters of the Government.
The Kathmandu District Administration and District Security Committee also attempted to ban protests at Maitighar Mandala and other places in Kathmandu. The ban, which would have gone into effect on July 15, 2018, was justified by the government on grounds that it designated seven other specific places as open for protests. However, the Supreme Court of Nepal issued a “stay order” on the ban before it went into effect. Maitighar Mandala has long been a symbolic place for NGOs and rights activists to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. The ban had been widely condemned by NGOs and was challenged both in courts and through street protests where some protesters were arrested.
Tibetan refugees and assemblies dedicated to the issue have been denied the right to freedom of assembly because of the Nepalese government’s deference to China’s “One China” policy.
If more than two groups want to use the same public place for their assembly, demonstration or rally, the local authority gives first priority to the group that formally informs the local authority; the local authority then requests other groups to choose a new venue or change the route of their rally. Thus, although notification is not mandatory, it becomes relevant in the case of counter-demonstrations.
Despite the Constitutional guarantee of peaceful assembly, there have been some instances where the State has used excessive force to break up assemblies. However, the local District Administration Office and Nepalese Police claim that force is used only when an assembly attempts to enter a restricted area or when the demonstration becomes violent.
Barriers to Public Participation
There are several laws that ostensibly provide for civic participation in Nepal, particularly through consultations, hearings, and other decision-making mechanisms. However, such laws lack specificity regarding how civic participation should be implemented. For example, the Good Governance, Management and Operation Act, 2006 states that the “Government of Nepal may make necessary consultation with stakeholders and civil society, if necessary, before implementing any matter of public concern.” (Article 20) This is subject to multiple interpretations from government officials about when consultation is “necessary” or whether a matter is of “public concern.” Similarly, Article 28 of the same Act states that “(1) The Government of Nepal may arrange for the provision of operating any project or program with direct participation and ownership of the people.” Again, the language is vague, which inhibits effective implementation and enforcement of the provision.
The Local Government Operation Act, 2017 authorizes local governments (municipalities) to create various policy and legal documents to govern civil society affairs. As a result, nearly every activity in which CSOs are engaged, including health care, education, agriculture, environmental conservation, and poverty reduction, falls under the jurisdiction of local governments. According to the Act, the ward office, which is the lowest government unit, is required to facilitate participatory planning processes and engage people at the local level to prioritize project needs and form consumer committees to monitor projects. Consisting of local residents, consumer committees can help enable marginalized groups to voice their concerns. Similarly, the Environment Protection Act, 2019 has made holding a public hearing mandatory before preparing an environmental assessment report.
The government has not, however, sought to raise public awareness of the opportunities for civic participation created by these two Acts. Moreover, participatory planning processes that would enable the participation of marginalized people at the local level are often manipulated by political elites to serve their own interests.
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||Universal Periodic Review: Nepal (2011)|
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs|
|Ministry of Finance|
This report acknowledges that foreign aid has made a significant contribution in the development of Nepal. However, the report blames I/NGOs for not coordinating with local governments and not delivering significant enough changes.
Ministry of Finance’s International Development Cooperation Policy (2019)
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||Not available|
|U.S. State Department||Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nepal (2018)|
|Fragile States Index Report||Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index|
|ACT Alliance||How to Protect and Expand an Enabling Environment in Nepal 2013|
|IMF Country Reports||Nepal and the IMF|
|International Commission of Jurists||Nepal-Earthquake Disaster Response 2016|
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National Human Right Commission (NHRC) Concerned about Curbs on Free Speech (October 2019)
The National Human Rights Commission has expressed concern about deteriorating condition of freedom of movement and freedom of expression in the country. Incidents of preventing Nepali Congress leader Minendra Rijal from attending a programme in Tanahun and attack on Gyanendra Shahi in Chitwan recently have posed threat to citizens’ right to freedom of movement and freedom of expression, the rights body said. The National Human Rights Commission reminded the government that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights-1948, and the constitution had guaranteed the right to freedom of expression, assemble peaceably, and the right to reside in any part of the country.
Government to Provide Grants for Organizations Working for Disabled (September 2019)
The government has issued a procedure for providing grants to various organisations working for the welfare of people with disabilities. The procedure aims to increase access of people with disabilities to employment by providing them skill training and social security. As per the procedure, the grants will be provided to eligible organisations through the concerned local levels.
New bill empowers Chief District Officers to impose restrictions (September 2019)
The Peace and Security Bill registered by the government in the House of Representatives stipulates a provision of imposing restriction on fairs, festivals and mass meetings. Section 13 of the bill says that the chief district officer concerned may prohibit celebration of any fair or festival if the program is likely to affect peace and security. “The power to maintain law and order in any festival or fair shall lie with the CDO. If the CDO believes that a fair or festival will threaten the law and order situation, s/he may issue an order against organizing such program,” reads the bill. The CDO may impose a fine of up to Rs 25,000 on an organizer of such programs besides mobilizing security forces to stop it if s/he continues with the fair or festival in contravention of the order of the local administration.
The Supreme Court issued a ruling nullifying the decision of District Administration Office, Kathmandu that had decided to dissolve central working committee of the Nepal Red Cross Society, stayed its general assembly and had prevented the central working committee from holding new elections. The bench observed that the power to dissolve the central working committee of the Nepal Red Cross Society rested with the government and not with the District Administration Office, Kathmandu, as per the law. The court said DAO’s decision to dissolve the central working committee of Nepal Red Cross Society and the decision to stay general assembly were unlawful. The court said DAO, Kathmandu took decision to dissolve the central working committee of NRCS without giving the office bearers the right to be heard and thus it was against the principle of natural justice.
Human Rights Watch, in a letter to the Prime Minister of Nepal, urged that the Nepal government should revise several pieces of draft legislation that threaten to undermine the right to freedom of expression. It urged the Nepal government to amend the recently revised Penal Code, which criminalizes speech on vague grounds, including that it may “annoy” or “trouble” someone. “The draft laws currently before parliament, including the Media Council Bill, Information Technology Bill, and the Mass Communications Bill, contain numerous loosely defined and draconian measures. These include offenses for harming the nation’s “self-pride” or damaging an individual’s “image or prestige.” Provisions controlling online and social media activity are especially sweeping. Many of the new offenses carry fines and lengthy prison sentences,” HRW said in the latter.
Nepal Commits to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals (July 2019)
Nepal emphasized on the necessity of renewed commitment for the global partnership to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and coordinated aid ahead of the Senior Level Meeting of Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation in New York.
NGO Federation of Nepal wants INGOs denied funds meant for Nepal (December 2018)
The NGO Federation of Nepal, a group of local non-government organizations, has demanded that international NGOs operating in Nepal should have no access to funds from UN and donor agencies having their offices in the country. Making public its formal recommendation to the government during its ninth general convention that kicked off in Kathmandu, the federation argued that the huge chunk of money meant for Nepal was being spent by the INGOs for administrative purposes.
Nepal’s Communist Government Tightens Its Grip on Civil Society (October 2018)
Starting last month, not only is Nepal’s civil space shrinking, but the pillars of democracy, like freedom of the press, equality, and liberty, are facing the hammer of new draconian laws. The new National Integrity Policy proposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) is set to tighten the Nepal government’s grip on international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The proposed policy was first formulated on June 8, 2017, when Sher Bahadur Deuba was the prime minister. The proposed document has lays out 13 policies for NGOs and 25 for INGOs in a 23-page paper and aims to strictly monitor them.
UN rapporteurs question intent of Integrity Policy (July 2018)
Four independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council have drawn the government’s attention to the controversial National Integrity Policy (NIP) that the government is preparing to introduce. UN Special Rapporteurs David Kaye, Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Michel Forst and Ahmed Shaheed have questioned several provisions of the policy, putting them into three major categories: definition and reporting requirements; restriction of scope of activities; and access to funding.
Ministry retracts decision on NGOs’ (June 2018)
The Home Ministry has backtracked on its decision to strictly scrutinise Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) while renewing their registration. The ministry issued an official note to all the district administration offices not to implement two major points of its previous circular until further notice.
‘Maitighar Mandala will be protest free zone’ (June 2018)
Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa has said that Maitighar Mandala will remain a protest exclusion zone effective from July 15, as decided by the Kathmandu District Security Committee on April 13. The announcement comes at a time when voices are being raised against the decision that impinge on the people’s right to peaceful assembly.
Nepal ranks 2nd in South Asia, 106th in world press freedom index (April 2018)
Nepal ranks second in South Asian countries in the World Press Freedom Index for 2018. This year’s report ranks Nepal 106th in the world with a score of 32.05 points.
Cabinet ratifies foreign visit rule for officials (April 2018)
The Cabinet has endorsed the Foreign Visit Management Directive for government officials including ministers, aimed at controlling “unnecessary” foreign trips by those holding public office. The 55th annual report of the Office of the Auditor General showed that various ministries are spending lavishly from the state coffers in the name of foreign visits without studying the benefits. The directive seeks to control the practice of domestic and international non-government organisations sponsoring trips of public officials including senior employees. “The new provision is more restrictive than the existing one in relation to the NGOs/INGOs funding the trips,” said am official without specifying the details.
Bill to bar judiciary, security agencies from taking foreign aid (April 2018)
The government has proposed to bar the judiciary, constitutional bodies and security agencies from receiving direct funding from foreign donors and international non-governmental organizations. The National Integrity Policy 2018 drafted by the Office of the Prime Minister has introduced the provision of barring key authorities from receiving foreign aid from bilateral and multilateral donors by signing direct agreement with them. The policy, which is yet to be endorsed by the government, has also proposed barring members of constitutional bodies from going abroad to attend functions of INGOs and other activities without the consent of the government. Even if some members of the constitutional bodies want to go abroad on their own, they have to seek prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to the draft proposal.
CIAA seeks authority to probe private sector, NGOs (September 2017)
The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has urged lawmakers to “expand jurisdictions” of the anti-graft body to enable it to probe the private sector and non-government organisations in line with the provisions of the United Nations Convention against Corruption which Nepal’s Parliament endorsed in 2011. During a discussion held between CIAA officials and lawmakers representing the Parliamentary Good Governance and Monitoring Committee at the CIAA headquarters, the anti-corruption body also urged parliamentarians to restore its jurisdiction of investigating ‘improper conduct’. According to a lawmaker who attended the discussion, CIAA officials had said they can only look into 25 percent corruption cases as the judiciary, Nepal Army, private businesses, public limited companies, cooperatives and NGOs were out of its reach.
New law on the cards to make NGOs transparent (September 2017)
The government is preparing to introduce a new law to ensure transparency in the activities of NGOs. According to Spokesperson for the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, Toyam Raya, the Ministry has prepared a draft of the legislation by incorporating suggestions and recommendations from stakeholders, including NGOs and INGOs. The draft legislation has been sent to the Ministry of Finance for approval. Explaining the need for the new law, Raya said the Social Welfare Act, 2049 was now outdated and the new legislation would replace it. According to him, the draft legislation requires NGOs and INGOs to keep their source of funding and transactions transparent and to carry out work that directly benefit the community they work for.
NGO/INGOs to be regulated under one-window policy (August 2017)
Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare Asha Koirala said preparations are underway to regulate activities of NGO/INGOs across the nation under a one-window policy. “The budget of NGO/INGOs are in excess to Nepal’s yearly budget, however results have been disappointing, so the [Social Welfare and Development] Act should be amended and one-window policy would be introduced,” Minister Koirala added.
Aid agencies accuse Nepal government of hampering their work (April 2017)
International aid agencies in Nepal are paying the government hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees, and having to hand out stipends to bureaucrats, to get their projects approved and monitored. They accuse the government of hampering their work, citing year-long delays before aid projects are approved. The country’s public officials can earn $2,500 a year just for attending meetings to approve aid projects in a country where the prime minister’s salary is $750 a month. Fees to secure project approval and cover monitoring and evaluation range from $6,000 to $15,000 per project – which can be a sizeable slice of the project’s budget.
US envoy critical of CSO Act (February 2017)
The United States ambassador to Nepal, Alaina B Teplitz, in an op-ed published in Nepali and English in Kathmandu dailies has strongly criticized a new draft law making it difficult for civil society organisations to register and operate in Nepal. The draft Social Welfare and Development Act requires civil society organizations (CSOs) to get multiple approvals from different agencies despite the constitutional provisions for streamlined registration and operation. ‘The new Social Welfare and Development Act currently being drafted … appears to run counter to the constitution’s call for a single-door system requiring CSOs to obtain multiple approvals from different agencies in order to operate,’ Teplitz writes. ‘The draft Act also restricts CSO access to foreign funding by requiring CSOs to obtain permission from the Social Welfare Council to implement projects using foreign aid and support.’
Chief District Officers restricted from participating in INGO Programs (August 2016)
The Government of Nepal has issued a notice to all Chief District Officers (CDOs) to refrain from any activities in their districts that are organized by INGOs. CDOs would need prior approval from the Home Ministry to participate in such activities. The government claims that the decision was necessary to address increasing complaints that CDOs cannot effectively govern their districts because they are too often engaged in INGO activities. The NGO Federation and other CSOs expressed concern that this decision will have serious implications for coordinating with government for effective service delivery.
TRC directive finalized (July 2016)
Truth and Reconciliation Commission has finalized its directive, paving the way for investigation into complaints lodged by the conflict victims. In absence of the directive, the TRC had not been able to begin preliminary investigation into over 50,000 complaints lodged by the conflict victims.
Attorney General aims to address concerns about transitional justice (July 2016)
Attorney General Hari Phuyal said his office was trying to help the government address concerns about transitional justice once and for all by bringing new laws related to transitional justice that could satisfy all sides: ex-rebels, security agencies, victims’ families, civil society and the international community. As he highlighted, said CPN-Maoist Centre leaders and the security agencies had agreed that there would be no amnesty for serious offences, such as extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual offences. “I am hopeful that the UN, which had declined to support the transitional justice mechanism, will extend its support after legal changes are introduced,” he added.
NRA unveils manual to enhance skills of HR engaged in reconstruction (July 2016)
The Training Operation and Management Manual recently introduced by the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has given space for private organizations, NGOs and international NGOs to transfer particular skills to human resources engaged in post-earthquake reconstruction and rehabilitation activities. These institutions can also carry out observational and research-based learning programs to improve skills of human resources. According to the manual, the NRA and its sub-regional offices can outsource training services to private organizations, NGOs, and international NGOs. “NRA can also recommend action if activities of training providers undermine sovereignty and national integrity, disturb social harmony, infringe domestic laws or go against National Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Policy.” Furthermore, “Training should not be used as a tool to work against any neighbouring country or other countries” and “should not influence people to change religion.”
INSEC opposes deal (May 2016)
Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) today issued a press release saying some points of the nine-point agreement signed between the Unified CPN-Maoist and the CPN-UML recently were against the verdict of the Supreme Court passed on January 2 last year. This verdict of the court prohibits amnesty in cases of serious human rights violation. “We condemn any agreement entered by any political party or group if such agreement violates human rights.”
Civil society: Watchdog role (May 2016)
The arrest of the noted journalist and chairman of Sajha Yatayata Kanak Mani Dixit on April 22 by the CIAA invited public criticisms by civil society and mass media. Some civil society members and Dixit himself have alleged his arrest as an act of vengeance by the CIAA chief as several persons, including Dixit, had vehemently opposed his appointment to the post. Moreover, there is a wider belief in the society that his arrest was an attempt to threaten civil society actors, who constantly raise voice irrespective of the political and other threats.
Nepal ranks second in South Asia in press freedom: Reporters Without Borders (April 2016)
Nepal ranks second among the nine South Asian countries as far as press freedom in the region is concerned, according to the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, which released its annual rankings today. Nepal has lagged other South Asian countries far behind except Bhutan. Despite this, as the report highlights, covering demonstrations continues to be dangerous for Nepali journalists.
Nepal Amends Constitution for the first time (January 2016)
On January 23, 2016, Nepal amended the new constitution for the first time. Article 42, which addresses marginalized groups such as Dalits, ethnic and sexual minorities, and citizens in underdeveloped regions, was amended to specify that their employment in state structures and public service will be guided by the principle of proportional inclusion. Article 286 was amended to require population to be the first priority and geography the second when determining the 165 electoral constituencies of the House of Representatives.
Nepal Formally Adopts New Constitution Amid Protests from Minorities (September 2015)
Nepal has formally adopted a much anticipated and long-delayed constitution that took more than seven years to complete following a decade of political infighting.
Nepal Struggles to Craft a New Constitution (February 2015)
Nepalese lawmakers have failed to agree on a new Constitution. The political parties remained divided over basic issues and opposition parties have refused to support the Constituent Assembly (CA). The CA Chairperson decided to start the process by the majority voting system and form a committee to prepare a questionnaire on the disputed issues of the new Constitution, which will then be voted upon by the Assembly. The Chairperson came to this decision after a series of obstructions from opposition lawmakers. The opposition alliance has declared that it will abstain from any form of dialogue with the ruling parties, the government and the CA Chairperson, until the decision to use a majority voting procedure has been reversed.
Donors and civil society find fault with new aid policy (August 2014)
The recently enforced Development Cooperation Policy has heightened levels of mistrust between the government and stakeholders after national and international NGOs joined together to oppose the government policy. The International Development Partners Group has also expressed serious concerns about limiting I/NGOs’ access to foreign funds. The Social Welfare Council (SWC) has listed the following concerns: 1) The Development Cooperation Policy is full of flaws, contradicts the Social Welfare Act and ignores suggestions from SWC, donors and other stakeholders; 2) There is no need for INGOs to register with SWC, as they only need to get permission and reach agreement with SWC on their projects; 3) The existence of the Social Welfare Act questions the legality of proposed inter-ministerial committee project analysis and facilitation; and 4) It is impossible for I/NGOs to coordinate with concerned sectoral ministry while preparing project proposals to mobilise development assistance.
Nepal government may pass anti-gay laws (August 2014)
Nepal may pass laws recriminalising gay sex, making it an offence punishable with three years of imprisonment, an LGBT news website has reported. The report quoted former Nepal parliamentarian Sunil Pant as saying that the current law and justice ministry Narahari Acharya planned to push these laws through. CSOs have previously reported that “widespread harassment, including by the government, has contributed to a climate of fear among LGBT people and activists in Nepal, and has interrupted vital activities, including HIV prevention work.”
Donors criticize government’s new foreign aid policy (July 2014)
Nepal’s leading donor agencies have expressed dismay over the government’s ‘opaque’ activities. In a strongly worded letter addressed to Minister of Finance Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat, International Development Partners Group, an exclusive group of Nepal’s donors, accused the government of not communicating with the donors properly before finalizing the draft of the new Development Cooperation Policy. The new policy has barred donor agencies from earmarking funds to NGOs and INGOs from the amount pledged to government. Similarly, the policy has also required NGOs and INGOs to furnish details of the bank that they use for transactions when submitting project proposals. Finance ministry officials declined to make official comments on the letter, but said that the issues raised in the letter surprised them.
Aid disbursement from donors on the decline (April 2014)
As of mid-April, actual aid disbursement from donors was found on the decline. The disbursement in last fiscal year was $0.96 billion compared to $1.04 billion of the previous year. The overall aid disbursement was claimed to have been affected especially due to the decline in disbursement from multilateral donors. The latest Development Cooperation Report (DCR) shows except for Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), disbursements from all leading multilateral donors declined in the last fiscal year. “There has been a noticeable decline in disbursements form the World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank in 2012-13,” states DCR.
Pillay warns against attempts to grant amnesties (April 2014)
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nevi Pillay, expressed grave concerns regarding a TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) bill presented at the Legislature Parliament, which could lead to amnesties for serious human rights violations. Under the bill that aimed at creating a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Commission on Disappearance, these two bodies will be granted the powers to recommend amnesties, including for serious human rights violations, or to excuse perpetrators of such violations from prosecution.
USAID’s two decades support to HIV/AIDS in Nepal (September 2013)
‘Emerging autocracy’ in Nepal (February 2013)
Liberal phase of Civil Society (January 2013)
Slow erosion of democratic institutions hampers accountability (December 2012)
Civil society asks PM to cede power for consensus (November 2012)
Multi-stakeholder dialogue on UNCAC (February 2012)
The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL Civic Freedom Monitor partner in Nepal, Uttam Uprety.