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March 01, 2015

Human Rights Defender Fosters Networks of Lawyers to Address Police Brutality

March 2015

”Making an allegation against the state is not easy,” says Mandira Sharma, founder of the Advocacy Forum, a Nepalese civil society organization (CSO) that coalesces more than 100 human rights defenders who seek to prevent torture and other human rights violations. Mandira has dedicated her career to championing not only her fellow citizens, but to protecting the work, reputations and lives of human rights lawyers. ”Without proper documentation, human rights defenders [are] at risk and [their work is] futile.”

“Unless people have confidence in police, rule of law cannot be restored—having public confidence in the police requires more accountable and professional police institutions.”

Mandira Sharma
Founder and Advisor, Advocacy Forum

Despite the official end of a 10-year conflict between the government and Maoist forces in 2006, many citizens continue to experience instability and violence, too often at the hands of government forces. Human rights abuses—including murder, arbitrary arrest and torture—have been commonplace. The Terai region of southern Nepal has been particularly set upon. A 15-year-old girl was unlawfully arrested by soldiers and killed. An 18-year-old boy was dragged behind a motorcycle before being tied to a tree and shot. Weaknesses within the justice system have allowed such crimes to go unsolved and impunity to reign, further undermining public confidence in Nepal’s struggling transitional government. 

Mandira knows that engendering respect for the rule of law, and faith in justice, is no easy task. And in an environment like Nepal, human rights lawyers must arm themselves with the most powerful weapon available—the truth.

”[Lawyers] need skills on how to document, verify and corroborate information, as well as on managing [personal] security, yours and your clients,” she says. Another critical element is the ability to access international remedies and to thereby widen advocacy. The ABA Rule of Law Initiative works with the Advocacy Forum and other Terai-based CSOs to provide tools and techniques for collecting and preserving evidence of police brutality. Trainings emphasize data collection, interviewing skills and devising reporting mechanisms, promoting greater accountability by state actors and police. 

“Many in Terai think of the police [more] as an oppressor than as protector,” says Mandira. “This has to change.” She does see hope, noting that cases of extrajudicial killings and torture have decreased in recent years; an indication that the rule of law is beginning to take hold.

“Unless people have confidence in police, rule of law cannot be restored—public confidence requires more accountable and professional police institutions,” said Mandira. “[Currently,] the police themselves violate laws, and by documenting police atrocities we are exposing the problem and preparing grounds for genuine discussion on reforms.”

Although the task is daunting, strong allies are beginning to affect change. Mandira and her colleagues have documented cases, and used recorded case history to establish systems for atrocity prevention. They also conduct trainings highlighting processes that demand accountability for victims of torture. The next phase is connecting with medical professionals. 

“Many defenders have reported that cases [filed] under the Torture Compensation Act collapse [due to ] poor medical reports. So, improving medical documentation has been very important,” noted Mandira. Of course, the work is not always easy, and she and other lawyers have struggled with security threats in recent years. 

“I see this work of training as paving the ways for wider advocacy against the discrimination and human rights violations in Terai,” Mandira notes. “So that the public can trust in police, government institutions can be improved and rule of law restored.”

To learn more about our work in Nepal, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].