Nepal

Partly Free
57
100
PR Political Rights 25 40
CL Civil Liberties 32 60
Last Year's Score & Status
56 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Since the end of a decade-long civil war in 2006, Nepal has held a series of competitive elections and adopted a permanent constitution. As politics have stabilized, pressure on journalists has decreased, and authorities have been more tolerant of peaceful assembly. However, corruption remains endemic in politics, the government, and the judicial system. Other problems include gender-based violence, underage marriage, and bonded labor. Transitional justice bodies have struggled to fulfill their mandates.

header2 Key Developments in 2021

  • The Supreme Court twice served as an effective check against the executive in February and July, when the court reinstated the parliament after former prime minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli dissolved the body in December 2020 and May 2021. The court subsequently appointed Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister in July, after Oli was forced out of office.
  • The Nepal Communist Party (NCP), dissolved in March after it underwent an internal split in 2020 based on disagreements between former prime minister Oli and former rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda. The Supreme Court ruled that month that the name of the NCP had already been in use before the two parties merged, which invalidated the party’s registration and forced the reemergence of the two distinct parties.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 3.003 4.004

The president is the head of state and is elected to up to two five-year terms by a parliamentary electoral college and state assemblies. The prime minister is elected by the parliament. The legitimacy of executive office holders is largely determined by the conduct of legislative and provincial elections.

Sher Bahadur Deuba was sworn in as prime minister in July 2021. He was appointed following a Supreme Court decision that reinstated the parliament for the second time that year—former prime minister Oli dissolved the body in December 2020 and May 2021, causing a constitutional crisis.

The current president, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, was reelected in March 2018.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

Members of the 275-seat House of Representatives are elected to five-year terms; 165 are directly elected in single-seat constituencies, while 110 are elected by proportional representation. The National Assembly has 59 members; 56 are indirectly elected to six-year terms by an electoral college comprised of provincial and local leaders, while 3 are appointed by the president on the government’s recommendation.

Elections were held for 18 National Assembly seats in January 2020. The Nepal Communist Party (NCP), the product of a 2018 merger between the Communist Party of Nepal–Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal–Maoist (UCPN-M) parties, won 16 seats, while the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) won the other 2. In late 2020 and in May 2021, former prime minister Oli’s control over his party diminished and he dissolved the parliament in a bid to hold on to power through new elections. In July, the Supreme Court restored the National Assembly, and legitimately elected representatives remained in power.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3.003 4.004

The legal framework for elections is sound and facilitates the conduct of credible polls. Though the parliament has yet to address grievances regarding province demarcation and proportional representation based on population, current institutions and province boundaries have stabilized and most stakeholders seem to accept them. Nepal’s Election Commission generally conducts fair and credible contests.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 3.003 4.004

Political parties are generally free to form and operate. Opposition figures do sometimes face arrest. Alliance for Independent Madhesh (AIM) leader CK Raut was arrested in 2018 on charges of disturbing law and order and voicing views against the state but was released in 2019 after agreeing to refrain from supporting an independent Madhesi state. The AIM—renamed the Janamat (Mandate) Party—endorsed Raut’s agreement.

The 2018 alliance between the UCPN-M and the CPN-UML, which merged to form the NCP, dissolved in 2021, after the NCP underwent an internal split in 2020 based on disagreements between former prime minister and CPN-UML leader Oli and former rebel leader Dahal, better known as Prachanda, of the UCPN-M. In March, the Supreme Court ruled that the name of the NCP had already been in use before the two parties merged, invalidating the current NCP’s registration and forcing the reemergence of the two distinct parties.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 3.003 4.004

Opposition parties have a realistic chance of gaining power through elections. The CPN-UML, then in opposition, won the 2017 elections. Smaller opposition parties have difficulty gaining power at the national level, partly due to a 3 percent threshold for proportional representation in the lower house, and thus perform better at the local level. However, the March 2021 dissolution of the NCP may open up the competitiveness of national elections for smaller parties, which will be able to form alliances.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 2.002 4.004

Nepalis’ ability to freely exercise their political choices is occasionally limited by sporadic outbursts of political violence, as well as by security agents who have cracked down on political demonstrations. Vote buying has been reported in recent elections.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2.002 4.004

Though the constitution has requirements for women and minority participation in the legislature, social discrimination continues to hinder their political involvement. A limited definition of citizenship disenfranchises stateless people. Bidhya Bhandari is the first woman to be president in the country, and women comprise 32.7 percent of lower-house; however, few hold senior political positions.

Indigenous Nepalis and members of the Dalit group are underrepresented in politics and in civil service, despite policies meant to bolster their participation. Members of the Chhettri and Hill Brahmin groups, meanwhile, remain relatively overrepresented.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 3.003 4.004

Nepal ratified a new constitution in 2015, an important step in its democratic transition. Successful elections were held in 2017 and 2020, though representative rule is not fully consolidated. In December 2020 and May 2021, former prime minister Oli twice dismissed parliament and called for new elections. However, the Supreme Court in both instances restored freely elected representatives to office.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1.001 4.004

Corruption is endemic in Nepali politics/government and often goes unpunished. Corruption by officials has often obstructed the delivery of foreign aid. However, aid related to the COVID-19 pandemic has seen fewer incursions by corrupt actors, even if politically connected elites were able to access vaccines and hospital beds more readily than the general public.

The top Nepali anticorruption agency, the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has been more active in recent years. However, the CIAA has been accused of excessively focusing on low-level cases; in July 2020, a special court posthumously acquitted a tax official accused of accepting a 1,000-rupee ($9) bribe. The official died by suicide in 2019, after release from CIAA custody.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1.001 4.004

The government generally operates with opacity. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), among others, have been criticized for lack of transparency. Mechanisms for utilizing the 2007 Right to Information Act are poorly defined, and the law remains inconsistently enforced.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 2.002 4.004

The 2015 constitution guarantees freedom of expression and prohibits prior restraints on press freedom, though these rules can be suspended in a national emergency, and future press restraints for national security reasons are allowed.

In 2021, the parliament continued to consider draft laws introduced in 2019, including an Information Technology Bill to replace the National Transaction Act (NTA), which was intended to fight cybercrime but has been used to target journalists and artists. Other draft laws brought forward that year, including a Media Council Bill and a Mass Communications Bill, would create a new media regulator.

Journalists reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic have faced harassment and detention over their work.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2.002 4.004

The 2015 constitution identifies Nepal as secular, signaling a break with the Hindu monarchy that was toppled after the 1996–2006 civil war and formally abolished in 2008. Religious freedom is constitutionally protected, and tolerance is broadly practiced, though some religious minorities occasionally report harassment. Muslims in Nepal are particularly impoverished, occupying a marginalized space. Proselytizing is prohibited under a 2017 law, and some Christians have been prosecuted under this law.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3.003 4.004

The government does not restrict academic freedom. Much scholarly activity takes place freely, including on political topics. Authorities exercise some control over the primary education curriculum but have relatively little over universities. Neither professors nor students face repercussions for political speech, and peaceful campus protests are tolerated. However, student unions affiliated with major political parties sometimes clash violently, and police occasionally use force to disperse them. Student groups were involved in relatively peaceful protests related to former prime minister Oli’s dissolution of the parliament.

Minorities, including Hindi– and Urdu-speaking Madhesi groups, have complained that Nepali is enforced as the language of education in government schools.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3.003 4.004

While the freedom to engage in private discussions on sensitive topics has expanded with Nepal’s political stabilization, authorities occasionally crack down on individuals who criticize the government on social media.

In 2021, the parliament also continued to consider legislation, such as the Mass Communications Bill, which would dramatically impact online expression.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 3.003 4.004

Although the constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, security forces have been known to violently disperse protests and demonstrations, particularly in the south, where a large Madhesi population and related secessionist movement exist.

In January 2021, nationwide protests were held over former prime minister Oli’s dissolution of Parliament; thousands of people participated in defiance of COVID-19-related public health restrictions. Additional large protests on separate issues, including a challenge to the activities of a United States aid program, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, occurred after the dissolution of Parliament was resolved.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 2.002 4.004

Although the constitution allows nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to form and operate in Nepal, legal restrictions sometimes make this difficult in practice. The District Administration Office (DAO), which is responsible for registering NGOs, is often understaffed and lacks essential resources. Foreign NGOs must enter project-specific agreements with the Nepali government. There is a widespread view that NGOs should not be overly political, which hinders some groups from engaging in certain forms of public advocacy. Some federal states are more open to NGO activities than others.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2.002 4.004

The 2015 constitution provides for the right to form trade unions. Labor laws protect the freedom to bargain collectively, and unions generally operate without state interference. Workers in a broad range of “essential” industries cannot stage strikes.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 3.003 4.004

The 2015 constitution provides for an independent judiciary. However, judicial independence is compromised by endemic corruption in many courts.

The state has often ignored local court verdicts, Supreme Court decisions, and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recommendations addressing crimes committed during the 1996–2006 civil war. In late 2020 and early 2021, the Oli government took steps to weaken the NHRC and other Constitutional Council bodies: President Bhandari amended the Constitutional Council rules, allowing it to hold meetings without a quorum and make decisions based on a simple majority. The Constitutional Council recommends appointments to the NHRC.

However, the Supreme Court was twice able to serve as an effective check against the executive in 2021. In February and July, the court reinstated the parliament after former prime minister Oli attempted to dissolve the body in December 2020 and May 2021, respectively. The court ordered opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba to be appointed prime minister.

Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because the Supreme Court’s ruling on the legality of the former prime minister’s dissolution of the parliament reflected its increasing independence.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1.001 4.004

Constitutional due process guarantees are poorly upheld in practice. Arbitrary arrests do occur. Heavy case backlogs and a slow appeals process result in long pretrial detentions. The government provides legal counsel to those who cannot afford their own, but only at a defendant’s request. Those unaware of this right often end up representing themselves.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2.002 4.004

Rights advocates continue to criticize Nepal for failing to punish abuses and war crimes committed during the 1996–2006 civil war.

Neither the TRC nor the CIEDP, key transitional justice bodies, have implemented reforms demanded by the United Nations and the Supreme Court. Although the two institutions have received thousands of reports of human rights violations and enforced disappearances, no alleged perpetrators have been prosecuted. In February 2021, the government extended the tenure of both bodies, though because they have done little to address the problem, many have called for civilian and criminal courts to hear conflict-era cases.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1.001 4.004

The 2015 constitution includes rights for sexual minorities. The first passport on which the holder was permitted to select a third gender was issued in 2015. However, LGBT+ people face continued harassment by the authorities and other citizens, particularly in rural areas.

The constitution frames the protection of fundamental human rights for Nepali citizens only. This potentially leaves equal rights of noncitizens, including migrants and people who cannot prove citizenship, unprotected.

Tibetans in Nepal face difficulty achieving formal refugee status due to Chinese pressure on the Nepali government. Women often do not receive the same educational and employment opportunities as men.

Muslims enjoy greater freedom to practice their religion under the 2015 constitution but continue to face widespread discrimination.

Children living with disabilities are sometimes excluded from the education system, or face segregation in the classroom.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of movement is generally respected in Nepal. There are legal limits on the rights of refugees to move freely, but restrictions are rarely enforced. Citizens generally enjoy choice of residence, though bribery is common in the housing market as well as the university admittance process.

In rural areas, women remain subject to chhaupadi, a traditional practice in which menstruating women are physically separated from their families and communities; the practice was criminalized under a 2018 law. The first arrest under this law occurred in 2019, when a Nepali man was arrested after his sister-in-law died of smoke inhalation in a chhaupadi hut. Arrests have occurred inconsistently since then.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2.002 4.004

Although citizens have the right to own private businesses, starting a business in Nepal often requires bribes to a wide range of officials. Licensing and other red tape can be extremely onerous. Women face widespread discrimination when starting businesses, and customs and border police are notoriously corrupt in dealing with cross-border trade. Foreigners generally cannot own land, though in practice individuals, businesses and organizations have found ways around this rule with long term leases of properties technically owned by Nepalis.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2.002 4.004

Gender-based violence remains a major problem and increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2009 Domestic Violence Act provides for monetary compensation and psychological treatment for victims, but authorities rarely prosecute domestic violence cases, and these are sometimes handled informally.

Underage marriage, especially of girls, is widespread. In 2019, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that Nepal had one of the world’s highest child marriage rates.

Foreign men married to Nepali women must wait 15 years to obtain naturalized citizenship, while foreign women married to Nepali men can immediately become citizens. Children of foreign-born fathers and Nepali mothers must apply for naturalized citizenship, while children of foreign-born mothers and Nepali fathers are automatically granted citizenship. In June 2020, a parliamentary committee endorsed an amendment to the Citizenship Act that would require foreign-born wives to wait 7 years before attaining their own citizenship. The amendment remained under consideration at year’s end.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1.001 4.004

Trafficking of children and women from Nepal for prostitution in India is common, and police rarely intervene. Bonded labor is illegal but remains a serious problem. Most workers in Nepal remain in the informal sector and lack legal protections.

Child labor also remains a problem; children can be found working in the brickmaking, service, and other industries, as well as in forced begging and sex work. The COVID-19 pandemic, which left many children out of school, has worsened these challenges; how many children will eventually return to school is unclear.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    57 100 partly free