Anish Kumar Thokar
APMA 2019 Cohort
The nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 was enforced in Nepal and was welcomed by rights activists in the beginning as a rightful move to save lives. Later, however, questions were raised on how the lockdown was being enforced without proper communication with the people.
The response of the government of Nepal to the pandemic was the imposition of the lockdown, which the Deputy Prime Minister had called de facto curfew. The lockdown suspended the constitutional provision of freedom to move and reside in any part of the country. The restriction was further reinforced last 12 May 2020, when the government issued a notice to temporarily but indefinitely ban all travels from one district to another. The citizens who had to travel during this period due to the emergency are to obtain an authorized letter (pdf) from the Chief District Officer or the Ministry of Home Affairs in order to travel. The restriction on travel, which began from 24 March, saw no sign of being overturned as the number of positive cases of COVID 19 doubled within a week, numbering 250 as of 14 May according to the World meter.
During the lockdown, more than 20,000 Nepalese migrant workers have become stranded in India. The security forces in Nepal have been ordered to strictly seal its international borders, while the Indian authorities have been pressuring the Nepali security forces to let the stranded Nepalese at the Indian side of the border to enter the country. According to The Indian Express, more than 2,000 migrant workers were stranded for a month at Jhulagat borders at Darchula, and some of them risked their lives swimming across the Mahakali River to cross the border. Nepalese security forces have not relented to the request of the Indian counterparts. During this period, 896 Nepalese crossed the border from India on 7 May. While the Nepalese from India have not been able to enter Nepal, there were about 5,000 foreigners who were stranded at Kathmandu for a month and were only allowed to fly back to their respective countries on 10 May.
Two days after, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Nepal issued a press release, stating that prohibiting the citizens to return back to their home is a violation of their human rights and constitutional rights. This is the second time a statement was published to challenge the government’s policy to restrict all travel. The first statement came from the Supreme Court of Nepal on April 17th when it ruled out that the government should take immediate steps to bring all the citizens of Nepal back home from countries where they are stuck due to Nepal’s lockdown policies.
The fact that the lockdown restricts the freedom of movement, which directly impacts the peoples’ ability to make a living, has made human rights activists very concerned. People and human rights activists in Nepal are concerned about how to contain the spread of Covid-19 without hurting the livelihood of the people. For example, the migrant workers of Nepal who contribute about 30 percent of Nepal’s GDP are stuck in foreign countries, but the Nepalese government has made no plans to bring them back. Similarly, restricting the movement of people and goods has caused not only the loss of commerce and trade but has also caused the spread of slow starvation. This is triggering an exodus of the working-class from the cities to towns and villages. It also caused arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The lockdown is a crucial measure adopted by the Government of Nepal to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, the lockdown itself is not questioned by human rights activists. What is questioned is its hasty imposition, with the government not making adequate plans and policies to ease the transition of the people that will be impacted by it.
Photo from Anadolu Agency
*The contents of this opinion piece are solely those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the view of the either Global Campus of Human Rights Asia Pacific, the universities under it, or the APMA program.