Members of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB) made a week long fact finding visit (8-12 October) to Nepal at the invitation of Lok Mani Dhakal, a member of Nepali parliament and chairperson of the IPP FoRB – Nepal Chapter. The five member delegation consisted of: David Anderson, MP (Canada), Mercy Chreisty Barends, MP (Indonesia), Daniel Toft Dakobsen, MP (Denmark), Nqabayomzi Kwankwa, MP (South Africa) and the Senator, Edison Broce Urriola (Panama). The delegate made several visitations with religious groups, civil society actors, human rights commission and parliamentarians. The constitution of 2015 and newly amended criminal code curtails religious freedom in Nepal. Such visit from international panel can be perceived as being highly important.
Talking to the group of different religious leaders; David Anderson said that they came to Kathmandu with high interest to discuss about FoRB issue. “We are a group of parliamentarian who are interested in the FoRB issue and very excited to meet and discuss with national MPs interested in similar issues,” he said. Some of the major concerns such as legal provision on religious freedom, lack of registration provision and cultural rights of religious institutions were discussed. In a bilateral meeting, the General Secretary of the Nepali Congress, Sashanka Koirala assured that he can be reached to discuss into the matters. “These issues indeed need to be looked into deeply,” he said. The Speaker of the House, Onsari Gharti has similar considerations about the issue. “FoRB is an important issue and I stand with you, any law can be changed if the people want it to change,” she assured.
However, the members of human rights commission think that it would be impossible to improve situation unless the constitution is amended. “In strict sense, our constitution is not secular,” opined Anup Raj Sharma, the chair of human rights commission. Rev Mukunda Sharma, Secretary of Nepal Christian Society; and Mr. B P Khanal, secretary of Janajagaran Party Nepal have been having a busy week organising dialogues to advocate for FoRB to bring in accordance with international laws in country’s code. Another human rights commissioner Mohana Ansari highly supported the statement of Sharma. “I believe in people’s rule democracy and hence the laws are made for the people as they want it to be,” She said in her supporting remark.
Pastor Tanka Subedi, Chairman of Dharmik Chautari Nepal, and Co-Chairperson of Nepal Christian Society, thinks that the visit of international parliamentarians was very encouraging in working for FoRB and hope that it will have a positive impact on overall situation in the country.