Legal prohibition on cow-slaughter in Nepal infringes indigenous peoples’ rights, UN experts told

Two Nepali non-governmental organizations have submitted an urgent communication to UN rights experts informing that legal prohibition on cow-slaughter in Nepal infringes indigenous peoples’ right to freedom of religion and cultural rights and threatens the secularity of the Nepali state.

Lawyers’ Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples and National Coalition Against Racial Discrimination sent in the joint communication on Friday to four UN Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression the Field of Cultural Rights, and the Freedom of Religion or Belief.

“The communication is submitted to raise the issue of the continued prosecution of indigenous peoples under Nepal’s law against cow-slaughter—a law deeply rooted and wholly justified by Hindu (and therefore non-secular principles) and one which historically has been used to carry out the State’s forced cultural assimilation of indigenous peoples and to forge a homogenous identity for Nepali citizens,” the NGOs write.

“The first Royal Order officially prohibiting cow-slaughter stated that the punishments for the crime were death and the confiscation of all of the offender’s property. The codification of Hindu ideals, and most especially the ban on cow slaughter, was therefore “used as a means of promoting national integration and sovereignty over various ethnic groups and remote areas” the communication reads. “Importantly, the prohibition on cow-slaughter was always monitored from the center in Nepal and was therefore often used as a tool for showing the strength of centralization in the nation”

The communication further states, “The first Civil Code of Nepal, the Muluki Ain of 1854 stated: “This kingdom is the only kingdom in the world where cows, women, and Brahmans may not be killed”—trumpeting Nepal as the purest Hindu Kingdom and simultaneously signaling to Nepalese citizens that Hindu religious creeds were to be the law of the land.”

“Even as the punishments for cow-slaughter have become less extreme over time, a 1990 amendment to the Civil Code still made cow-slaughter punishable by 12 years in prison and this law—like its predecessors—has been consistently and discriminately used against the indigenous peoples of Nepal,” the NGOs allege.

With information on a large number of cases of cow-slaughter, mainly from eastern Nepal, the NGOs show that in over 90 percent of the cases, the defendant is a member of an indigenous community and pleaders, police personnel and judges responsible for the cases are Hindus, and for the most part high-caste Hindus (Brahmin or Chhetri). Thus, they claim, “Such a distinct pattern in the identity of defendants charged under a single law suggests that the prohibition on cow slaughter is without question enforced in a discriminatory manner.”

In many of the cases, the defendants have been sentenced to six to twelve years in prison. Often, the arrests were reportedly made based on complaints from local Hindu fundamentalists groups and accompanied by abuse and torture. In almost all the cases, the defendants or those sentenced are primary breadwinners of their families. As a result, the families, which are mostly already in poor economic conditions, have been left in worse situation after the cow slaughter incidents, including being in debt for bail amounts that had to be paid. At the same time, the arrests, accompanied by physical and verbal abuse, as well as following the legal consequences suffered by indigenous persons have instilled fear among broader indigenous communities to freely practice their religious and cultural customs and traditions.

The communication further reads, “This appeal to the international community is made namely because attempts to challenge the validity of the current cow slaughter prohibition in domestic courts have failed…A law such as the prohibition on cow slaughter represents a clear violation of this domestic commitment to secularity, however when the prohibition was challenged on such grounds in front of the Supreme Court of Nepal, the Court upheld the prohibition.”

“As domestic attempts to challenge the prohibition on cow slaughter have been unsuccessful, it is necessary that international experts unite in condemning this law as a hangover from the time when Nepal was a Hindu kingdom,” the NGOs conclude. They recommend that the Special Rapporteurs communicate with the Government of Nepal—particularly with the Legislature-Parliament—to repeal the provisions that criminalize cow slaughter so as to guarantee religious freedom and cultural rights to Nepal’s indigenous peoples.

Click here to read the full communication

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