Nepal Should Review Proposed Religious Restriction

General March 24, 2011
March 24, 2011

WEA-RLC has urged Nepal’s lawmakers to discuss and review a proposed religious restriction for the country’s new constitution, which is to be promulgated before May 28.

Nepal’s three largest parties – the Maoist, the Unified Marxist Leninist, and the Nepali Congress – are focusing their efforts on building consensus for over 50 governance-related issues, which do not include the proposed ban on the right to convert others.

To meet the deadline, the Constituent Assembly is expected to pass a “mini-constitution” carrying essential governance laws, including fundamental rights, which will be passed as proposed without much discussion, WEA-RLC’s three-member delegation learned after meeting political leaders and legislators in Kathmandu last week.

The Assembly is likely to discuss and pass contentious issues, such as the structure of federalism, at a later stage.

The Preliminary Draft of the Committee on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles, formed by the Assembly to propose fundamental rights for the new constitution, states, “Every person shall have the freedom to profess, practice and preserve his or her own religion in accordance with his or her faith, or to refrain from any religion.”

An Explanatory Note included in the religious freedom clause mentions that the right to religious freedom involves the freedom of every person to “convert on his or her will”, but “no person shall be entitled to... convert a person from one religion to another...”

“The Committee should be lauded for proposing expansion of the scope of religious freedom as compared to what was provided for in the 2007 Interim Constitution,” said WEA-RLC Executive Director Godfrey Yogarajah, who was part of the delegation. “But the Committee also seeks to ban all activities aimed at conversion, violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Nepal is party,” he added.

Yogarajah pointed out, “It may be reasonable when a country has concerns over unethical religious conversions, but the proposed restriction fails to mention that the word ‘convert’ refers only to unfair conversions. Even Bhutan’s constitution clearly states that conversions by the use of ‘coercion or inducement’ shall not be allowed.

“If passed as it is, the Clause will restrict the right propagate or manifest one’s religion, which is a right under Article 18 of the ICCPR.”

“It is in the interest of Nepal to ensure religious freedom at par with the international standards. Many nations and blocs tie their aid packages to civil and political rights of a country, and Nepal has tremendous development needs,” said Attorney Roshini Wickremesinhe, Executive Director of Asia Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission and a member of the delegation.

“Religious freedom should only be ‘subject to public order, morality and health’, as the Indian Constitution says. This legitimate limitation sufficiently covers unfair practices concerning religious conversions as well,” said Attorney Tehmina Arora, Advocacy Director of Evangelical Fellowship of India and a member of the delegation.

Nepal was world’s only Hindu kingdom for around 240 years until 2006, when the country began its transition to a secular republic.

“We have requested the legislators we met to seek necessary revision in the proposed restriction on conversions when constitutional provisions come up for approval in the Assembly. We want Nepal to be secular and prosperous,” said Yogarajah.

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For further information please contact Godfrey Yogarajah, Executive Director at [email protected] or visit http://www.worldevangelicals.org/commissions/rlc/.

The Religious Liberty Commission is monitoring the religious liberty situation in more than 100 nations, defending persecuted Christians, informing the global church, challenging the Church to pray (www.idop.org) and giving all possible assistance to those who are suffering. The Commission also makes fact finding trips and meets with governments and ambassadors speaking up for the suffering brothers and sisters. At the United Nations the Commission reports about the situation and arranges special hearings with Christians from countries under pressure.