Lawmakers hold public dialogues over the statute of limitations in rape cases
July 20, 2022
Nepal’s Federal Parliament (the House of Representatives on July 11 and the National Assembly on July 14 respectively) ratified amendments to laws related to Sexual Violence, including an increase to the statute of limitations on rape and the Criminal Offense and Criminal Procedure. It was a bittersweet victory for women parliamentarians, as they had been demanding the complete removal of the statute of limitations in cases of rape; the amendment only increased the statute from the existing one year to two years in general and up to three years for the special case of minors, persons with disabilities and old aged condition of victims particularly.
The ratification comes amidst broad public discussions regarding sexual violence against women and girls. At a dialogue centred around the theme ‘Discourse around amendment of the one-year statute of limitation to file complaints on rape cases’, organised in Kathmandu on June 1, women lawmakers Rangamati Shahi, Binda Pandey and Amrita Thapa advocated for the removal of the statute of limitations on rape cases along with legal provisions to ensure justice for survivors of sexual violence.
There has recently been a public reckoning with widespread cases of rape and sexual violence. The number of reported incidences of sexual violence, including rape, has been steadily increasing in recent years. In 2021, a total of 2,532 rape cases were reported to the police, an 18 percent increase from 2,144 the previous year. The actual number of such cases, however, is still believed to be higher than reported.
“A majority of incidents of sexual violence are not reported in the country due to various reasons, including stigma, shame, intimidation, trauma, threats, and fear,” Neeti Aryal Khanal, assistant professor of sociology at Tribhuvan University, said at the dialogue programme.
Initially, for many long years, the statute of limitations when it came to rape was only 35 days, which was increased to three months in 2012 after much lobbying by rights activists. In 2017, the new Criminal Code further increased the statute of limitations to one year. Activists, however, say that the statute should be done away with completely in order to ensure justice for survivors of sexual violence.
Following the dialogue programme, an expert review and stakeholder consultation were organised on two bills — Bill to amend some Nepal Acts against Sexual Violence and Bill to amend some Nepal Acts relating to Criminal Offense and Criminal Procedure — in Kathmandu on June 24. Lawmakers Laxman Lal Karna and Jhapat Rawal said that they needed to discuss widely and think more before removing the statute of limitations. In the same vein, lawmaker Dev Gurung suggested that there was a need to consult international practices from socialist countries as such experiences would be more relevant to the Nepali context.
In late May, nine members of the National Assembly had even registered a motion to remove the statute of limitations in cases where the survivor was a minor and a review for cases involving adults. The motion was passed unopposed but later, in July, the National Assembly endorsed amendments that only increased the statute of limitations, even for minors. According to the amendments, the statute of limitations is two years for adult women and two years since attaining the age of majority for minors.
At the expert review, advocate Sabin Shrestha said cases of rape and sexual violence are often settled through reconciliation between the two parties. In such cases, the survivors do not receive justice in the form of legal ramifications for the perpetrator. He further emphasised providing compensation and reparations to survivors.
Both events offered a public platform for lawmakers and concerned stakeholders to learn about the intensity of public demand and the need to change or amend rape laws and its statute of limitations. Such events can be crucial to policymaking.
The dialogue event was conducted by the Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (ACORAB) Nepal while the expert consultation was organised by the Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee of the House of Representatives with technical support from UNDP's Parliament Support Project.