Gay rights activists are alarmed by a new bill that could become law soon if approved by parliament as part of the government’s bid to modernise the legal code – Muluki Ain, or law of the land – formulated in 1854 first.
The law and justice ministry, in consultation with judges, has completed the drafts of a new criminal code and a civil code of law, which were submitted in parliament recently after being approved by the council of ministers.
If the 601-seat parliament endorses them, Nepal will get new legal codes, a move which however has brought no joy to its burgeoning gay community.
The community has lodged its first strong protest with Manisha Dhakal, a transgender and senior member of the Blue Diamond Society, Nepal’s pioneering gay rights organisation, raising her voice at a UN rights forum.
Manisha spoke at the Universal Periodic Review meet in Geneva Wednesday when the human rights situation of UN members states came under assessment, saying the proposed criminal and civil laws will criminalise gays.
The marriage clauses in the new codes define the union as only that between a man and a woman, treating homosexual unions as "unnatural sex offences".
"The proposed civil and criminal laws contain provisions to re-criminalise so-called ‘unnatural sexual offenses’," Dhakal told the forum. "These attempts by the law ministry are a clear sign not to follow international human rights standards, a clear intention not to implement the Supreme Court’s decision and also go against the spirit of the interim and new draft constitution of Nepal."
In November 2008, Nepal’s Supreme Court recognised homosexuals as a "natural people" and asked the government to ensure that they received the same rights and considerations as any other citizen. In the landmark judgment, the court also ordered the government to enact laws to allow same-sex marriages.
Following the verdict, Nepal’s gay community has taken part in the civil movement to include the rights of marginalised people in the new constitution, that was to have been promulgated May 28.
"I ask your support to hold the Nepal government accountable on implementing Supreme Court decisions fully and ensure that the proposed civil and criminal laws are amended to ensure the human rights and equality of sexual and gender minorities, rather than discriminating against and criminalising us," Dhakal said.
Since 2008, Nepal has established itself as a gay rights haven with people flocking to the Himalayan nation for same sex unions.
In the past, couples from India and Britain have tied the knot in Nepal and during the monsoon, the Blue Diamond Society has planned a public wedding between a lesbian couple from the US.
The weddings are part of the community’s effort to draw gay tourists to Nepal and have been welcomed by Nepal’s tourism ministry, which is celebrating 2011 as Nepal Tourism Year with the target of bringing in one million air-borne visitors.