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Until the middle of the nineteenth century, police and judicial functions in many areas were in the hands of local princes (rajas), who were virtually autonomous rulers of their people. The central government ruled outside the capital and delegated authority to the local governors, later known as bada hakim, who in turn depended on village heads and village councils to maintain order in their respective communities. The scope and intensity of police and judicial activities varied largely with local leaders and customs. Caste status and standing with the authorities also greatly influenced court judgments and police attitudes. Efforts by the central government to enlarge its authority over local affairs generally were regarded by the isolated tribal groups as encroachments on their traditional independence. Thus, old practices tended to persist in the hinterland despite changes in the government and government policy in Kathmandu.

The Ranas did not establish a nationwide police system, although Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher Rana, who served from 1901 to 1929, somewhat modernized the police forces in Kathmandu, other large towns, and some parts of the Tarai. Police functions in outlying areas, because of the relative isolation of most communities, generally were limited to the maintenance of order by small detachments of the centrally controlled police personnel supplemented by a few locally recruited police.

Following the anti-Rana revolt that began in 1950, the government began to modernize the police system and improve its effectiveness. Assistance was requested from India, and an Indian police official was sent to Kathmandu to help reorganize the police force. Some Nepalese police were sent to police training academies in India.

Nepal's police system in the early 1990s owed its modern origins to the Nepal Police Act, enacted by King Mahendra in 1955. Besides defining police duties and functions, the act effected a general reduction in the size of the police force and a complete reorganization of its administrative structure along Indian lines.

In accordance with the Nepal Police Act, Nepal was divided into three geographical zones (sometimes called "ranges" in Indian parlance). Each of the zonal headquarters, under a deputy inspector general of police, was responsible for several subsections composed of four or five police districts operating under a superintendent of police. A district superintendent was in charge of the police stations in his area. Each station normally was supervised by a head constable who was in charge of several constables performing basic police functions, such as crime investigations and arrests. Each constable was customarily responsible for three or four villages.

Under the constitution, law and order at the district level continues to be the responsibility of the chief district officer, who is selected from among senior cadre civil servants under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Other district administrative officers work in coordination with the chief district officer. Despite the abolition of the panchayat (see Glossary) system, no significantly different alternative system had emerged as of mid1991 . During the interim, village and municipal development committees, consisting of persons nominated by chief district officers, replaced village and town panchayat, which had exercised administrative and some quasi-judicial functions at the local level. At the local level, maintenance of law and order is the responsibility of the chowki hawaldar (local police officer), who reports to the thana (station inspector). All local police officers work under the supervision of the chief district officer.

At the apex of the system was the Nepalese Police Force, centrally administered by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Central Police Headquarters, commanded by the inspector general of the Nepalese Police Force, had a criminal investigation division; intelligence, counter-intelligence, motor transport and radio sections; a traffic policy branch; and a central training center.

The police system formerly had been overseen by the king and his advisers, with little or no public accountability. Under the partyless panchayat system, the public generally regarded the police as instruments of the king and his local political supporters. Nepalese police were poorly paid and poorly trained, even by Nepalese standards.

The administration of justice was often arbitrary and, according to international human rights organization, brutal. A 1989 United States congressional report on human rights in Nepal noted "continuing reports of beatings and other brutal treatment of prisoners by police officials, particularly in rural areas." The report also noted that arbitrary arrest and detention were "common. . . . Because communication links in Nepal are limited, local officials have a great deal of autonomy and exercise wide discretion in handling law and order issues."

Although the Nepalese police system in the early 1990s still was generally regarded as inefficient and corrupt, most observers believed that Nepal's transition from a feudal monarchy to a parliamentary democracy had greatly improved the chances for police reform and the curtailing of human rights abuses by the police. As in the case of the army, police loyalties were severely tested during the 1990 nationwide prodemocracy movement. Although acting under the guidance of the palace, the police generally did not take sides in the political standoff. Even though police excesses occurred, force discipline did not break down.

Shortly after his election to office, Prime Minister G.P. Koirala pledged that improving law and order and protecting human rights would be his administration's top priorities. Koirala's critics noted, however, that his tough law-and-order stance was intended less to promote human rights reforms and more as a political signal to communist elements threatening to mount street protests against the new democratic government. In April 1991, Nepal acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment.

State-supported penal institutions, including the central prison in Kathmandu and jails in most district capitals, had long been targets of considerable criticism on the part of human rights activists. According to various reports on human rights, prison conditions were unsanitary and degrading. Prisoners were segregated into three categories. Class C prisons, the lowest and most numerous type of prison, were populated with common criminals who often were subjected to beatings and abuse at the hands of police jailers. The higher prison categories were reserved for persons with political connections or higher social status. Conditions in these facilities generally were better than in Class C prisons. Women were incarcerated separately from men although in equally poor conditions. Mentally ill persons often were placed in jails because most communities lacked other, more appropriate, long-term care facilities. In an effort to address some of these problems, the Koirala government shifted prison administration and management from the police to the Ministry of Home Affairs shortly after assuming office in 1990.

Data as of September 1991

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