Lawyer and human rights defender Mandira Sharma co-founded Advocacy Forum in 2001, Nepal’s trail blazing organisation of human rights lawyers.

Mandira grew up in a remote area in western Nepal and, encouraged by her mother, became the first woman in her village to become a lawyer. She studied in Kathmandu and gained a scholarship to do her L.L.M. (Master of Law) at the University of Essex.

Nepal’s civil war, which stretched from 1996 to 2006, resulted in thousands of cases of torture, killings, forced disappearance, sexual violence and other abuses. Both sides - the monarchist (then government) forces and the Maoist rebels – stand accused of grave human rights violations, but not a single perpetrator has been held to account for their crimes. Many remain in high positions in the government and military.

Mandira and her colleagues represent victims and work to achieve justice by bringing their cases to courts in Nepal as well as harnessing media attention and international support to campaign for legal reforms.

Their successes have led to them being seen as a threat by those they are trying to bring to justice. They have experienced direct and indirect threats, assaults, and defamation and incitements to violence in the media.

Despite the danger, Mandira remains committed to her work in Nepal: “Those who work for the victims, who demand justice, who want equality, who want laws being implemented, have to be fearful all the time,” she says, while “those who commit the crime get promoted and walk away freely. I think you need to change that otherwise no one is secure in society. […] Somebody has to take the risk if you really want to build a society where everyone is secure.”

In 2006 Mandira won the Human Rights Watch prestigious Human Rights Defender Award. HRW said at the time: “Mandira and her colleagues are struggling to make sure that any peace talks address the needs and demands of the Nepali people, not just their political leaders…. Mandira and Advocacy Forum stand for justice, and bitter experience from around the world shows that peace without justice is illusory.”

On 3 January 2013, UK authorities arrested Colonel Kumar Lama of the Nepal Army and charged him with two counts of torture under Universal Jurisdiction law. Due to their work relating to the case, Mandira and her collegues were called traitors in the media in Nepal, elements of which also incited violence against them. The District Administration Office also informed Advocacy Forum that there would be an investigation into its activities.

FCO Video: Magna Carta and the rule of law

In this video, former High Court judges Lord Scott of Foscote and Sir Henry Brooke, and human rights lawyer Mandira Sharma talk about the significance of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta for the rule of law, democracy and human rights around the world.