Nepal promotes army officer with tarnished human rights record

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Ignoring calls by the UN and human rights organisations at home and abroad, Nepal’s communist-led government Thursday decided to promote a senior army officer under whose command soldiers ran a torture camp during the Maoist insurgency and executed dozens of people secretly detained under the suspicion they helped the guerrillas.

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With Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and his council of ministers approving the promotion of Major General Toran Jung Bahadur Singh to the post of lieutenant-general, the army officer with the blotted rights record is now eligible to become the next chief of Nepal Army when the present head, Gen Chhatraman Singh Gurung, retires.

This month, when Gen Gurung visited India on the invitation of Indian Army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor, Singh was appointed as officiating chief of the Nepal Army.

The promotion was fiercely resisted by Nepal’s human rights organisations as well as international agencies like the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal.

Three years ago, an investigation by the OHCHR revealed that a battalion commanded by Singh ran a secret detention camp in the heart of the capital during 2003-04 where people suspected to be Maoists or sympathisers, were kept blindfolded and manacled and severely tortured.

Over 40 of the prisoners still remain untraced and are believed to have been killed and buried in mass graves by the army.

The UN rights agency said that though Singh was not directly involved in the torture and killings, he still remained responsible for the behaviour of his troops since he headed the chain of command.

Though the prime minister tried to block the promotion, he was armtwisted by Defence Minister Bidya Bhandari and a section of his own party as well as other ruling partners.

Singh’s promotion will tarnish the image of the Nepal government and show it up as being unable to end the impunity enjoyed by the army, who supported deposed king Gyanendra stage a coup against an elected government in the past.

Though hundreds of army personnel face charges of gross human rights violations during the 10-year civil war, none of them have been punished.

The controversial promotion comes close on the heels of the army refusing to hand over to police an officer charged with the torture and murder of a 15-year-old schoolgirl.

Major Niranjan Basnet, under whose command soldiers in Kavre district arrested and killed Maina Sunuwar in 2004, was expelled by the UN from its peacekeeping forces in Chad this month, for the first time in Nepal’s five decades of association with the world body.

However, despite a warrant for his arrest, Basnet was spirited away by the army from the airport on his return to Nepal and has not been handed over to police.