Rights abuse reports surface on Nepal’s festival of lights


Kathmandu: As Nepal Friday began celebrating its five-day festival of lights, the merry-making was marred by human rights groups resurrecting tales of unpunished killings and torture and accusing the coalition government of failing to provide justice.

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The London-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Nepal’s Advocacy Forum (AF) Friday released a new joint report in Kathmandu, saying even three years after the 10-year Maoist insurgency ended, a succession of governments had failed to conduct credible investigations and prosecute those responsible for thousands of extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances.

The 47-page report, “Still Waiting for Justice: No End to Impunity in Nepal”, specifically mentions 62 cases of killings, disappearances and torture between 2002 and 2006 and urges the Madhav Kumar Nepal government to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

“Politicians, police, prosecutors and the army are letting the people of Nepal down once again,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW. “The government had plenty of time to set the wheels in motion to prosecute the perpetrators. But all it has done is make empty promises.”

The report is a follow-up to one last year: “Waiting for Justice: Unpunished Crimes from Nepal’s Armed Conflict”. Most of the abuses documented in the report were carried out by the security forces though Maoist guerrillas were also responsible for some.

Even though the families of those killed and those who disappeared filed police complaints and there were several movements by an organisation of the families of the disappeared, the Nepali justice system has failed miserably to respond, the two rights bodies said.

In 10 of the 62 cases, police have still refused to register the criminal complaints, sometimes in the face of a court order to do so. In 24 cases where complaints were registered, there is no sign that investigations are being conducted.

In at least 13 cases, police appear to have tried to pursue investigations by writing to the relevant agencies to seek their cooperation to interview the alleged perpetrators.

However, the army, which last year pledged to obey a democratically elected government, the Armed Force Police and even the Maoists, who swept the election last year and led the government for eight months, have refused to cooperate.

To date, not a single perpetrator has been brought to justice for grave human rights violations before a civilian court while political parties have put pressure on the police not to investigate certain cases in order to protect their members.

“For too long, families of victims have had to fight for truth and justice, despite these repeated delays and obstacles,” said Mandira Sharma, executive director of the Advocacy Forum whose most celebrated case was proving the army guilty of torturing a teenaged schoolgirl, Maina Sunuwar, inside its barracks.

“It’s been a year since our last report, but police still refuse to follow court orders to file complaints.”

The government has also failed to reform laws that impede effective criminal investigations into past violations, and there has been little progress in setting up the transitional justice mechanisms promised in the peace agreement, such as a commission of inquiry into disappearances and a truth and reconciliation commission.

The rights organisations are asking for a special unit of senior police investigators under the Attorney General’s Office to investigate cases against the Nepal Army, a truth and reconciliation commission that the Nepal government has repeatedly pledged to form and a commission of inquiry into disappearances in line with international standards that would preclude granting amnesty for serious human rights abuses.

The report also calls on the international community to promote reform of security forces.

“Donors should support security reform,” Adam said. “If the political will is there nationally and internationally, then we can achieve justice.”

“There is no justice in Nepal, no rule of law and no government,” said Dhoj Dhami, uncle of Jaya Lal Dhami, who was killed by the security forces in Kanchanpur district in February 2005 after King Gyanendra staged an army-backed coup and grabbed absolute power.

“But I want to see a Nepal where even the seniormost government officials cannot escape justice. The security officials must be punished; they are not employed to kill citizens. All those responsible for human rights violations must be brought to justice.”