Nepal: End Cycle of Impunity and Deliver Justice to Victims

For Immediate Release

Nepal: End Cycle of Impunity and Deliver Justice to Victims

New Government Should Investigate Past Abuses and Prosecute Perpetrators

KATHMANDU - The new Maoist-led government of Nepal should investigate and prosecute
those responsible for thousands of extrajudicial killings, torture, and
enforced disappearances during the country's decade-long armed
conflict, Human Rights Watch and Advocacy Forum said in a joint report released today.

"The Maoists claimed they took up arms because of the denial of
justice," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "Now
that they are in government, we hope they will show the courage to
bring perpetrators to justice."
  

The 118-page report, "Waiting for Justice: Unpunished Crimes from Nepal's Armed Conflict,"
documents in detail 62 cases of killings, disappearances, and torture
between 2002 and 2006, mostly perpetrated by security forces but
including a couple of cases involving Maoists. The families of those
killed and disappeared have filed detailed complaints with police
seeking criminal investigations but the Nepali justice system has
failed miserably to respond to these complaints.
 
 

"People took to the streets in 2006 demanding a new Nepal
built on justice, human rights, and rule of law," said Mandira Sharma,
executive director of Advocacy Forum. "It's time for the new government
to honour that call."
 
 

To date, not a single perpetrator has been brought to
justice before a civilian court. Fearing both the army and Maoists, at
times police refuse to register complaints altogether, saying they will
be dealt with by a proposed transitional justice body.
 
 

For instance, almost four years after eyewitnesses saw
army personnel seize and shoot Madhuram Gautam dead in Morang District
on December 18, 2004, police are still refusing to file a criminal
complaint into his death. This is despite interventions by lawyers,
representatives of the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal and
the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights-Nepal, and even
an order from the Biratnagar Appellate Court requiring police and the
chief district office to register the complaint. But when Madhuram's
family and Advocacy Forum visited Morang police on September 1, 2008,
to file the complaint, the superintendent of police still refused to
register it.
 
 

When police do register complaints, they often fail to
interview suspects and witnesses and conduct the most rudimentary of
investigations. Public prosecutors have been reluctant to scrutinize
ongoing police investigations, and courts have been unreceptive and
submissive to political influences. Meanwhile the army flatly refuses
to cooperate with investigations.
 
 

Fifteen-year-old Maina Sunuwar was "disappeared" after her
arrest in February 2004, and Kavre police registered a complaint in
November 2005 only after considerable national and international
pressure. But slow action by police in the process of identifying and
verifying human remains has hampered investigations. In July 2008, DNA
test results finally confirmed that human remains found buried at the
Panchkal army camp were Maina's. Despite a February 2008 court order
issuing summons for the arrest of four accused army officers, none has
yet been arrested.
 
 

"Due to fear, ignorance, or incompetence, police and
prosecutors have time and again failed in their duty to investigate and
prosecute these crimes," said Sharma. "If the political will is there,
then we can achieve justice. The government needs to support the police
to do their job of investigating crime and restore people's trust in
the rule of law and state institutions."
 
 

While only two of the 62 documented cases in the report
implicate Maoists, Maoist forces have also abducted, tortured, and
killed civilians. During the conflict and since, many victims have been
afraid to file complaints against them. Maoists abducted and allegedly
killed Arjun Bahadur Lama in December 2005, but police refused to
register a complaint fearing reprisals from the Maoists. More than a
hundred Maoists intimidated police and relatives when the relatives
tried to file a complaint with police. Following a Supreme Court order
for the police to register a murder case against five Maoist members
and a Maoist Central Committee member on August 11, 2008, the Kavre
police finally registered a complaint. Human Rights Watch also
documented Maoist and security force abuses in the October 2004 report,
"Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Civilians Struggle to Survive in Nepal's Civil War"
  

In the new report, Human Rights Watch and Advocacy Forum called on the new government of Nepal to:
 
 


    Vigorously investigate and prosecute all persons responsible for
    abuses, including members of the security forces, in all 62 cases
    highlighted in this report, as well as other cases of human rights
    violations;

    • Criminalize "disappearances" and torture - whether committed by
    the security forces, Maoists, or other actors - and ensure these
    offenses when committed by the army will be subject to investigation
    and prosecution by civilian authorities and courts; and
    • Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a
    commission of inquiry into disappearances that does not grant amnesty
    for serious human rights abuses.

The report also calls on
influential international actors to promote security sector reform
including the establishment of effective oversight and accountability
mechanisms for the security forces and vetting procedures. On September
1, 2008, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bamadev Gautam told
journalists that the main target of the new government would be to
establish law and order in Nepal within six months and end the state of
impunity. While some politicians maintain that justice for past abuses
has to be balanced against progress in the peace process, Human Rights
Watch and Advocacy Forum believe this is a dangerous misconception, and
that without justice there cannot be a lasting peace.
 
 

"Actions speak louder than words. The only real proof of
the government's commitment to human rights will be when perpetrators
are finally held to account in a court of law," said Adams. "The new
government and law enforcement agencies have a historic chance to show
that they will investigate and prosecute abusers and send a message
that no one in Nepal can get away with murder."
 
 

Selected accounts from the report:
 
 

"The
soldiers forced me to go into the other room. Then I heard the shots
and I ran out. My son and his wife, both of them were asking for water.
I saw them crying out with pain. I was holding my granddaughter, who
was also injured. I saw my son and his wife struggling for the last
minute of their life, they were dying in front of my eyes."
 
- Bhumisara Thapa, the mother of Dal Bahadur Thapa, who was killed by security forces in 2002.
  

"I
went to the [Chief District Officer] and the District Police Office at
least 20 times. Officials in both places took the application from me
but did not register a complaint. I met the CPN-M [Communist Party of
Nepal-Maoist] leader Prachanda and asked him for the whereabouts of my
husband. He asked me to give him two or three days. It's been two
years."
 
- Purnima Lama, wife of Arjun Lama, abducted by Maoists on April 19, 2005, and still missing.
  

"I
visited many places to knock on the door of state authorities for
justice, however I haven't got justice yet. The skeleton of my daughter
is still kept in the hospital. I am tired yet still visiting the
authorities to get justice in my daughter's case but I am not sure when
I will get justice...."
 
- Bhakta Bahadur Sapkota, father of 15-year-old Sarala Sapkota,
abducted by soldiers on July 15, 2004, and whose remains were found on
January 11, 2006.
  

"The army investigation and court martial was a mere
formality. They were not even put in jail and in any case being
[sentenced to] jail for six months for the torture and killing of a
minor is not just punishment."
 
- Devi Sunuwar, mother of 15-year-old Maina Sunawar, abducted by
soldiers on February 19, 2004, and whose remains were found in March
2007.

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