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Nepal government should investigate killings, disappearances: HRW

September 11, 2008 23:33 IST

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 on Thursday.

"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 the 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 the 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 the 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 scrutinise 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 had "disappeared" after her arrest in February 2004, and the Kavre police registered a complaint in November 2005 only after considerable national and international pressure.

The 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," Sharma added.

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 the 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.

Criminalise "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.

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 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.

Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru