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Nepal: Betrayal of justice

As we upload the ACHR WEEKLY REVIEW, leaders of eight political parties of Nepal gathered at Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's official residence in Baluwatar to resume their discussion over the demands of the Madhesis of Terai. From Cambodia to East Timor, justice itself became the victim for political considerations.

In Nepal too, accountability has been politicised and justice has been thrown out of the window, so much so that the government cannot even disclose the fate of the disappeared at the hands of the security forces and the Maoists. Most likely, the government of Nepal will ratify International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance without disclosing the fate of those disappeared. All parties in the conflict - from Prime Minister G P Koirala to Maoists' Supremo, Pranchada - will have to answer disappearances in case of any independent inquiry into human rights violations perpetrated between 1996 and 2006. That is also the reason as to why justice has been victimised in Nepal.

I. Rayamajhi Commission of Inquiry: Too political, too restrictive

After the King was overthrown, on 5 May 2006, a five-member high-level judicial commission headed by former Justice of the Supreme Court of Nepal, Krishna Jung Rayamajhi was formed to probe the human rights violations committed against the pro-democracy activists during the People's Movement of April 2006 to restore democracy in Nepal. The Rayamajhi Commission was empowered to investigate, recommend, advice or suggest the government to take actions or punish anyone found responsible for the killings and suppression of the pro-democracy activists, involved in abuse of power or misappropriation of State funds since the royal takeover on 1 February 2005.

On 20 November 2006, the Rayamajhi Commission submitted its 1,184-page report to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala. The Rayamajhi Commission recommended action against 202 persons, including King Gayendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev and the Council of Ministers for misuse of authority; Kamal Thapa, former Home Minister, Shrisha Shumshere Rana, former Minister of State for Information and Communications, Tanka Dhakal, former Minister for Local Development, and Pyar Jung Thapa, Chief of Nepali Army for misappropriation of State fund during the royal regime, and recommended action against 15 security personnel, including Senior Superintendent of Armed Police Force (APF) Durja Kumar Rai, Major Rabi KC, Major Anish Rijal and APF Sub Inspector Ram Kumar Khatri for murder charges. The Commission recommended that the government formulates necessary laws to take action against the King and the Council of Ministers.

The report has yet not been made public. The civil society groups have been wondering whether it would meet the fate of the Mallik Commission of Inquiry which investigated human rights violations perpetrated during the 1990s pro-democracy uprising.

The question also arises as to why King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev is being held accountable for suppression of only April 2006 pro-democracy uprising when gross human rights violations had been committed during his direct rule from 4 October 2002 to 11 October 2002 and again from 1 February 2005 to 25 April 2006?

II. Hold the Prime Ministers accountable

While King Gyanendra must be investigated and be held accountable, is he the only person responsible for gross violations of human rights in Nepal?

According to Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC) of Nepal, a total of 8,339 persons were killed by the security forces during 13 February 1996- 8 October 2006. These include 59 in 1996, 16 in 1997, 334 in 1998, 328 in 1999, 180 in 2000, 243 in 2001, 3296 in 2002, 1217 in 2003, 1606 in 2004, 815 in 2005 and 245 during 1 January- 8 October 2006.

In 2004, according to the United Nations Working Group on Involuntary Disappearances, Nepal had the highest number of enforced or involuntary disappearances in the world. Though precise figures are not available on disappearance, INSEC claims that at least 1,147 persons have disappeared at the hands of the security forces till the end of 2005.

A government committee looking into disappearance cases revealed the whereabouts of 580 people arrested by security forces as on 15 August 2005. On 30 August 2005, NHRC stated that 986 more persons were still missing, including 888 persons from government custody.

If King Gyanendra can be held accountable, there is no reason as to why the following political leaders who served as Prime Ministers cannot be questioned to explain the human rights violations perpetrated during their rule:

Sher Bahadur Deuba:               12 September 1995-12 March 1997; 26 July 2001-4 October 2002
& 3 June 2004-1 February 2005;

Lokendra Bahadur Chand:        12 March 1997-7 October 1997 & 11 October 2002-5 June 2003

Surya Bahadur Thapa:              7 October 1997- 15 April 1998 & 5 June 2003-3 June 2004

Krishna Prasad Bhattarai:        31 May 1999-22 March 2000 

Girija Prasad Koirala:              15 April 1998-31 May 1999, 22 March 2000-26 July 2001

III. Hold the Maoists accountable

Informal Sector Service Centre also stated that a total of 4,930 persons were killed by the CPN-Maoists during 13 February 1996- 8 October 2006. These include 22 in 1996, 32 in 1997, 75 in 1998, 141 in 1999, 219 in 2000, 390 in 2001, 1351 in 2002, 646 in 2003, 1113 in 2004, 709 in 2005 and 232 during 1 January- 8 October 2006.

INSEC also estimated that at least 64,033 persons were abducted by the Maoists during 13 February 1996 8 October 2006. Of these, 11 were killed in custody, 57,849 were released while the fate of 6,173 remained unknown.

The list of the victims of the Maoists atrocities is long. On the night of 15 April 2005, Maoists gunned down 10 civilians - Ariman Yadav, Dinesh Yadav, Dinesh Chaudhary, Rajendra Chauhan, Densh Kunwar, Bharat Chaudhary, Dibya Chaudhary), Chandraman Baretha, Bijaya Chaudhary  and 14-year old boy Amlesh Yadav in cold blood at Baragdawa of Somni VDC in Nawalparasi district. The Maoists reportedly barged into their houses while they were asleep, pulled them out of the houses and shot them dead, suspecting them of being members of the Maoists' Resistance Committee. An NHRC team went to Nawalparasi to probe the incident. On 5 May 2005, the government announced compensation of Rs.150, 000 to each of the families of the deceased.

On 6 June 2005, 41 persons including 38 civilians were killed and 72 others were injured when the Maoists blew up a passenger bus in Madi area of Chitwan district.

Under any yardstick of international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court, many Maoists can be held accountable.

IV. Conclusion: The need to find out the truth

It is essential that the government of Nepal establishes a high powered "Peoples Commission" to investigate into gross human rights violations perpetrated by the security forces and the Maoists between 1996 and May 2006 to find out the truth and recommend appropriate measures for bringing the perpetrators to justice.

For Prime Minister G P Koirala, it was easy to dismiss the recommendation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour for establishing war crime tribunals in the name of preserving national sovereignty, national unity and peace. It is not surprising considering that Koirala started on a wrong footing by giving restrictive mandate to the Rayamajhi Commission, which often appeared more political than a judicial commission, followed by unwillingness to make the report public.

Fragile peace has returned in Nepal. Rulers have changed but the rules of the game remain the same. It will not change with the Maoists joining the interim government and coming to power through elections.

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