Police and transitional justice mechanisms in Nepal fail to deliver justice

By Laxman Datt Pant

Police and transitional justice mechanisms in Nepal fail to deliver justice

While hundreds of conflict victims and families who have lost their loved ones during a decade long violent conflict (1996-2006) await justice, the police and transitional justice (TJ) mechanisms in Nepal have failed to deliver justice to Maina Sunuwar, a 15-year-old girl, who was subject to enforced disappearance, torture and murder 17 years ago today.

So far, no concrete investigation has been carried out by the police through the regular justice processes. Furthermore, TJ mechanisms such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) have been used to prevent victims from securing access to justice.

Issuing a joint statement today, Om Prakash Sen, Director at the Advocacy Forum-Nepal (AFN), and Devi Sunuwar, Chairperson of Maina Bal Bikash Samiti, called on the Government of Nepal to implement the Kavre District Court’s verdict by taking the convicted perpetrators in Maina’s case into custody to serve their sentence. Underscoring that only this action will deliver justice to Maina Sunuwar and provide a sign of commitment to human rights and the rule of law, they added, “We also call on the international community to adopt a stringent vetting policy to ensure alleged perpetrators involved in gross violations of human rights are not able to benefit from any support, including training and deployment to peacekeeping.”

“Today marks the seventeenth anniversary of the enforced disappearance, torture and killing of Maina Sunuwar, a 15-year-old girl, by the then Royal Nepal Army (now Nepal Army, NA) at Birendra Peace Operation Training Centre in Panchkhal of Kavre district on 17 February 2004. Despite the State’s persistent resistance compounded by its wider failure to end the entrenched impunity, we have not given up our hope for justice to be served,” the joint statement reads.

Although the successive governments of Nepal formed after the end of the conflict in 2006 have argued that conflict-era cases of Nepal will be addressed by TJ mechanisms, they have refused to fix the unconstitutional legal provisions in the mandates of these commissions as ordered by the Supreme Court of Nepal more than five years ago, making these commissions utterly unusable.

Stating that criminals are still free despite their convictions by the courts, Sen and Sunuwar added, “Our right to appeal to the decision of the District Court (on the acquittal of Niranjan Basnet and the recommendation of the District Court to reduce the sentence of those convicted, who failed to cooperate with the justice process) was undermined by the then-Attorney General, an officer of the state who is supposed to protect the rights and interests of victims. Despite this, we were hoping to see the perpetrators being arrested to serve their prison sentence which has not happened until today – nearly three years later.”

  • After 13 years of legal battles, on 16 April 2017, the Kavre District Court convicted three retired army officers (Colonel Bobby Khatri, Captain Sunil Prasad Adhikari, and Captain Amit Pun) in absentia for Maina’s murder (a crime that carries a sentence of life imprisonment in Nepal) although serving officer Captain Niranjan Basnet, who was responsible for her arrest and was present during her torture, was acquitted.
  • Reena Rasaili, the 16-year-old cousin of Maina, was also raped and killed on 13 February 2004.
  • Of the many perpetrators involved in the rape and killing of Reena, the police only arrested Kaji Bahadur Karki, a junior non-commissioned officer who had left the army after the incident and who was later acquitted by the Court on the grounds that his guilt could not be established beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • However, there was no investigation to find evidence beyond reasonable doubt. Senior NA officers, whom Kaji Bahadur Karki named, were never questioned and brought into the scope of the investigation

Stating that she happened to be one of the witnesses of the atrocities against her niece, Devi Sunuwar, the mother of late Maina Sunuwar, said: “I could not suffer in silence, I spoke to the media reporting the brutality my niece suffered during which I also lost my daughter.”

Advocacy Forum-Nepal (AFN) is a leading human rights organization working to promote the rule of law and uphold international human rights standards in Nepal.