Nepal teenager’s murder goes unpunished even after 7 years

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Thursday, February 17, 2011

KATHMANDU - Rights organisations in Nepal and abroad Thursday urged the new government of Nepal to bring to justice the army officers and soldiers responsible for the torture and killing of a 15-year-old school girl, whose case has now become a rallying point for victims of the 10-year armed insurrection.

In 2004, soldiers went to interrogate 10th grader Maina’s mother Devi Sunuwar, who had witnessed the rape and killing of a relative. On not finding her at home, they instead dragged away the teen.

Maina was taken to the army peacekeeping training centre in Kavre, where she was administered electric shocks and had her head held under water till she died.

After the killing, her body was buried in the perimeter of the centre and the army denied having any hand in her disappearance.

Despite refusals by the authorities to lodge any complaint against the army, Devi Sunuwar fought a dogged case, supported by the Kathmandu-based rights group Advocacy Forum.

Though an army court martial later found Major Niranjan Basnet, Babi Khatri, Sunil Prasad Adhikari, and Amit Pun guilty, they were however charged with crimes lesser than murder and Basnet even received a posting to UN Peacekeeping operations in Chad, regarded as a reward.

After rights bodies and Nepal’s media raised a hue and cry, the UN returned Basnet but despite a warrant for his arrest, the Nepal Army prevented it.

“Maina’s family is still waiting for justice for her killing,” Advocacy Forum, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists said in a joint statement Thursday, observed by rights groups in Nepal as the seventh anniversary of the murder.

“(That) as in so many cases of crimes during the armed conflict, suggests that the realization of victims’ right to a judicial remedy for serious crimes remains a distant dream in Nepal.”

“Seven years on, after her family’s tireless pursuit of justice at great risk to themselves, and after clear decisions from civilian authorities, not a single arrest has been made,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Maina’s case is emblematic: if justice cannot be found for her, then there is little hope for justice for all the other victims who suffered at the hands of all sides of the conflict.”

The Maoists, who are expected to join the government, also continue to defy court orders in cases involving their cadres.

“We have consistently pointed out that the failure to hold perpetrators accountable on both sides of the conflict drives the continuing culture of abuses,” said Mandira Sharma, executive director of Advocacy Forum.

“There is a direct link between past impunity and continuing impunity, and there will be no movement forward as long as all sides continue to benefit from ignoring victim and justice issues.”

The UN also urged the fledgling government of Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal to arrest the four guilty army men.

“Upholding the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law by fully complying with court orders is an essential principle of a democracy,” the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal said in a press statement.

“Continuing to ignore court orders perpetuates impunity in Nepal and sets a negative precedent regarding all human rights cases.”

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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