By Ram Khatry, Sydney
19 April 2016
The human rights arm of the United Nations has indicated it is not entirely confident that Nepali authorities will implement a recent court verdict on the 2004 murder of teenager Maina Sunuwar. On April 16, the Kavre District Court sentenced former Nepal Army soldiers Babi Khatri, Amit Pun and Sunil Prasad Adhikari to 20 years in jail for the murder of the 15-year-old school girl.
Ms Sunuwar was accused having links to Maoists, who at the time were fighting a bloody war against the state. An army patrol had picked her up from her home at Kharelthok village in central Nepal. She was never returned to her parents as she succumbed to extreme torture in the hands of vicious army interrogators.
Ironically, the institution where the innocent girl breathed her last has the word “Peace” in it – the Birendra Peace Operations Training Centre in Panchkal.
“None of the officers were present in the District Court of Kavre, and it still remains to be seen whether they will actually be arrested and serve their sentences. We urge the authorities to implement the court’s decision on this extremely important emblematic case,” the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said yesterday. Speaking in Geneva, Rupert Colville noted that the Nepal Army and the government initially denied any knowledge of Ms Sunuwar’s fate or whereabouts and that her body was buried secretly.
“The UN Human Rights Office and other human rights organizations have persistently advocated for those responsible to be held fully accountable, and Sunday’s convictions come after a long succession of unsuccessful attempts to seek justice for the murder of Maina Sunuwar,” he said in a press briefing released yesterday.
A fourth officer, also initially charged, was acquitted by the court. Major Niranjan Basnet was repatriated by a UN peacekeeping mission in Chad in 2009 because of the arrest warrant against him. It is understood he has since retired from the Nepal Army.
Back in Nepal, a well-regarded human rights activist has voiced similar doubt but warned the country’s rights groups will not accept any disregard to Sunday’s court decision.
In response to a query from southasia.com.au, Charan Prasai agreed that the implementation of the verdict was “doubtful” but at the same time reminded the government that it had no option but to execute the order if it indeed respected “rule of law”.
“The victim’s family and the human rights community will do their best to implement the decision. The international community including the UN is also watching the issue very closely. I am sure sooner or later the court’s decision will be implemented,” Mr Prasai remarked.
The court decision on April 16 marked the first instance of Nepal Army personnel being convicted by a civilian court for crimes committed during the 1996-2006 armed rebellion during which an estimated 17,000 lives were lost. Both state and Maoist sides are accused of committing blatant, murderous human rights violations.
Detailed findings on Maina Sunuwar’s disappearance and the subsequent murder can be accessed by following below OHCHR link: