Human rights double standards in Nepal


DAMAKANT JAYSHI

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Both Maina Sunar and Ram Hari Shrestha were kidnapped, tortured and murdered in custody. The 15-year-old died instantly in the Paanchkhal barracks of the Nepal Army (formerly RNA) in Kavre district in February 2004; businessman Shrestha was severely tortured by Maoist army’s Third Division commander Kali Bahadur Kham and four of his colleagues inside their Shaktikhor cantonment, Chitwan, in April last year.

But the similarities end here. And this is enough to reflect on the kind of work the human rights professionals do vis-à-vis rights violations, impunity and absence of even minimal legal recourse in Nepal. Hypocrisy and double standards are the unwritten rules of the game for people who are here to build or further their careers out of human rights.

Sample this fact first. There is simply no comparison between the pressure exerted to punish the perpetrators in Maina’s and other human rights violations. The combined pressure of booking the guilty in Ram Hari Shrestha’s case, journalist Birendra Sah (allegedly murdered by Maoist goons in Bara district in 2007), burning of eight-year-old Kajol Khatun and her relatives in a bus in Chitwan in 2002 by Maoists and the Madi massacre (which was a result of deliberate electrical mining of passenger bus in June 2005 in Chitwan district by Maoists) pale in significance to the one witnessed in Maina Sunar’s case.

Maina should get justice and her mother Devi Sunar has been fighting a just campaign to punish the murderers. In fact, it is not just Major Basnet, the other three accused – now retired Col Bobby Khatri, Capt Amit Pun (later promoted to major’s rank) and captain Sunil Adhikari, both of who have quit the army and reportedly settled in Australia – should also face trial in a civilian court in Kavre. In fact, Pun and Adhikari must be forced out of Australia to face trial in Nepal. The military court’s verdict and its reported punishment of the three (Khatri, Pun and Adhikari) and acquittal of Basnet is unacceptable. After all, a civilian was murdered inside the army barracks and a civilian court (Kavre) has taken up the case and ordered the arrest of the four NA officers.

So has Chitwan district court on businessman Shrestha. It has issued warrants in the name of Kham and four other Maoists, of who only Govind Prasad Batala has been arrested. Shrestha, Kajol and the dead of Madi appear to be less than humans or perhaps they have lesser rights in the eyes of our so-called human rights champions operating in the country. How is Shrestha’s torture and murder inside custody different from Maina’s?

Journalist Tika Bista from Rukum who was nearly murdered by Maoist goons may not have any rights so long as our human rights activists are concerned. Simply because the perpetrators are Maoists and not worth highlighting.

It is not for nothing that Maoist cadres who indulge in violence have scant regard for law and care two hoots for the country’s legal system. And why would they? They know the party will come to their rescue. No wonder, not a single violator among the Maoist ranks has been punished till date. Their party chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, has already taken the first of the four steps when it comes to crimes by his men vis-à-vis journalist Bista: He has denied any role of his men in Bista’s near fatal assault. Next in line will be this: “Some undesirable elements who infiltrated the party committed the act”. And if the heat is long enough, there will be admission of Maoist involvement. Finally, there is party’s “investigation” and “punishment” to the perpetrators. End of the story.

For human rights activists, crying hoarse over violations by state’s agencies looks sexy. After all, you are taking on a mighty state, although we all know the strength of the Nepali state, thanks to our political leaders and overbearing donor community in Nepal. It is fashionable to speak and write about the wrongs by the state; blasphemous to talk about the same by Maoists or former rebels or guerrillas (call them what you want). While violence and violations by the government’s security forces are highlighted, only muted response greets the same crimes if the perpetrators are Maoists.

There’s always an explanation provided by those who claim to “understand” the Maoist perspectives. Here it is: The Maoists are former rebels with “war mentality” and they would need time to adjust to non-violent ways and means. This silly argument is in its fourth year and looks like it would continue. Why? Because our comrades are getting more and more entrenched in “war mentality”.

Maj Gen Toran Bahadur Singh is in the eye of a storm for being at the top of the chain of command when the notorious disappearance and murder of Maoists took place at the Bhairabnath Battalion in the capital. His promotion to the second man in the NA as lieutenant general is in limbo. The call for investigation into his role is justified. But where is a similar call to investigate Nand Kishor Pun (Pasang) for being the commander of the Maoist army in Ram Hari Shrestha’s case? Or call for trying Pushpa Kamal Dahal over Madi, Kajol and Sah?

Kali Bahadur Kham, despite a Chitwan district court’s order is roaming free. He has been inducted into the expanded Maoist party’s Central Committee after Shrestha’s murder. Or is Chitwan district court inferior to its Kavre counterpart? Court cases are also pending in multiple other violations besides the ones I have mentioned here. What of those cases?

These are some of the questions that OHCHR-Nepal, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Advocacy Forum Nepal, among sundry other human rights organizations which have been vocal on Basnet, need to answer.

If you read the statements by the Maoist party or remarks by their leaders, they appear to be the biggest champions of democracy, human rights and oft-repeated civilian supremacy over the army. Tall on commitments and low (rather cipher) on honoring them.

The culture of impunity will be addressed and perpetrators brought to justice if we treat all violence, torture and murder as rights violations irrespective of who committed it. There cannot be double standards. So stop treating the Maoists as holy cows and apply the same pressure to try Nand Kishor Pun and Kali Bahadur Kham to begin with

Published on 2009-12-15 07:40:34
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