Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Action Needed to End Impunity and Hold Perpetrators Accountable

Action Needed to End Impunity and Hold Perpetrators Accountable

Shobhakar Budhathoki

Human rights violations rose significantly after King Gyanendra of Nepal took all powers on February 1, 2005. Most of the abuses included an increase of systematic torture, rape, and extrajudicial killings by the King’s security forces, and the suppression of political and civil rights, but economic rights were also violated. In the final days of his absolute rule, the Nepalese people experienced harsh measures imposed by the King and his regime, and the excessive force exercised by regime-hired thugs, the King’s army, the armed police, and the Nepal police. Human rights violators, perpetrators and those who issued the orders alike, must be reprimanded and brought to justice. Impunity, long the standard in Nepal, is not acceptable.

It is frustrating and disappointing that perpetrators of human rights abuses and enemies of the 2006 peaceful democratic movement move freely and without fear of being prosecuted. Nearly two weeks after the fall of the King’s dictatorship, the masterminds and implementers of the repressive policies of the previous regime have not been brought under scrutiny and go unrestricted in enjoying their unlimited access as though still in positions of authority and power. The reinstated House of Representative (HOR) and the new government, headed by the well-respected leader G. P. Koirala, have made numerous decisions that endorse the 12-point understanding of seven political parties and the Maoists, these include: the removal of the terrorist tag and red corner notice against Maoists leaders; approval of the proposal for a constituent assembly election; formation of a judicial commission to investigate the use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrations; announcing reparations for the families of martyrs and for injured persons; announcing an official dialogue with the Maoists and reciprocating the Maoists’ ceasefire; and annulling all political appointments of King Gyanendra since October 2002. However, even some of these steps seem ad hoc or incomplete, such as approving a proposal for a constituent assembly election, the formation of the commission without having a clear mandate set in place, or deciding on reparations that do not necessarily take into account the future livelihood or education of those families.

The new government and reinstated HOR seem to be hesitating to endorse the people’s aspirations that were brought to the forefront during the 19-day-long April movement, which include the announcement of an unconditional election to constituent assembly through the enactment of an interim constitution, and to carry out judicial actions such as arrest and criminal prosecution of those involved in the use of excessive force resulting in the killing of 21 people thus far, and the injury of more than 5,000 people. Similarly, the whereabouts of more than a dozen people remain unknown, with corpses also being taken by the security forces after the use of open fire.

Perpetrators of human rights abuses must face the consequences for their violations of the people’s rights, including political detention, the use of excessive force, as well as the misappropriation of state funds and abuse of power. Unfortunately, one of the main culprits is the former Home Minister, Kamal Thapa, who has been seen enjoying himself freely in public places without hesitation or concern over being held accountable for his actions. Mr. Thapa and the others responsible for the repression of the people roam freely and enjoy a privileged life with seemingly full immunity. Considering that no action has been initiated against those who have committed crimes that could be immediately brought before the courts, and that no actions have been taken to prevent those who will be investigated from leaving the country or destroying evidence, they continue to operate with impunity and with the continued protection of the palace and the King’s security forces.

Many of these culprits have either escaped or are staying in safe places (there are some accounts of them staying in the premises of the security forces or under the heavy protection of the royalist security forces), and they are once again attempting to empower the palace and dismantle democratic structures by being spoilers to the HOR decision-making and to the ongoing peace initiatives. These destructive efforts aim to eventually disrupt the people’s noble mission to hold the constituent assembly election and establish sustainable peace. We fear that once again the pro-democratic government will delay taking action against perpetrators; such was the case with the 1990 Mallik Commission that resulted in a report but no action against human rights abusers and eventually allowed them to reenter power under the King’s rule and continue their regression without fear of facing state offences for their misuse of power and authority.

To prevent this from reoccurring, the members of HOR and the new government must carry out the following immediate actions against the perpetrators involved in the violation of human rights and the use of excessive force (this is not a comprehensive list).

1. Seize the passports of all members of the previous regime, including the heads of all four security agencies, responsible commanders that issued orders to field commanders, and field commanders deployed to suppress peaceful movement.
2. Suspend all services granted to state officials that members of the former regime continue to receive (private protection from the security forces, staff, living in government housing, etc…).
3. Expel the heads of the security forces (as their terms were extended by royal proclamation) and appoint pro-democratic officials in those vacant positions.
4. Suspend field commanders who were personally involved in suppressing peaceful demonstrations either by issuing orders, or being complicit in the actions of his unit (many can be identified according to their deployment in areas where serious incidences occurred).
5. Freeze the bank accounts of senior members of the previous regime, high-ranking officers of the security forces, and of unofficial advisors to the palace and the regime, such as Satchit SJB Rana, Bharat Keshari Singh and Sharad Chandra Shah.
6. Immediately enforce the Mallik commission report.
7. Immediately impeach the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and pro-royalist judges, including the Chairperson of royal advisory council and the Commission for Investigation of the Abuse of Authority (CIAA) (all of which were king-appointed).
8. Seize the passport of all members of the Royal Commission for Corruption Control (RCCC) officials and other illegal royal appointments.
9. Take immediate actions to begin freezing accounts and property of the royal family and senior officials during the regime until an account of the abuse of state and public funds and property during this time can be determined and then begin repossessing property and recovering those funds.
10. Call on the international community to refuse entry of human rights abusers and those being investigated into their countries, and to make public the international bank accounts of those perpetrators.
11. Work with the human rights community to determine the strategy for efforts to hold perpetrators to account after the initial judicial commission’s report.

May 9, 2006, Kathmandu

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