Nepali Times
Can’t get away with torture


Sundar Bista's arms and legs were tied and he was hung from the ceiling. Maoist cadres pounded the soles of his feet until they exhausted themselves, breaking 12 canes in the process. Then they stripped off his clothes and locked the badly injured victim in a small room in a village in Kabhre. The following night, they made Bista walk in the forest in the dark, kicking him in the chest, back and legs when he asked to take rest.

After four days of severe torture, Bista was rescued at Narke when he and his captors ran into human rights workers who took him to hospital in Banepa.
This incident didn't happen four years ago at the height of the conflict but on 15 June, the day Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai were in the capital meeting the prime minister for peace talks.

Bista's crime was allegedly stealing Rs200 from his cousin, a Maoist cadre. Bista doesn't want revenge, but justice. And thousands of other victims of torture by both sides also seek justice for their suffering.

Rights activists are concerned that the seven party government, like previous regimes, is letting torturers go scot-free. Nor have the Maoists responded to the voices of victims who they tortured, traumatised, maimed and killed.

"Nobody, neither state or non-state should get immunity by any mechanism on the pretext of the ongoing peace negotiations," says Shailendra Guragain from the Centre for Victims of Torture.

Many Maoists and security personnel who had a hand in torture are being released from prisons with de facto immunity.

Between July 2001 and April 2006, there were 2,271 reported cases of torture, according to a report by Advocacy Forum. Nearly 1,000 of these were in just 12 months between March 2005 to April 2006, half of these were committed by the police, followed by the military and armed police.

About 12 incidents were perpetrated by state-sponsored vigilante groups and 46 by the Maoists, according to the NGO's statistics. Even today, torture is practiced inside detention centres. Advocacy Forum documented around 72 cases of torture in 21 different police detention centres in May this year alone.

"Our political leaders and parliamentarians are still unable to consider torture as a major issue," explains Guragain. Torture is still not a crime in Nepal despite this country having signed the UN Convention Against Torture. Victims rarely receive justice, and to win a case they have to fight a legal battle for at least five years but even then, they are unlikely to get compensation.

Fewer than 20 percent of the 115 cases filed by CVICT were tried by the courts, proving that torture is not a priority for the judiciary either. About 1,000 cases have been filed country-wide but only a few victims have received compensation.

Even if compensation is given (the maximum award is Rs 100,000) the convicted torturer still does not have to pay a penny, the burden is on the state. Activists are demanding that torturers be made to contribute. "Otherwise, the perpetrator will keep on torturing knowing full well that he will not have to serve any punishment," says Rameswar Nepal from Amnesty International.

Activists are pushing the Interim Constitution Drafting Committee to incorporate a new law in the document that categorises torture as a crime. But the government and Maoists have ignored the issue fearing that such a law would only hurt them. "This kind of response from the parties and Maoists is disturbing as both are focused only on violations during the king's rule," says advocate Mandira Sharma of Advocacy Forum.

Experts say the priority should be to develop a legal framework in the constitution and a human rights act that would categorise which violations are crimes. Other issues would include the types of remedies needed for past violations, punishment for convicted torturers and victim compensation. Using a truth commission only as a confessional for the guilty would be inadequate, says Sharma. Very strong laws would need to be drafted to prevent future violations.

The UN's Office of the High Commission for Human Rights has held workshops about transitional justice. "But at the end of the day, Nepalis must develop their own approach to address past human rights violations, achieve accountability and end a cycle of impunity," says Kieran Dwyer of OHCHR in Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)