Pun Kumar still shakes with fear as he recalls the night that the Maoist rebels tortured and left him for dead in Kailali when he refused to pay Rs100,000 and join them.
They dragged him out of his home and beat him senseless. They clobbered the soles of his feet with heavy sticks and brutally pounded him all over his body with the butt of their guns.
"When he came to us, he was in a shocking state, he is lucky to have survived," says Arjun Shrestha, a doctor at the Centre for Victims of Torture (CVICT) in Kathmandu. Over the past nine years of conflict, non-combatants have endured extreme torture which, if the victims survived, has left many crippled and mentally unstable.
The torturers are from both the security forces and the Maoists, the victims are mostly civilians. Activists and lawyers say the most widely used forms of torture are beatings, electric shocks, hooded or blindfolded for long periods, crushing bones by rolling rocks on victim's thighs. Other extreme forms of torture like gouging eyes, cutting off body parts and dismemberment are common, and often precede death.
The sketches of torture methods displayed on the walls of CVICT office are a shocking reminder of what Nepalis are capable of doing to other Nepalis. Since 1996, the centre has treated over 20,000 torture victims, over 3,000 alone in 2004. So far, only 107 of the victims have registered their cases at the courts for compensation. Only 19 were able to win the cases filed through CVICT. Even so, most haven't received compensation. "So few would have the courage to go to court to find justice. They are just too traumatised and fearful of being tortured," explains Debendra Ale at CVICT.
"They said I would be buried alive if I revealed anything," said a former detainee on condition of anonymity who was released after two years in army detention in Kathmandu. He was tortured severely and asked to reveal the whereabouts of Maoist leaders. He was just an ordinary villager working in a small grocery in the capital, but had helped an ex-Maoist woman go to hospital for treatment after she herself was tortured. Activists say while the Maoists have systematically used torture to terrorise people and stifle dissent, the state should have been acting with much more responsibility.
"Many are even afraid to go to doctors and mention torture while undergoing medical checkups, the victims are threatened not to reveal any information," says advocate Mandira Sharma of Advocacy Forum which with CVICT has been speaking out on the issue. According to an ongoing custody monitoring in 10 districts, all individuals detained under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) have been tortured.
The 2002 TADA gave special powers to security forces to arrest anyone without any warrant if suspected of being Maoists or a supporter. The human rights group INSEC says there were nearly 3,430 arrests in 2002, the highest ever recorded over the nine-year period since 1996. A joint study by CVICT and National Human Rights Commission showed that most of those detained end up being tortured despite constitutional guarantee and ratification of several international human rights treaties. The report was recently submitted to Manfred Nowak, the special rapporteur on torture of the UN Commission on Human Rights who is scheduled to visit Nepal in September.
"The special rapporteur takes the initiative of approaching governments with a view to carrying out visits to countries on which he has received information indicating the existence of a significant incidence of torture," explains David Johnson, senior human rights adviser of Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights. Nowak's fact-finding trip is a wake-up call to Nepal's warring sides that they ware being watched, say activists.
They want an independent body to investigation torture cases and say the government should repeal or revise laws that undermine constitutionally guaranteed protections against human rights violations, such as the Public Security Act, the Public Offence and Punishment Act, the Anti-State Crimes and Penalties Act and TADA.