28 November-4 December 2014 #734

Still at large

The Supreme Court has started pursuing convicted criminals who have evaded punishment
Binita Dahal

It has been more than one month since the Supreme Court under the new Chief Justice started a campaign to execute verdicts in which the convicted were at large, and evading punishment in criminal cases. 

The Judgement Execution Directorate, which was formed under Supreme Court but had remained moribund, is now taking the initiative to carry out verdicts. Nearly 120,000 people are evading jail terms including nearly 1,300 foreigners. In total, the courts have not meted out more than 100,000 years of jail terms, and have failed to recover Rs 9 billion in fines from convicted criminals.  

Now, the Supreme Court in coordination with Nepal Police and government attorneys have formed special cells in 16 districts since 19 October, including in the capital which has the highest number of convicted criminals at large. In the first month since the cells started working 125 individuals have been detained to serve jail terms, and Rs 509 million recovered in unpaid fines. 

The special cells are empowered to patrol the district to find criminals and they are sent to jail, or detained until they pay the fine. They plan to expand the campaign in all remaining districts to execute the verdict as per the Supreme Court’s strategic plan that started from this fiscal year. The Supreme Court’s main aim is to address impunity. By not pursuing verdicts passed down by courts, the public believes that criminals only get punished on paper, but not in practice, and this has impeded the rule of law.

However, the Supreme Court has hit a snag in trying to execute court verdicts that were passed down for crimes committed during the conflict, but not related to the Maoist revolution. Political protection of criminals, and the precedent set by the government in scrapping investigations into war-era crimes has impeded the pursuit of justice. 

The best known case is of former CA member Bal Krishna Dhungel who was convicted of the murder of Ujjan Shrestha in Okhaldhunga in 2004, sentenced to life imprisonment and even spent some time in jail. But he was later released, and accompanied Baburam Bhattarai in public events when he was prime minister. Another accused, Pushkar Gautam, was arrested recently and is now in jail. 

In another case, Jayaraj Limbu (Samyak), assistant of Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar when he was Home Minister, was slapped a five year jail term in 2009 for attempting to murder Shekhar Rai who had to spent three years in hospital. But despite the verdict, and an attempt by the Rai family to get justice, Limbu is still at large. 

The Supreme Court’s senior Justice Kalyan Shrestha has formed a monitoring committee which includes Chief Secretary, secretaries at the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Law and Justice and the IGP of Nepal Police. 

The court is also preparing a detailed database of convicts who are evading arrest and has passed them on to the police and the Home Ministry. Individuals on the data base will not be issued citizenship, passport, driving license and other documents. They will also be deprived from property transactions and basic facilities like telephone, electricity and drinking water. 

Read also:

Supreme once more, Binita Dahal

Immunity and impunity, Jitman Basnet

Intensive impunity, John Narayan Parajuli

The lords of impunity, Kanak Mani Dixit