With three detainees committing suicide in military detention within three months, serious questions are being raised over the idea of using army barracks as detention centres. The possibility of torture in custody can't be ruled out. In the first place, detention of civilians in military custody is illegal. Even the law brought in to tame the Maoists does not allow the use of barracks as detention centres. Section 9 of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Control and Punishment) Ordinance 2061 says that the places of detention should be humane although military detention centres are anything but. It is the duty of the state to respect and protect the basic human rights of detainees. Nobody has the right to go beyond the limits that prevailing humanitarian laws envisage. The government cannot deem itself above the law even when it comes to dealing with those involved in Maoist violence.
First, the army must stop keeping civilians in custody. It is solely for the civil administration and the police to enforce arrests and detentions. In the meantime, authorities should refrain from preventing detainees from meeting their family members, doctors and legal advisers. Lack of transparency in terms of arrests and treatment of detainees only feeds suspicion toward the integrity of the state.
The Royal Nepali Army (RNA) has carried out internal investigation on some cases of human rights abuses and a few perpetrators have had action taken against them. But because of undercover detentions enforced by the RNA, it has not been able to improve its image. It has been carrying out joint security operations, which certainly is a daunting task. Notably, to contain any internal conflict, the army needs support and cooperation from the people in general just as it needs well-trained and skilled troops. It is imperative for security agencies to win the people's trust. To do so, they need to clean up their act-be lawful, humane and transparent.
The RNA must immediately launch an internal probe to answer the questions surfacing about the increasing suicides in its custody. Also, it should not forget that these cases are directly related to its credibility. An independent and legal investigation appears to be a must, particularly in the backdrop of recent incidents in military detention as well as the increasing concerns raised by human rights groups.