25-31 July 2014 #717

Half truths, no justice

The government didn’t even bother to send a representative for the funeral of the Dhanusha Five this week
Trishna Rana
ENDLESS GRIEF: Bimala Devi, mother of one of the disappeared men Sanjiv Kumar Karna, mourns at her son’s funeral in Janakpur on Wednesday.
Curious bystanders looked on as the ambulance carrying the boxed remains of five young men made its way from the District Police Office to Devi Chok in Janakpur on Wednesday morning. For the families of the deceased, it was a moment they had been waiting with dread and grief for more than 10 years.

On 8 October 2003, eleven students including Sanjiv Kumar Karna (24), Durgesh Labh (23), Jitendra Jha (20), Pramod Narayan Mandal (19), and Shailendra Yadav (17) were arrested by the Joint Security Force at Devi Chok. While six men were later released, the five were never seen again. They were reportedly taken to the banks of the Kamala River in Godar of Dhanusha district and shot dead by the army.

In August 2010, a forensic team led by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) exhumed four bodies which were sent to Finland and the National Forensic Science Laboratory in Kathmandu for DNA testing. The skeleton of the fifth person was found in February 2011. Results confirmed that Karna, Labh, Jha, Mandal, and Yadav were the ones who were killed.

Families performed the last rites of their loved ones at Swargadari on Wednesday, providing them a much needed sense of closure. Their struggle to find truth and seek justice has been long, grueling, and frustrating. Sanjiv’s father Jai Kishor Labh, who was a lawyer, went from one government office to another looking for answers and kept up the fight until his last breath.

“The anguish of not knowing how and why his son was disappeared eventually took our father’s life,” said Mamata Karna, Sanjiv’s younger sister. “Our 59-year-old-mother is extremely frail, she refuses to eat, but is still carrying on the search for justice. Her only wish before she dies is to see the accused being prosecuted in court.”

The NHRC says Sanjiv and his friends were blindfolded and shot by the army in a fake encounter. At the time of the murders, Chuda Bahadur Shrestha was the chief of the regional police office, Kuber Singh Rana, former IGP of police was then SSP in Dhanusha, Rewati Raj Kafle was the CDO, and Major Anup Adhikari was in charge of the Dharapani Army Barrack. But the victims’ families don’t know why the men were targeted and the alleged perpetrators have never been taken to court.

The NHRC’s Bed Prasad Bhattarai is hopeful that those accused in the murder will be tried under criminal law. “An investigation carried out by a constitutional body like the NHRC with the full involvement of the police and incriminating forensic evidence should put pressure on the government and speed up the process,” Bhattarai said over the phone from Janakpur.

But the state’s continued apathy does not give victims much reason for hope. The handing over of the remains in Janakpur this week was a watershed moment in Nepal’s history, yet the government didn’t bother to send a single representative from Kathmandu.

“The least the state could have done was to stand beside us, share our pain, and tell us that our brothers died for the good of this country. We didn’t need an apology from their side,” said Karna.

Earlier in the year, the Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation appointed Chuda Bahadur Shrestha in a taskforce set up to provide recommendations for a truth and reconciliation bill, even after he had been named as one of the prime culprits in the Dhanusha case. The message the government seems to be sending to thousands of victims and their families is that their plight is simply not serious enough to warrant its attention.

While senior Maoist leaders Deb Gurung, Matrika Yadav, and Krishna Bahadur Mahara came to Janakpur to express their condolences and were quick to declare the five men martyrs, they cannot absolve themselves of responsibility because their party has repeatedly obstructed the path to justice. It was the Maoist government under Baburam Bhattarai which promoted Kuber Singh Rana to the head of Nepal Police in September 2012.

Bhattarai was protecting himself because if he had agreed to investigate the extra-judicial killings in Dhanusha, he would have been obligated to prosecute those from his own party, such as Bal Krishna Dhungel, who have been accused of war crimes.

It is this complicity of the two former enemies in covering each other’s backs that continues to hinder Nepal’s transitional justice and has resulted in a TRC Bill with provisions of amnesty.

Said Mamata: “The case of my brother and his friends is clear so there is no need to wait for the TRC. There is ample proof, all we need is for those accused to be tried under criminal law as soon as possible.”

With additional reporting by Manik Jha and Ishwar Chandra Jha in Janakpur.

Read also:

Commissions of convenience

Whereabouts unknown

Finding the Dhanusha 5

Truth without justice is an insult

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