Supreme Court rules that five-year-old “disappearances” must be prosecuted
Nepal’s high court has ruled that police must register a case against the head of the Nepal Police crime division, Kuber Singh Rana, and three others. In October 2003 police in Danusha arrested 24-year-old student Sanjeev Karna and four more men at a picnic on suspicion that they were Maoists. The five were never seen again.
Sanjeev’s father, Jai Kishor Labh, filed the Supreme Court case against Rana, then a Deputy Inspector General and Chief of Police in Danusha, after police refused to register his complaint and denied that his son had been arrested.
The ruling means that Rana and the others must themselves be placed under arrest for investigation. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights welcomed the decision and issued a strong statement calling on the government to act immediately.
This is not the first time that investigations of human rights violations have been ordered by Nepal’s courts. None of the orders has been implemented, and reports from investigations of rights violations, such as the Rayamajhi Commission’s study of the suppression of the people-power movement that ended the King’s two-year period of direct rule, have been never been released.
The problem is that where the Army is believed to be implicated, prosecution or even publication of the allegations could affect the balance of power. Since the end of royal rule in 2006, the security forces have pledged support for and obedience to the civilian government. But that support may have been conditioned on a promise of immunity for senior officers. See Nepal and the Army Deal, NewsBlaze May 2006.
The Army-State relationship is strained now by Maoist control of the government and in particular the Ministry of Defence. The ministry and Army chief are at odds over Army recruitment to fill vacancies, a minor issue that has become a flash-point. Maoist Minister Badal has forbidden it, but the Army is moving ahead anyway.
The government may be more willing to obey this Supreme Court order than earlier ones if the Maoists believe that cracking the immunity of a senior police officer will give them leverage against the Army in the recruitment matter and the much more important issue of integration of their forces into the Nepal Army. They have already proposed an ordinance to criminalize the disappearances.
But implementation of the court order is in the hands of the police and, ultimately, the Home Ministry. It is controlled not by the Maoists but by the UML, the Maoists’ partner and rival in government. They will find the decision ticklish, since they – as always – would like to be seen to support both sides.
And any action on the case will bring renewed attention to the 900-1,200 other disappearances attributed to the security forces and the Maoists: Senior people on both sides could find themselves in jeopardy. If that prospect leads to speedy formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as mandated by the peace accord and the interim constitution, that could be some comfort at least to Sanjeev Karna’s father.
John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.