Promotion of implicated Army general could cost
KAMAL RAJ SIGDEL & PHANINDRA DAHAL
Human rights defenders have warned that promoting Maj. Gen. Toran Jung Bahadur Singh as the second-in-command of the Nepal Army would seriously damage the democratic credibility of Madhav Kumar Nepal's government. Maj. Gen. Singh is implicated of "serious human rights violations" by Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Though the government has put on hold the NA proposal for Gen. Singh's promotion in view of mounting international pressure, NA and a few influential leaders in the ruling collation, including Defense Minister Biddhya Bhandari, continue to lobby the Prime Minister's Office for the promotion, arguing that Gen. Singh "has not been proven guilty and only implicated."
NA questions to credibility of the OHCHR and NHRC reports, claiming that whereabouts of 12 of the alleged 49 disappearances have been established by its internal investigation. "We cannot take action against anyone just because of allegations," NA Spokesman and Brigadier General Ramindra Chettri told the Post. "We are ready to cooperate with any probe committee formed by the government to look into the allegations of extrajudicial killings and disappearances within NA," said Chhetri.
Investigations carried out by OHCHR and NHRC have concluded that Gen. Singh should be held accountable and suspended for his involvement in the disappearance of 49 detainees in 2003-2004 from the Maharajgunj-based Bhairavnath barrack of the Tenth Brigade, of which he was the commander.
Rights activists argue that it is an international practice to suspend those implicated of rights violations from all official duties.
"If the Army believes that the implicated official is clean, it should not hesitate to conduct an independent and credible investigation by a civilian authority," said former NHRC Commissioner Sushil Pyakurel.
NA officials told the Post that the Army would cooperate with investigations on charges of rights abuses, but the probe needs to be carried out by a government commission "not necessarily by teams under UN."
In the meantime, international pressure on the government is mounting, the reason behind the delay in Gen. Singh's promotion.
The US has expressed its "deep concern" about a "broader culture of impunity" that continues to prevail in Nepal, which is also manifested in US Senator Patrick Leahy's letter to Prime Minister Nepal, which cautions him to stand firm against impunity.
Both the Maoists and the Nepal Army, said Spokesperson at the US Embassy Nicole Chulick, committed gross human rights abuses during the conflict. "Those who committed the abuses must be held accountable."
"The government should thoroughly investigate the Maharajgunj Barracks incident and hold accountable those found responsible," said Chulick.
Under US Army law, suspension of any Army official implicated of rights violations is binding.
Similarly, the British Embassy has also been expressing its full support to the position taken by the OHCHR report. We also call on the government to comply with the report, said Ajaya Das, Press Officer at the British Embassy.
Rights activists say that the government's disobedience of the international community's call would cost dear to
Ignoring the call of the international community could lead to UN decision to blacklist the NA and its expulsion from joining the UN peace missions, says rights activist Kapil Shrestha. Besides, this could lead to suspension of foreign assistance NA is receiving from the
Rights activists also blame the government for resorting to double standards. "There is a long-running myth 'do not touch the Army,'" said Shrestha. "Only that can explain why it has not touched the Army while it did not hesitate to sack the heads of Armed Police Force and Nepal Police for rights abuse during April 2006 Movement."
NA, however, denies that there is impunity within NA. "It is a misconception," said Chhetri. "Of the total allegations we have received so far, we have completed investigation of 72 percent of cases and punished 175 personnel involved in human rights violation."