Extra-judicial killings beyond justice

‘My experience tells the real problem lies with the judiciary, which fears to take decision against perpetrator when he is a senior police officer’


Sanu Sunar, 46, a labourer from Godavari-9, Lalitpur was arrested on May 23 on a charge of “robbery” from a shop in Balaju. On May 25, he was declared dead while in police custody. The details about the incident remain murky and there are various theories behind what led to his death.
Bikram Gyanmi Magar, 19, from Pranbung-4, Panchthar, was arrested on Feb. 12 for “stealing” neighbour’s construction materials in Pranbung. According to eyewitnesses and Magar’s families, he was subject to torture by both the police and the locals during interrogation and detention. He was admitted to hospital where he was declared dead on Feb. 21. The police say a case about this incident has been pending at the district court.
On Feb 13, the police in Panchthar arrested Dal Bahadur Gyanmi Magar, 42, a resident of Pranbung-4. He was accused of stealing money and gold from a villager in Pranbung. Around six hours later, Dal Bahadur was declared dead. His case too is pending at Panchthar District Court.
These stories that have come under public radar in the last six months are not new, though.  “Incidents of torture and death in torture are not new in the history of Nepal’s policing,” said National Human Rights Commission Secretary Bishal Khanal. “Though we have recommended actions against responsible officials in most torture cases, their implementations are vary rare.” Interestingly, in NHRC’s 10-year history, the government has not implemented even a single recommendation concerning involvement of government officials on serious rights violations.
The police, on the other hand, admit their “shortcomings”, though they deny that the civilian deaths mentioned above are due to torture while in detention.
 “We have investigations and court cases pending [in these reported rights abuses]. We will do the needful on time,” said Nepal Police Spokesman DIG Bigyan Raj Sharma. According to him, the police have filed court cases against three police personnel in relation to the death of Sunar in Kathmandu and two other persons in Pachthar. However, police are yet to make public the findings on these cases.
Human rights defenders claim that the three deaths are symbolic of extrajudicial killings due to torture. A preliminary investigation carried out by Advocacy Forum and Jagaran Media Centre says that Sunar’s death was due to torture during detention. “The victim was vomiting blood when his wife went to meet him at the hospital, where he was admitted after torture. He was in critical condition. Rights defenders and his wife have confirmed that she witnessed marks of torture on her husband’s hands, legs, face and other parts of the body,” said Subas Darnal, founder of JMC. “The police should come out clean on these incidents of  rights violations not only to improve the institution’s image but also to comply with the international laws which Nepal has signed.”
Weak anti-torture law
Nepal has been a party to the International Convention against Torture and International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since May 14, 1991. Both these laws require Nepal to guarantee that torture victims get appropriate compensations and the act be criminalised. Almost 19 years after Nepal’s accession to the treaties, justice still eludes torture victims.
“The police have demonstrated significant improvement when it comes to torture, though it has not been satisfactory. My experience tells the real problem lies with the judiciary, which fears to take decision against perpetrator when he is a senior police officer,” said Madhav Bashnet, a human rights defender and advocate. 
Currently, the Torture Compensation Act 1996 is the law that deals with torture. This provision, however, has failed to deter the perpetrators. “Rs. 100,000 is the ceiling for compensation for deaths due to torture and that too comes from state coffers. The Act must be amended to keep the compensation ceiling open, among others,” said Basnet, “and there should be room for personal liabilities, not just institutional liabilities.” 
(The article under IMPUNITY WATCH series was originally published in The Kathmandu Post, June 16, 2010: http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2010/06/16/nation/extra-judicial-killings-beyond-justice/209463/)

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