Nepal’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act specifically says that those responsible for sexual violence are not eligible for amnesty. But the authorities are yet to ensure meaningful investigations and prosecutions of perpetrators or an effective reparations program for the victims.
Authorities in Nepal must thoroughly investigate the February 2004 torture, rape and execution of a 16-year-old girl by security forces during the country’s civil war, the UN Human Rights Committee said in a ruling on Monday.
The finding follows a complaint submitted to the UN body by the girl’s parents, who said they had exhausted all possible avenues for securing justice and accountability at home.
“The gravity of this case has not faded with time even though 18 years have passed, said Committee member Hélène Tigroudja.
“This is a particularly severe case in which a child was summarily executed. It also underscores the pattern of abuse and rape of girls during the civil war, the lack of investigation and de facto impunity,” she added.
Nepal’s civil war began in February 1996 and lasted more than a decade. Some 15,000 people were killed in fighting between government forces and the Communist Party of Nepal, known locally as the Maoist rebel group.
Many women came forward after a comprehensive peace accord was signed between the Nepal government and Maoists in 2006. In most cases, the victims came from isolated villages where there is often no government presence. Many Nepali journalists reported of the women being in fear that further impeded their ability to report or receive redress.
Accusation and denial
In February 2004, the victim, identified only as R.R., was living with her family in the village of Pokhari Chauri in Kavre District, an area where many Maoists had gathered to celebrate the eighth anniversary of the start of the war.
On the night of 13 February, some 20 uniformed armed soldiers stormed into her home, accusing the secondary school student of being a Maoist, which she denied.
R.R. had attended the compulsory Maoist Student Union at school but was not involved in any other Maoist activity, according to the UN Committee.
Interrogation, abuse, death
The teenager was taken outside, interrogated, hit with a rifle butt, thrown against a wall, and taken to a cornfield. A soldier was heard telling another soldier to kill her, and three gunshots were then fired.
R.R.’s parents found her body the next morning. She had been shot in the eye, head, and chest. Her salwar, or trousers, was pulled down to mid-thigh, and her blouse was lifted up to her neck. There were scratches on her breasts.
The army also killed two other villagers that night.
Following complaints by her family, the National Human Rights Commission in 2005 found that R.R. was killed by security forces.
Although Nepal’s Supreme Court endorsed the Commission’s findings in 2009 and ordered a prompt investigation, no one has been held criminally accountable. The main suspect was acquitted four years later due to lack of evidence.
Appeal for justice
R.R.’s parents brought the case to the UN Human Rights Committee which found that Nepal was responsible for her killing and rape, and for subjecting her to physical and mental torture.
The Committee also criticized the lack of an effective remedy for her parents.
“Nepal has failed to demonstrate how a 16-year-old unarmed girl posed any threat to a squad of twenty fully armed soldiers, much less justify how her rape and summary execution could serve any legitimate security aim,” said Ms. Tigroudja.
“Such egregious crimes shall in all instances be timely and thoroughly investigated and their perpetrators, whoever they are, brought to justice and punished”, she added.
The Human Rights Committee monitors countries’ adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
It is made up of 18 members who are independent human rights experts from across the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of any States that are party to the treaty.
Committee members are neither UN staff, nor are they paid by the Organization.
The government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act specifically says that those responsible for sexual violence are not eligible for amnesty. But the authorities are yet to ensure meaningful investigations and prosecutions of perpetrators or an effective reparations program for the victims.
“If the government is serious about addressing conflict-era sexual violence and its fallout, it needs to include survivors of sexual violence as part of its compensation package,” Ganguly said. “The complete silence on providing interim relief, combined with the rampant culture of impunity, drives these victims further into invisibility.”
In addition, Nepal’s 35-day statute of limitations on reporting sexual violence is an unacceptable and illogical additional hurdle to reporting rape. Several victims said they were told that they could not lodge complaints with the police as they were barred by the statute of limitations. The Nepali government should ensure that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or any other independent commission has a mandate to investigate allegations of conflict-related rape and other forms of sexual violence.
The rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) quoted some of the victims of rape and sexual assault in a detailed report it released in 2014.
One women, going by the pseudonym Madhavi told HRW researchers, “They kicked me as if I was a football from here to there. When the first person raped me, I was conscious. But there were four or five people inside the shed, and I don’t know how many others raped me.”
Madhavi said she was raped by soldiers in 2004 because her husband supported the Maoists.
Another woman, whose husband was a Maoist combatant spoke of security forces raping in 2001. The report quoted her with the adopted name Nandita: “I had long hair and they grabbed me and dragged me around. Then they threw me on the ground and kicked me. I saw that my earring was stuck on the boot of one of the men when he kicked me in the head…. They started tearing off my clothes, even my inner garments.”
A man who nursed his woman after she was raped by the security forces, according to the HRW report said, “It was during the Emergency. There was so much fear. We did not dare say anything to anyone, police, doctors, no one. I just took care of her. She was in a terrible state, sometimes angry, sometimes weeping. For two months, I looked after her. Her body was full of bruises. She was very weak. I took her to hospital, and they gave her three bottles of glucose. But we did not say anything about the rape.”
HRW documented complaints of rape by Maoist guerrillas too. One such woman went by the name Meena. She said that she was abducted and raped by Maoists in 2004 for refusing to join their programmes.
“I don’t know if any of these men were ever punished. There was no commander as such of the group of Maoists who held me captive…. It’s hard to describe how helpless I felt. No amount of crying or screaming or begging helped. Everything they did was against my will,” she said.