The Nepali government must ensure that an army major accused of torturing a 15-year-old Nepalese girl, to death, is arrested immediately and transferred to a civilian court for trial, Amnesty International said on Monday.
Major Niranjan Basnet was expelled from a UN peacekeeping mission in Chad, after it emerged that the Kavre District Court had charged him with the 2004 murder of the 15-year-old girl, Maina Sunuwar.
Major Basnet was returned to Nepal on Saturday. Despite the Prime Minister’s instructions that he be arrested at the airport and transferred to the court, military police are reported to have escorted him from the airport to the Army Headquarters in Kathmandu.
Maina Sunuwar died in military custody on 17 February 2004, after she was subjected to electrocution and drowning during interrogation. Her body was later exhumed from an army barracks where Nepali UN peacekeepers are trained.
According to media reports, the Minister of Defence is opposed to arresting and surrendering Major Basnet to a civilian court.
Reports also indicate that senior Army staff are waiting for Army Chief Chhatra Man Singh Gurung to return from a visit to India to make a decision on whether the Army will cooperate with the civilian prosecution. He is due to return on 19 December.
“This is a key moment for the Nepalese Army to demonstrate its commitment to human rights and to ending impunity,” said Jonathan O’Donohue, of Amnesty International’s International Justice Programme.
“Refusal to cooperate with the arrest of Major Basnet and to hand him over to the authorities immediately will send a clear message to the people of Nepal and the international community that there is no accountability for thousands of killings, torture and disappearances committed by the Nepal Army in recent years.”
Amnesty International rejects arguments by army personnel that Major Basnet was given a “clean chit” by a Military Court of Inquiry into Maina’s murder in 2005 and cannot be prosecuted by the civilian court.
The organization said that by defining the severe torture that Maina Sunuwar was subjected to as “carelessness” the Military Court demonstrated that its investigation and prosecution of her case were neither independent nor impartial.
Independent investigations conducted by the civilian authorities have determined that there is sufficient evidence to charge Major Basnet with Maina’s murder. Those charges exist independent of the findings of any Army investigation.
Instead of ensuring Major Basnet’s arrest and prosecution, the Nepal Army allowed him to continue performing his duties and has so far failed to cooperate with the civilian investigations.
At the beginning of December it emerged that he was participating in the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Chad.
In 2008, Major Basnet was one of four soldiers charged by the Kavre District Court with Maina Sunuwar’s killing. All four remain at large.