3 ex-NA officials convicted of killing Maina Sunuwar

  • Kavre court passes landmark verdict on a case that had been dragging on for 13 years
  • Sentences former soldiers in absentia to 20 years in jail for the murder of teenage girl

Apr 18, 2017-

Kavre District Court has sentenced three former Nepal Army officials to life for killing Maina Sunuwar in detention in 2004.

The verdict on the long-running case is emblematic; for this is the first time a civilian court has convicted Army officials of a murder committed during the decade-long armed insurgency.

A single bench of Judge Medini Prasad Poudyal on Sunday handed down, in absentia, 20-year jail terms to then colonel Bobby Khatri and captains Amit Pun and Sunil Adhikari, who were stationed at the Birendra Peace Operations Training Centre in Panchkhal, Kavre. Pun of Rupanedhi-3 and Adhikari of Kathmandu-3 had resigned, while Khatri of Kathmandu-33 retired after a proposal to extend his term was denied. The court, however, acquitted then Major Niranjan Basnet, the only one of the accused still serving in the Army, of all charges, saying he was found to be following orders only.

A group of Army personnel on February 17, 2004 had detained Sunuwar, then 15, from her home in Kharelthok for her alleged links to then rebel Maoists. She was murdered after torture in the Army barracks.

In 2005, a military tribunal ruled that Maina’s death was accidental and charged the three Army men involved in the case with minor offences.

Maina’s mother, Devi, had moved the Supreme Court (SC) in 2007, demanding an order to District Police Office, Kavre, to complete the investigation. Following pressure from human rights organisations, Maina’s body was exhumed in March 2007.

Despite a court order to arrest the four accused, the Army men were never arrested.

The court had postponed the case for two years in 2013.

The court reopened the case in January 2016.

“The court’s decision has generated some hope for justice for conflict victims,” said Devi.  “There is now a verdict in a case which authorities had initially refused to register,” said Devi. “The court verdict should be implemented effectively,” she added, expressing fear over non-implementation of the court verdict. Rights activists are also concerned that the soldiers may not be arrested despite the court sentencing them to life.

“It it remains to be seen whether they will be arrested and forced to serve their sentence,” Advocacy Forum, a rights organisation which worked on the case, said in a statement on Monday.

Rights activists’ concerns emanate from the fact that authorities have failed to arrest Bal Krishna Dhungel, a Maoist leader and former lawmaker, despite the SC convicting him of murder of Ujjan Kumar Shrestha.

The Kavre court’s verdict follows a Supreme Court order on Thursday to the chief of Nepal Police “to arrest Bal Krishna Dhungel within seven days”.

Sunday’s verdict is the only second conviction for crimes committed during the decade-long armed conflict which ended in 2006. In December 2014 five former Maoist rebels were jailed for two years for torturing and killing journalist Dekendra Thapa. However, the sentence had drawn criticism for being too little, too late.

Published: 18-04-2017 08:16

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