In cold blood

  • It is time for the government to initiate prosecution for the extra-judicial killings of five youth at Godar
- Sushil Pyakurel
In cold blood

Aug 4, 2014-

After more than 10 years of waiting, at a poignant ceremony in Janakpur on July 23, the parents and relatives of five young men disappeared by security forces in 2003 received the remains from representatives of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). A forensic study had identified the remains as that of the ‘Godar disappeared’, a case of extra-judicial killing. The families of the victims, at the handover of the remains, expressed their desire to see justice done through prosecutions of the alleged perpetrators. The time has now come for the ‘democratic’ Government of Nepal not to hide behind the false argument that all cases of conflict-era excesses will be handled by the to-be-formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission and direct the police to press charges against those accused of the Godar murders.

The Godar five

Among the 11 youths arrested in Janakpur on October 8, 2003 by security agencies, six were released the following day. The remaining five were never returned. Jaya Kishore Lav, the father of the missing Sanjiv Kumar Karna (Lav), filed a disappearance complaint with the NHRC on October 9. The Commission started its inquiry immediately and received contradictory information from the Army and the police. The then Royal Nepal Army, in its communication, stated that the youths had been killed at the hands of the police immediately after arrest. The Nepal Police, meanwhile, claimed that the young men had been arrested by a joint police and Army team and that they had been handed over to the Army barrack at Bhiman the same day.

The NHRC relayed this information to Jaya Kishor Lav on March 8, 2006. In the meantime, the Commission received information that the five youths had been killed and hastily buried by the banks of the Kamala River, at a place called Godar, nearby the Bhiman Military Barrack of Dhanusha district. The Commission directed the police to protect the spot to prevent loss of evidence.

The NHRC’s inquiry report of January 29, 2008, confirming the disappearance of the youths from custody, named those who were said to have been involved in the abduction. They were SSP Chuda Bahadur Shrestha, SP of the Dhanusha District Police Office Kuber Singh Rana, Commadant of the Bhiman Barrack Major Anup Adhikary and Chief District Officer Revati Raman Kafley, in whom was vested the power to command and direct the joint security force of the day. The NHRC accused these individuals for failing to protect the lives of citizens and for being involved in human rights violations; the decision was made, as per Section 13(1) of the Human Rights Commission Act 1997, to recommend the Government of Nepal to take legal action against the accused after necessary investigation.

Continuing investigation

Meanwhile, faced with indifference from the police on his application lodged to initiate inquiry as to the whereabouts of the five youth, Jaya Kishor Lav registered a petition with the Supreme Court. In its decision of February 2, 2009, the Supreme Court said: “Impunity is the enemy of rule of law…if government and its subordinate agencies act to demonstrate impunity then it becomes matter for judicial examination… one’s position, uniform or designation cannot shield of anyone. A crime is a crime in

the eye of law, and a criminal a criminal. Thus every criminal is liable to punishment.” The Court ordered the Government to immediately start an inquiry and submit regular progress reports to the bench.

Government agencies came under pressure following the political change of 2006, and could not ignore the Supreme Court and NHRC directives. Upon the NHRC’s request, then Minister of Home Affairs Bhim Rawal directed all concerned agencies to cooperate with the inquiry. With this opening, in September 2010, exhumation was started at Godar. Human remains emerged after two weeks of exhumation. DNA tests were conducted to identify the remains, in collaboration with the Forensic Laboratory at TU Teaching Hospital and the University of Helsinki, Finland.

Against impunity

The forensic report received by the NHRC states unequivocably: “The causes of

death of the five individuals are multiple gunshot wounds to the vertebral columns and skulls respectively. The manner of the death of five individuals is homicide; the persons were shot by others using rifled firearms.” The summary report distributed by NHRC during the human remains handover programme in Janakpur stated that “the five human remains were found in blindfolded condition”. It also reported that spent SLR rifle cartridges were found in the graves, which made clear the direct involvement of the then Royal Nepal Army, given that the Nepal Police did not have that make of firearm.

Now, the next step is for the police to immediately initiate investigations and file a case at the courts based on the forensic report, and to proceed with prosecution. Indifference in carrying out prosecution will only indicate the present government’s indifference towards the verdict of the Supreme Court, which stated in so many words that a crime is a crime, and every criminal is liable for punishment. The government’s tardiness in proceeding with prosecution would constitute a mockery of the rule of law and democracy, signaling a willing tilt towards impunity.

Pyakurel is Chair of the

Accountability Watch Committee and

former Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission

Published: 05-08-2014 10:15

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