General Sir David Julian Richards’ official trip to Nepal which includes a visit to the Panchkal army training camp has raised issues concerning the British government’s responsibilities in dealing with a foreign government and an army that is accused of disappearances. The visit will also trigger new discussions in Nepal and outside concerning the government of Nepal’s continuing failure to investigate, prosecute and punish its soldiers who have committed serious human rights violations in the country.
British army chief, General Sir David Julian Richards, has commenced his six-day official visit to Nepal on 4 February. General Richards is visiting Nepal on invitation from Nepal’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Chhatra Man Singh Gurung.
General Richard’s visit is showcased as an important step in fostering new dimensions of cooperation between Nepal and the United Kingdom. General Richard carries with him the confidence and dedication of the British armed forces. He is also an ambassador of the British people and its justice system where the rule of law and human rights is placed above personal favours, politics and even foreign policies of the government. The House of Lords decision of 11 August 2004 concerning the inadmissibility of evidence obtained through means contravening human rights norms is one example in which the judiciary of the United Kingdom underlined the principle that the rule of law is supreme.
During his stay, General Richards is scheduled to visit the training centre of the Nepal army’s peacekeeping missions’ unit in Panchkhal army camp in Kavre district. Panchkal camp is notorious for the case of Maina Sunuwar, a 15-year-old girl, who was reported missing since February 2004. After repeated attempts by Maina’s parents, supported by the Kathmandu based human rights group, the Advocacy Forum, the family obtained an arrest warrant against the army officers involved in the case.
One of the accused officers, Mr. Niranjan Basnet, in the meanwhile was posted in a
UN Peacekeeping mission in Chad. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations later had to repatriate Basnet from Chad, when the media and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) intervened in the case with Advocacy Forum’s assistance. In the meanwhile, the Advocacy Forum managed to trace Maina’s grave within Panchkal camp. The body was exhumed and a DNA fingerprinting proved that the human remains excavated from the camp were that of Maina.
For further details of Maina Sunuwar’s case please see NEPAL: Democracy – a dream in waiting, a human rights day statement on Nepal, issued by the AHRC.
The Advocacy Forum and other human rights organisations in Nepal have documented many such cases where the officers serving in Nepal army are accused of serious human rights abuses like murder, rape and disappearances in Nepal. Maina’s case is just one among them where there is overwhelming evidence against army officers. Yet, the Nepal army has refused to subject Basnet to trial in a civilian court, on the excuse of double jeopardy arising out of a concluded, non-transparent and unacceptable military inquiry. The internal inquiry has merely reprimanded the suspected officer and his accomplices, who are also officers currently serving in Nepal army.
Basnet and his case thus is viewed both by the human rights community as well as the Nepal army as a test case that has been lingering for five years exploiting the docility of the Nepal’s justice institutions and the patience of its people.
The preamble of the European Convention on Human Rights recognises the universality of human rights. Article 2 and 3 of the Convention specifically guarantees the right to life and the right against torture. The United Kingdom is a signatory to the Convention. It is thus a legal obligation of the United Kingdom to protect, promote and fulfil human rights norms within its jurisdiction. Further, the Convention poses a rider upon the United Kingdom’s discretion in entering into agreements with governments, government agencies and non-state actors that violates human rights.
Due to this, for General Richards to be instrumental for any dialogues of cooperation between the government of Nepal concerning Nepal’s army, it is elementary for Nepal army to investigate and prosecute officers within its ranks who are accused of human rights abuses. Basnet’s case, which is already in court in Nepal could be one among them.
The diplomatic mission of the United Kingdom in Kathmandu has similar legal as well as moral obligations to keep its top soldier informed about the human rights concerns against Nepal army and its officers.