NEPAL: Attorney General stresses the need to reform police investigation process
On 8 August, the Nepali newspaper The Himalayan Times reported from Myagdi district that the incumbent Attorney General of Nepal, Mukti Pradhan had denounced the current police investigation process of Nepal as a strong obstacle to the proper delivery of justice. He is quoted as having said that "Torture-based investigation is still in practice in Nepal". He also reportedly denounced the inefficiency of torture in obtaining accurate information and stressed the need to ensure that investigation process would abide by human rights standards and use technology to ensure that victims would get justice.
The Asian Human Rights Commission welcomes the Attorney General's honest acknowledgment that torture to extract confession continues to form the core of investigations in Nepal and, importantly, that it is ineffective and detrimental to policing as a whole. According to the latest data brought forward by Advocacy Forum, 24% of the 1900 detainees they interviewed from January to June 2012 claimed having been tortured. Individual stories reveal that torture victims do not have an effective right to remedy, have a limited access to medical treatment and that attempts to seek justice or denounce the practice of torture are routinely met with threats and attacks. Torture and human rights abuses by the police have contributed to alienate it from the ordinary people and prevented it from being a pillar of the rule of law in Nepal. Nevertheless too often, successive governments and political parties have dismissed concerns about torture and delayed necessary action under the false pretense that torture disappeared with the end of the conflict. In that context, the Attorney General's acknowledgement takes a particular importance and should not go ignored.
This acknowledgement should trigger comprehensive government action to bring torture to an end and initiate broader reforms to deeply transform the way policing is conceived in Nepal. It should pave the way to a national debate on the form of policing Nepali people want to see, one that can uphold their rights at all time, both in its proceedings and the outcomes thereof.
The Attorney General's further recommended adopting modern technology and scientific methods to increase the effectiveness of the investigation. Indeed, the absence of effective, prompt and impartial investigation has been one of the major obstacles preventing victims of human rights violations from obtaining justice. But the lack of scientific methods or material is not the only problem. Political interference, interference by influential individuals and corruption are too often to blame for the inability of the police to deliver impartial investigations irrespective of the victims' social or political status. Although the AHRC agrees with the necessity of investing in technology and insisting on a scientific approach to investigations, we are of the opinion that this would bring only cosmetic change if no overarching attempts are made to transform the police institution.
Often the cases do not even reach the investigation stage as the victims' complaints are rejected at the police station. It is well documented that the police refused to file First Information Reports in cases involving the security forces or the Maoist dating from the conflict period. In cases involving gender-based or caste-based violence, rejection of complaints is also chronic and the police typically assume the role of a mediator between the conflicting parties rather than that of a law enforcement agency. No mechanisms exist at present to take action against police officers who fail in their duties, and who expose vulnerable persons to threats and pressure to abandon their cases.
A 2011 survey by the United States Institute of Peace found that one third of respondents had been victims or witnesses of a crime that they did not report to the police because they either did not think the police would be able to conduct a thorough investigation or protect them against the perpetrators, or did not feel comfortable interacting with the police, or because no police post was available in their area.
Such questions should also form part of the discussions. The attention should focus on developing an effective system of checks and balances able to hold police officers accountable for abuses of power and authority to ensure that all Nepalese benefit equally from the protection of the law. At the moment, the fact that one's ability to get promoted or obtain lucrative posting abroad is irrespective of one's human rights records exposes the urgent need for reforms to turn the police force into a democratic, transparent and accountable institution. In addition, policing must also be made impermeable to any form of political interference and must be strengthened and enabled to conduct investigations against any person, no matter whether this person belongs to a particular political party or institution.
We agree with the Attorney General that the inadequacies of Nepal's policing system lie at the heart of the criminal justice's inability to hold human rights violators to account and of upholding the rule of law. The consequences to be drawn from that conclusion should be far-reaching and the object of a national debate.