NEPAL: Shootout at Samakhusi

An editorial from the Kathmandu Post forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

The killing of the gangster Kumar Shrestha ‘Ghainte’ by the police has aroused a great many passions. Nepali Congress (NC) leaders, to whom Ghainte was close, reject the official version of the event as provided by the police, according to which police personnel fired in self defense after Ghainte first shot at them. NC leaders allege that the police, possibly with the authorisation of Home Minister Bamdev Gautam, sought out Ghainte and shot him in cold blood. Various NC leaders have called for an investigation into Ghainte’s death and for declaring him a martyr. Human rights activists have also expressed serious doubts about the veracity of the police’s version and have condemned the killing. And if it is in fact true that the police killed Ghainte, although he did not pose any immediate threat, this constitutes an extrajudicial killing.

What is interesting in this entire affair is how public opinion has shaped around this killing. The public has followed this story with great interest, and most people seem to be in agreement that it was an extrajudicial killing. However, most of these people are pleased, rather than outraged, that Ghainte was killed. It is commonly argued that Ghainte was a hardcore criminal who had made a lot of innocent people suffer and he deserved his death. And this is not the first time that the public has felt a sense of satisfaction at the extrajudicial killing of a criminal. Similar public sentiments were apparent when Dinesh Adhikari ‘Chari’, a gangster close to some CPN-UML leaders, was killed last year.

What explains this? The main reason people feel this way is because under Nepal’s existing system, it is almost impossible to hold criminals accountable through the law. The worst criminals enjoy the patronage of political leaders, and if the police arrest a criminal, a senior politician immediately pushes for his release. The police feel demoralised as a result. Many people believe that the only way for the police to circumvent this state of affairs is to take the law into their own hands, and simply kill the criminals. In other words, underlying the people’s approval of Ghainte’s and Chari’s killings is a widespread lack of trust in Nepal’s institutions of governance and political parties.

The extrajudicial killing of Ghainte, therefore, needs to be seen in broader political perspective. Of course, the incident needs to be investigated and steps taken to prevent extrajudicial killings in the future. However, extrajudicial killings will not stop until broader measures are taken. These include strengthening the judicial system so that there are credible prosecutions. In addition, major institutional reform needs to be undertaken, so as to prevent political interference in the police and the judicial system.