Nepal must end culture of impunity, says UN human rights chief

17 February 2008

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Nepal to address the culture of impunity that exists in the country, warning that not doing so will threaten the achievement of lasting peace.

In particular, Louise Arbour drew attention to the failure to prosecute the killers of Maina Sunuwar, a 15-year-old Nepalese girl who was allegedly tortured and then died while in the custody of the Nepalese Army in 2004.

“Lack of accountability in this and numerous other cases is helping to perpetuate a culture of impunity in Nepal,” Ms. Arbour said. “And there is a danger this could become a barrier to achieving lasting peace.”

Maina's case has come to symbolize the fate of hundreds of other Nepalese who disappeared during the decade-long armed conflict between the Government and the Maoists that formally ended with the signing of a 2006 peace accord.

Ms. Arbour noted that Maina's case “presents a significant opportunity for the Government of Nepal to send a signal that the culture of impunity is ending,” adding that “the successful prosecution of those responsible for her murder will strengthen the rule of law and uphold victims' rights to a remedy.”

Following an investigation, the Nepal's Supreme Court issued summons in January for four people accused in the case. While noting this recent development, the High Commissioner emphasized the need for more to be done if justice is to be served in the case. In particular, she cited the need for the Nepalese Army to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation.

Ms. Arbour said her office, along with other national and international human rights bodies, will continue to urge the Government to provide victims and their families with truth, justice and redress in line with international standards.

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Although Nepal has made important progress since ending its decade-long conflict with the Maoists more than a year ago, a senior United Nations official has warned that an ongoing culture of impunity for human rights violations is endangering the peace process.