UN expels Nepal soldier charged with schoolgirl's torture death

UN expels Nepal soldier charged with schoolgirl's torture death Kathmandu, Dec 9 : The Nepal Army has run into fresh trouble with the UN expelling an officer for gross human rights violations and human rights organisations calling for his arrest.

The army, accused of torture and extrajudicial killings during the Maoist insurgency, has come under fire with the revelation that it sent a "killer" army officer to Chad as part of the UN Peacekeeping Forces.

The development comes ahead of Nepal Army chief Gen Chhatraman Singh Gurung's first official trip to India to be conferred the honorary rank of General of the Indian Army by the Indian president. The eight-day visit, starting Friday, has been approved by the cabinet.

Major Niranjan Basnet was among four Nepal Army personnel who have been charged with torturing to death a 15-year-old school girl inside an army barracks.

Maina Sunuwar's killing became a cause celebre with international rights organisations as well as western governments, including the US, urging Nepal's government to punish the perpetrators.

Though a case was filed at the Kavre district court after great effort by Maina's mother, Devi Sunuwar, Basnet and the other three - Col. Bobby Khatri, Captain Sunil Prasad Adhikari and Captain Amit Pun - were deliberately protected by the army that refused to hand them over for arrest.

Instead, the government deputed Basnet to a UN peacekeeping mission in Chad, a lucrative posting for Nepal Army officers.

Under severe criticism for failing to detect Basnet's presence despite his much-publicised record, the UN Department of Peace Keeping Operations (DPKO) last week tried to defend itself saying though it vets all senior appointments, with more than 115,000 personnel currently in the field, it was impossible to vet each and every peacekeeper deployed.

"Therefore, the UN relies on its troop- and police-contributing countries which ultimately have the mandated responsibility for the good conduct, order and discipline of their forces to screen all contingent members nominated to take part in peacekeeping operations in accordance with international norms and standards," the DPKO said.

It also said that due to the "serious nature" of the allegations against Basnet, a decision has been made to repatriate him immediately.

But Nepal's defence ministry remained unwilling to cross swords with the army.

"We can't take action against Basnet as long as the case is in court," the defence ministry in Kathmandu told IANS. "We have to wait for the judicial proceedings to be over."

Meanwhile, human rights watchdog Amnesty International Wednesday demanded Nepal immediately pursue the arrest.

"Instead of ensuring Major Basnet's arrest and prosecution, the Nepal Army allowed him to continue performing his duties (contrary to the Army Act) and has so far failed to cooperate with the civilian investigations," it said.

"Major Basnet must be prosecuted by a civilian court for his alleged involvement in Maina Sunuwar's murder," said Jonathan O'Donohue of Amnesty International's International Justice Programme.

"If he is still in Chad, the Nepal government should request the UN Mission to detain him and to ensure his transfer back to Nepal to face trial. "

Amnesty said that the schoolgirl's killing was only one of hundreds of killings, enforced disappearances and torture committed by the Nepal Army, which the government and the military continued to ignore.

"All human rights violations committed by soldiers and others must be investigated and, where there is sufficient evidence, those responsible prosecuted in civilian courts," O'Donohue said.

"Victims and their families must receive justice. The truth about what happened to them or their loved ones must be made known and full reparations should be provided." (IANS)