Set it rightIn April the Kavre District Court rendered a long-awaited verdict, finding three Nepal Army (NA) officials—Bobi Khatri, Sunil Prasad Adhikari and Amit Pun—guilty of the murder of Maina Sunuwar in 2004. A fourth officer, Niranjan Basnet, was acquitted on the grounds of lack of evidence.
In April the Kavre District Court rendered a long-awaited verdict, finding three Nepal Army (NA) officials—Bobi Khatri, Sunil Prasad Adhikari and Amit Pun—guilty of the murder of Maina Sunuwar in 2004. A fourth officer, Niranjan Basnet, was acquitted on the grounds of lack of evidence.
This decision received a great deal of attention within the country and beyond, since the Maina Sunuwar case has over the years emerged as what is termed in human rights lexicon as an emblematic case. In a post-conflict society, certain cases of human rights violations attain major significance since all cases would not have been documented and even when they are, actions against them are harder still.
Now, however, on September 22, the NA filed a writ petition at the Supreme Court asking for the Kavre District Court’s decision to be overturned. Filing a writ petition at the Supreme Court is a right that all Nepali citizens have, so the Army’s decision to do so is not problematic in this regard. However, there are a number of other aspects surrounding the case that could potentially have negative repercussions. For one, the NA is a highly influential institution, with significant access to senior officials in all sectors of the state. The Supreme Court thus has to be very careful in taking an independent stance when it makes its decision on the petition. The judiciary also has to be careful to ensure that victim groups are not intimidated into abandoning their claims. This issue is important. After the Kavre District Court’s verdict, Maina’s mother Devi Sunuwar had wanted to file a writ petition asking for a guilty verdict for Niranjan Basnet, the one officer who was acquitted. It appears, however, that Devi Sunuwar was prevented from filing such a petition due to pressure from powerful state actors. If the NA is allowed to file a writ petition at the SC, so should Devi Sunuwar. The failure to ensure equal rights for both is a travesty of justice.
In its petition, the NA has argued that the Kavre Court’s decision constitutes double jeopardy (where a person is punished twice for the same crime). The NA states that its internal court of inquiry, formed in March 2005, found the officers guilty of Maina’s murder and sentenced them to a six-month long jail term each.
But the reason why so many activists have been demanding justice for Maina is because they suspect that the internal inquiry was inadequate. It was held in a highly secretive manner and produced short jail terms that may or may not have been implemented. There is a lack of trust.
For example, the NA had initially even denied that officers had taken Maina Sunuwar into custody. The task for the Supreme Court will be to evaluate whether the internal inquiry followed the proper legal procedures and issued proportionate judgments. The NA’s task here is to come clean and reveal all existing documentation it possesses on the court of inquiry’s proceedings and other documentation relating to Maina Sunuwar