12.17.09

Statement on Justice in Nepal

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I want to speak briefly about a matter that is of concern to the Congress and the Department of State, involving a heinous crime that occurred in Nepal and the need for justice.

Many people are familiar with the brutal murder of Maina Sunuwar in February 2004. At the young age of 15, she was arrested by Nepali soldiers and severely tortured to death at, of all places, the Birendra Peace Operations Training Center. After her murder, the army made it look as though she had been shot while trying to escape, and then buried her body at the Center.

According to a United Nations report, in September 2005, after intense public and international pressure, three army officers were brought before a Court Martial and sentenced to a mere six months imprisonment for failing to follow proper procedures when disposing of Maina's body. In spite of many requests, the Nepal army refused to disclose the nature of the charges that led to this sentence, or provide copies of any documents relating to the Court of Inquiry or Court Martial. It also refused to cooperate with police investigations.

It is shocking that one of the officers accused in her murder, Major Niranjan Basnet, was permitted to participate in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Chad. This speaks volumes about the inadequacy of vetting procedures of military personnel for such missions, which is a separate subject that I intend to take up with officials at the Department of State and United Nations.

To his credit, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal had Major Basnet returned from Chad, following the issuance of an arrest warrant and in response to public calls for his arrest. However, when he arrived back at the Katmandu airport the army took him under its control and apparently, despite initial promises and requests from the police and orders from the Prime Minister, has still not handed him over to the police.

Mr. President, this case represents a critical juncture for Nepal. In large measure, and as others have pointed out, Maina's death will decide whether a civilian, democratic government and the rule of law will determine Nepal's future, or it will remain dominated by the interests of the Nepal army.

Just a few days ago, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010, which includes a prohibition on assistance to the Nepal army unless it, among other things, is cooperating fully with investigations and prosecutions by civilian judicial authorities of violations of internationally recognized human rights. This provision applies squarely to Maina's case.

I urge the new Chief of the Army Staff, General Chhattraman Gurung, to seize this opportunity to demonstrate that the army is reforming, that it recognizes in a democracy its members are answerable to the civilian courts, and that it will no longer perpetuate the impunity that has undermined the rule of law in Nepal for far too long.

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