The National Human Rights Commission’s report that Kumar Paudel was ‘killed after he was taken into custody’ is a big announcement, condemning the police’s and Home Ministry’s version of the events surrounding his death. According to the country’s top rights-protecting body, the Sarlahi district in-charge of the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal was killedextrajudicially, and not in an encounter, or ‘police action’, as claimed by the police and Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa. The rights commission being the first impartial body to come up with such a conclusion, the government must now ensure further independent investigations into the matter in order for the guilty to be punished accordingly. What the government definitely should not be doing, but what it has been attempting to do with apparent disregard for democratic norms, is suppressing information and defending those accused.
During the decade-long Maoist conflict, Nepal was witness to gross human rights violations, both by the security forces and the Maoists. In an attempt to transition the country into a democratic republic and close a chapter on the past, a transitional justice mechanism was set up to deal with the disappearances, murders and other rights violations that occurred during the fighting. As a result, besides some cases that were tried in civil court—such as Mina Sunuwar’s—most victims and their kin waited for the transitional justice bodies to complete their work to gain closure. But year after year, and government after government, the clear need for justice of any kind has been ignored by those in power. The transitional justice bodies remain comatose with the process’ politicisation ensuring that they do not even have members to complete the job.
Nepal’s transition into a federal democratic republic was supposed to take the country forward towards progress in all senses of the term. The ruling party’s massive electoral mandate was supposed to make the change towards good governance, and access to bureaucracy and justice, easier. Yet, the current government’s, and especially the home minister’s, stance on the use of excessive force has been appalling. The police, within a month of Thapa’s taking over the ministry in 2018, had fired tear gas and used water cannons against people peacefully protesting against the road development projects in Khokana and other local areas that affected the locals’ cultural sensibilities and rights. Later, in June 2019, the police used excessive force against peaceful protestors who had gone to the streets against the highly controversial Guthi Bill. In both these cases, Ram Bahadur Thapa had defended the police’s actions.
Perhaps it isn’t surprising, even though alarming, that when cadres of the Chand-led outfit succumbed to accidental explosions across the Capital in May this year, Thapa was quick to call them non-citizens. But the government’s support of the police’s use of excessive force has perhaps emboldened the security forces, just like during the civil conflict, to think that the end justifies the means. It does not. This time around, the perpetrators have to face the full weight of their actions.
The government must allow for those accused in Paudel’s killing to be thoroughly probed and punished. Moreover, this has not been the only controversial killing this past year. Eight of Chand’s cadres and one police constable, Sanjeev Rai, have been killed since the government declared the Chand-led communist party a criminal outfit. The wrongdoings and deaths during the civil war should have shown all Nepalis by now that violence, no matter for what reason, only leads to more violence; not justice.