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November 23, 2003 

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Impunity for army in Nepal?

At least 18 people were shot dead in Nepal by members of the Royal Nepal Army (RNA) in August. Reports of the massacre emerged on the eve of peace talks between the government and representatives of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Ten days later, on 27 August, the seven-month ceasefire agreed by both sides collapsed.

A large group of Maoists reportedly met at the house of primary-school teacher, Yuva Raj Moktan, in Doramba village, Ramechhap district, on 17 August. The same day, a group of around 80 army personnel in civilian dress led, according to local people, by a captain and a major, went to Doramba from the district headquarters at Manthali. They stopped several people to ask about Maoist activities in the village. At about 10.30am they encircled Yuva Raj Moktan's house and shot dead Tek Bahadur Thapa Magar who was on his way to the meeting.

Several people outside the house who heard the shot managed to run away. The army then forced their way into the house and took 19 people, including Yuva Raj Moktan and his son, Leela Moktan, into custody.

Their hands were tied behind their backs. The soldiers searched the house, overturning cooking pots and breaking utensils, and found one 303 rifle, two pistols and 14 home-made grenades. An hour later the army marched the detainees to Dandakateri, about three hours' walk away. They allegedly made them stand in rows and shot them dead.

The RNA conducted its own investigation into the Doramba incident, and concluded that "the army only retaliated after being attacked first by the rebels." This was later contradicted by the independent investigation conducted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

A fact-finding mission conducted by the NHRC about a week later, collected forensic evidence at the scene. It examined 18 bodies (five women and 13 men) and interviewed witnesses. It concluded that most of them had been shot in the head at close range with their hands tied behind their backs.

On 25 September, the UN Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, called on the government of Nepal to "act swiftly on the findings of the Commission and ensure there is no impunity."

AI is calling on the Nepalese government to implement the NHRC's recommendations to conduct further investigations, bring those responsible for human rights violations to justice and compensate the relatives of the victims. In order to make the process more transparent, members of the army believed to be responsible should be brought to justice under normal criminal procedures and not before a court martial. AI believes a public trial would help to prevent further human rights violations and break the cycle of impunity prevailing in Nepal.

Source: Amnesty International.

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