More than ten years after the end of Nepal’s brutal civil war, three soldiers have been convicted over the death of a teenage girl in a landmark case, local media reported late Monday.
It is believed to be first time members of the armed forces have been sentenced in a civil court, and marks a rare victory for the more than 19,000 victims of the decade-long conflict.
Critics say the case of 15-year-old Maina Sunuwar is emblematic of Kathmandu’s failure to address the violence of the past.
Sunuwar was kidnapped from her home in 2004 by soldiers who claimed she had links to the Maoist rebels, and then she was tortured and killed by government troops.
Sunuwar’s mother, Devi, has said that she had gone to authorities to denounce several soldiers for raping and killing her niece, and that she believes her daughter was taken in retribution for this.
Army protects its own from punishment
Despite the fact that a 2005 military tribunal found that Maina Sunuwar bore the marks of water boarding and electric shocks on her body, her death was ruled an accident, and the three soldiers accused of killing her were charged with misdemeanors such as failure to follow interrogation guidelines.
Devi Sunuwar refused to accept the original rulings.
She filed a civil suit against the three men and another official who had been acquitted.
Fight ‘not over’
Devi Sunuwar’s suit led a court to sentence the three primary defendants in absentia to 20 years in jail.
The victim’s mother praised the ruling. “We have fought for justice for so many years, I’m glad the court has understood our plight,” she told French news agency AFP.
But she added, “Our fight is not over. I’m worried the decision might be limited to paper. The state must implement the court’s decision.”
There are fears among rights groups about finding the men and making them serve out their 20-year-sentences, as the Nepalese army has long been accused of shielding its own from justice.
Some 17,800 people were killed in the conflict that began in 1996 when Maoist rebels tried to overthrow Nepal’s monarchy.
The war came to an end in 2006 when the two sides signed a UN-brokered peace accord in 2006.