Devi Sunawar has been pursuing justice for more than a decade for her daughter’s death. Three Nepal Army officers have been sentenced to prison for the murder, but Sunawar says the convictions are insufficient.
KATHMANDU, NEPAL — Three Nepal Army officers were sentenced in April to 20 years in prison each, which is considered a life sentence in Nepal, for their roles in the 2004 murder of Maina Sunuwar, but the girl’s mother says justice was only partially served.
Colonel Babi Khatri and Captains Amit Pun and Sunil Prasad Adhikari were convicted, but Niranjan Basnet, another army officer who was indicted by the army for his involvement in the murder, was acquitted.
Devi Sunuwar, Maina’s mother, wants all four men to spend the rest of their lives behind bars.
“The district court did what it thought was right,” Sunuwar says, but adds that she plans to take legal action to pursue Basnet’s conviction and literal lifelong sentences for all four men.
Sunuwar confirmed with GPJ that Maina was 14 years old when she died. Many news reports, including GPJ, have previously reported the girl’s age incorrectly. (Read our previous coverage here.)
Sunuwar has emerged as a leader among those seeking justice for abuses committed during and after Nepal’s civil war, which lasted from 1996 until 2006. Despite her frustration at the case’s outcome, she says the verdicts have given hope to others who await justice.
“I am happy, but I am not satisfied,” Sunuwar says.
Human rights advocates worry, however, that the court’s conviction of Khatri, Pun and Adhikari won’t be enforced.
People who suffered human rights abuses during the conflict are struggling for justice because perpetrators are protected by the government, says Om Prakash Sen Thakuri, chairman of the Advocacy Forum, an organization that works on behalf of conflict victims.
Suman Adhikari, chairman of the Conflict Victim Common Platform on Transitional Justice – Nepal, points to other verdicts that have not been carried out. And Nepal’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, despite having been established two years ago, hasn’t been able to address any conflict victims’ cases.
“Until we are provided the justice that satisfies us, we will launch and continue the protest against the commission and the political parties,” he says.
Manchala Jha, a commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says internal feuds have kept the commission from moving forward. In addition, she says, the government needs to strengthen the law related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission so that it can better serve those who suffered human rights abuses during the conflict. Even so, criminal investigations are set to begin on May 15, she says.
Sunuwar began her formal fight for justice in 2005, when she filed a complaint at the Kavre District Police Office demanding the life imprisonment of her daughter’s killers. Maina was killed, Sunuwar says, after Sunuwar spoke out against the brutal murder of another family member by members of the army.
Sunuwar has kept her vow not to carry out Maina’s funeral rites until the perpetrators are punished. The girl’s bones, which were exhumed in 2007 from the grave where her killers buried her, are kept at the Teaching Hospital in Maharajgunj.
Yam Kumari Kandel, GPJ Nepal
Sagar Ghimire, GPJ, translated this story from Nepali.