Murdered Nepal teen's mother vows fight for justice
Wed, Feb 17, 2010

KATHMANDU- The mother of a 15-year-old girl tortured and murdered in army custody during Nepal's civil war has pledged to bring her daughter's killers to justice, six years after her brutal death.

Despite intense international pressure, no one has been convicted for the murder of Maina Sunuwar, which has become a test case for those seeking justice for the victims of Nepal's decade-long civil conflict.

A military tribunal found that she suffered electrocution and drowning during interrogation, and a court has issued an arrest warrant for an army major on charges of involvement in her murder.

But the major, Niranjan Basnet, remains in military hands, and activists say the army has repeatedly obstructed efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

"It's been six long and difficult years, and I do not yet feel I am close to achieving justice," said Maina's mother Devi Sunuwar, who has long campaigned for an independent investigation.

"I am still waiting for justice and as long as I am alive I will continue to fight for truth and justice," Sunuwar, 40, told AFP in an interview to mark Wednesday's anniversary of the killing.

"I won't let the culprits live in peace. They (the guilty) must be brought to book and punished. My wounds will heal only when justice has been done."

Rights groups say Maina was arrested by soldiers looking for her mother, whom they suspected of being a Maoist informer - a charge she denies.

In December, Basnet was expelled from a peacekeeping mission in Chad after the United Nations discovered that he faced charges of Maina's murder.

But the army has failed to hand him over to the court, and says a military tribunal has already established his innocence.

The military tribunal found three other soldiers guilty of minor offences such as using improper interrogation techniques and failing to follow procedure.

They were sentenced to six months in detention, but were released immediately because the tribunal ruled they had already served their time while confined to barracks during the investigation.

"Basnet was not found to be involved in the murder by the military court of inquiry and was declared innocent," army spokesman Ramindra Chhetri told AFP.

"Right now we are investigating Basnet's repatriation from the peacekeeping mission in Chad. It is a very delicate case, and the investigation is still going on. I cannot say when it will be completed."

More than 16,000 people were killed in the decade-long armed conflict between Maoist insurgents and the state, and both sides have been accused of grave human rights abuses including torture.

But over three years after the 2006 peace agreement, no independent investigations have been conducted and no one has yet been formally prosecuted.

"This case has become emblematic of a thousand others in which the perpetrators of rape, torture or murder have escaped legal prosecution," said the Asian Human Rights Commission in a statement this week.

"If justice fails in this case, this would demonstrate once more that the military does not come under the rule of law and cannot be held accountable for human rights violations."

For Sunuwar, justice for the victims of the conflict is essential if lasting peace is to be achieved.

"Poor people will lose faith in the rule of law if the guilty are not punished," she said.

"The government must take action against all the guilty so that the victims' families can feel that peace has indeed come to this country."

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