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Nepal PM promotes controversial army officer

Publication Date : 05-10-2012

 

Nepal's Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai yesterday promoted Col Raju Basnet, who is implicated in cases of disappearances and torture during the Maoist insurgency, to the rank of brigadier general.

The Cabinet endorsed the Nepal Army Headquarters’ proposal to promote Basnet on the basis of a recommendation made by the PM, who is also the defence minister.

The government has said the decision is “in the spirit of the ongoing peace process”.

“We are now integrating the two armies which fought each other during the conflict. We awarded him a promotion after concluding that just a single person who fought on behalf of the state should not be victimised,” government Spokesperson and Minister for Information and Communications Raj Kishore Yadav said.

He added that all conflict-era cases will be dealt with by the Truth, Reconciliation and Disappearance Commission that “would be formed in the future”.

Basnet commanded the Bhairabnath Battalion in 2003, when forces under him were allegedly involved in systematic enforced disappearances and torture, according to investigations carried out by the UN agency Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

In its May 2006 report, OHCHR-Nepal noted that Basnet played a leading role in the then Royal Nepal Army’s operations that led to the disappearance of at least 49 detainees from the barracks. OHCHR urged the government to suspend Army officials implicated in the crime until investigations on the cases are complete.

National and international rights watchdogs had earlier urged the government to probe allegations against Basnet. They said promotion without independent probe would undermine the rule of law and damage the credibility of the NA .

Asked to comment on the promotion, a senior government official said Bhattarai does not want to “antagonise the military leadership”.

Many see the Army as an important player in the current polarised politics and say Bhattarai does not want to sour his relationship with the NA .

Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) leader Krishna K.C., a witness to the alleged abuses that occurred at Bhairabnath Battalion, said the government took a wrong decision. “In the garb of political decision, there should be no immunity for such a grave crime,” he said.

Basnet, he expects, will face a fate similar to former ministers who amassed wealth by illegal means post-1990 and are now being prosecuted by the Supreme Court. “No one can escape the long hand of the rule of law,” KC added.

In 2009, the Madhav Kumar Nepal-led government had elevated the then Maj Gen Toran Bahadur Singh as the second-in-command of the Army. Singh, then commander of the 10th brigade responsible to oversee the Bhairabnath Battalion, was implicated along with Basnet in the report prepared by the OHCHR and the NHRC.

Citing this very precedent, NA argues that its officers alone should not be made scapegoats as many other perpetrators, including former Maoist lawmaker Balkrishna Dhungel, who was handed down a life sentence by the Supreme Court, are walking scot-free.

Decision slammed

The Informal Sector Service Centre (Insec) and the Swiss Embassy in Kathmandu expressed concern over the government’s decision to promote Basnet.

In a statement yesterday, Insec urged the government to reconsider the decision until the case is looked into by an impartial legal mechanism.

It said the decision is tantamount to promoting lawlessness and institutionalising impunity in the country.

Swiss Ambassador Thomas Gass said the government’s decision raises doubts “towards its willingness to confront serious human rights violations committed during the armed conflict.”

 

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