Nepal Supreme Court rejects amnesty for war crimes

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal’s Supreme Court has rejected the possibility of amnesty for perpetrators of serious human rights abuses during a decade-long civil war, in a victory for human rights activists and victims’ groups.

For years, Nepal has been grappling with how to bring justice to victims of humans rights abuses committed during the conflict between Maoist rebels and the security forces.

More than 17,000 people were killed, 1,300 people disappeared, and thousands were displaced during the war that ended in 2006.

“The court has struck down the amnesty provision from the law and said the consent of the victims is necessary for any reconciliation,” Supreme Court official Baburam Dahal told Reuters on Friday.

The government said it would honor the court’s decision.

Government forces and Maoist rebels were both accused of war-time abuses, including unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, rape and torture.

A law passed last year to set up reconciliation commissions that could grant amnesty to those responsible for grave human rights violations was widely condemned as a move to protect alleged perpetrators, many of whom still occupy positions of influence in the military and political parties.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench issued the order late on Thursday to a courtroom filled with victims of the war and their families, in response to a petition filed by more than 200 victims challenging the discretionary powers given to the commissions.

Dinesh Tripathi, a lawyer representing victims, said the ruling a “landmark” decision.

“It is a serious blow to political parties who wanted the commissions to work according to their convenience,” Tripathi said.

Victims of the conflict also welcomed the decision.

“We have demanded time and again that there must be the victim’s consent for reconciliation,” said Suman Adhikari of the Conflict Victims’ Common Platform group.

A 2006 peace deal between the rebels and the government included a commitment to investigate abuses within six months of the war’s end. But attempts by successive governments to set up truth and reconciliation panels failed due to political infighting.

Last year, the ruling alliance and the Maoist opposition party passed compromise legislation that set up two investigative panels, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on Enforced Disappearances, and allowed them to grant amnesty in cases involving grave violations of rights.

The legislation was widely condemned by international human rights groups. London-based Amnesty International said the law “further entrenched” impunity in Nepal in a report this week.

Additonal reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Krista Mahr and Robert Birsel