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Nepal: The DPKO Must Repatriate Major Basnet

Nepal: The DPKO Must Repatriate Major Basnet To Nepal To Stand Trial

Major Niranjan Basnet is an officer of the Nepal Army against whom there is an arrest warrant pending in Nepal. The warrant is issued by the Kavre District Court on February 10, 2008. The officer absconded from the court's jurisdiction and since September this year is serving in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Chad. The officer, along with three of his colleagues, is required to stand trial in Nepal in a case of murder. This raises serious questions regarding the process of nomination of officers to the UN peacekeeping missions and the candidate verification procedure of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) based in New York.

Major Niranjan Basnet, Colonel Bobby Khatri, Captain Sunil Prasad Adhikari and Captain Amit Pun are accused of having illegally arrested, tortured, raped and murdered Maina Sunuwar, a 15-year-old girl in February 2004. The Maina Sunuwar murder case is a landmark case in the history of Nepal.

The army arrested Maina, on February 17, 2004. Maina disappeared whilst in army custody. The circumstances strongly suggested that the army officers tortured, raped and killed Maina, burying her body in an undisclosed location. With the support of human rights organisations like the Advocacy Forum in Nepal, Maina's family pursued justice against the murderers of their daughter.

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The case is not only widely known in Nepal for the notoriety of the acts committed by the army officers against a girl, but has also received intense attention from the diplomatic community in Kathmandu, including the UN mission in Nepal. In fact the UN mission in Kathmandu had directly intervened at the various stages of the case. Yet, today it remains a mystery, how one of the prime accused in the case happens to be serving in Chad in a UN peacekeeping mission?

The officers accused in the crime have tried to defeat the legal system in the country using all means, including threatening of witnesses, interfering with judicial process and even managing to subjugate the Military Court Martial to decide the case in their favour. Aggrieved by the decision of the Court Martial, Maina's family approached the Supreme Court of Nepal. The court allowed the application and directed the country's authorities to register a case and investigate it within three months. The court issued its order on September 20, 2007. After completion of the investigation, a formal charge was laid on February 10, 2008. On the same day, the Kavre District Court issued an arrest warrant against the accused.

The appointment of officers to the UN peacekeeping mission requires the candidates to be nominated by their government. The nomination of Basnet for a UN mission whilst a pending arrest warrant raises serious concerns regarding the internal procedures followed by the government of Nepal in nominating candidates for external missions. It also shed doubts regarding the professional integrity of the military as well as government officers in Nepal, involved in the process.

While the government is responsible to guarantee that the nominees are of high moral and professional integrity, it is equally the responsibility of the DPKO, the UN agency that processes the nominations, to make sure that the candidates posted in the UN missions are not fugitives trying to avoid convictions in their jurisdictions.

The DPKO cannot absolve from its responsibility of having erred in accepting Basnet as an officer to be posted to serve in an important UN mission. It cannot wash its hands by merely blaming the government of Nepal for nominating a suspected criminal and asking the government to recall the officer.

The DPKO has the responsibility to immediately withdraw the suspected officer from active duty in Chad. It also has the duty to verify with the government, whether an arrest warrant is pending against Basnet, and on receipt of confirmation, to keep Basnet in detention and to guarantee that Basnet is handed over to the authorities in Nepal without delay. The DPKO also has the responsibility to prevent Basnet absconding from Chad pending his repatriation to Nepal.

To prevent committing similar mistakes, the DPKO must initiate its own enquiry into the process adopted in accepting candidates from Nepal for international peacekeeping missions. At the very least, UN assignments must not reduce to become an escape route for criminals.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.


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