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Supreme Court reopens war-era cases

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The Supreme Court has quashed two writ petitions related to conflict-era cases that had stayed Okhaldhunga District Court order to arrest and prosecute the then rebel CPN (Maoist) cadres.

A division bench of Chief Justice Kalyan Kumar Shrestha and Justice Om Prakash Mishra on Tuesday took the decision, allowing the district court to pursue the case.

Five years ago, the apex court had issued two separate stay orders against arrest of dozens of then Maoist cadres, including Keshav Rai, a Constituent Assembly member of the ruling UCPN (Maoist), citing the provision of the transitional justice bodies to look into conflict era cases.

In 2003, the Maoists had abducted Guru Prasad Luitel, a teacher at Gyan Prakash Secondary School of Okhaldhunga district in 2003 when he was returning from school. They had killed him by hanging him from a peepal tree. Maste Tamang and Padam Bahadur Tamang were also murdered the following year. They were accused of being informants.

The victims’ relatives had filed murder cases against two dozen Maoist cadres, including Nandan Hari Dahal, Top Kumari Basnet, Tilak Bahadur Khadka, Anita Ghimire, Kul Bahadur Khatri, Mohan Kumar Khadka and Narayan BD among others.

When the district court issued a 70-day summons in 2010, they had moved the

apex court, stating the murder cases “fall under the jurisdiction of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as envisaged by the Comprehensive Peace Accord”. “The annulment of the writ petitions now allows the district court to proceed with its arrest warrant, investigation and prosecution as per criminal justice process,” said Kashiram Dhungana, a lawyer who pursued the case.

This was the case that former rebel Maoists, which is a coalition partner of the current government, used to cite to defend their cadres in the criminal charges.

However, the SC has stated that conflict victims can seek justice through either regular court or the transitional justice mechanism in the murder case of Dekendra Thapa, a journalist of Dailekh.

“The verdict has rekindled our hope for justice,” said Phanindra Luitel, son of Guru Prasad. “We have faith in law of the land, and the court has reinstated our faith in the country’s judiciary.”

The government formed the transitional justice bodies last year, which is yet to start its task.

The understaffed Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons also lack regulations. Although the government endorsed the regulations a month ago, they are yet to be published in the Nepal Gazette. Earlier in January, the SC had taken two major decisions—it had overturned the Baburam Bhattarai-led government’s decision to pardon UCPN (Maoist) leader and former lawmaker Bal Krishna Dhungel, who was convicted by Okhaldhunga District Court for murdering Ujjain Kumar Shrestha, and annulled yet another decision of the Bhattarai-led government to withdraw criminal cases against 227 individuals.

Rights lawyers said the court order has established criminal accountability, which is a component of transitional justice system. “It is the obligation of the court to establish criminal accountability even if there are transitional justice bodies,” said rights lawyer Govinda Bandi. “This is a component of transitional justice system and will help it.”

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