Mur­der con­vict Dhun­gel sent to prison

People's Review - - COMMENTARY - By Our Re­porter

Mur­der con­vict Balkr­ishna Dhun­gel has been booked on Tues­day, eight years af­ter he was con­victed of mur­der by the Supreme Court. He was de­tained from Sat­do­bato, Lal­it­put. Po­lice pre­sented him be­fore the Judg­ment Ex­e­cu­tion Di­rec­torate of the SC and he was im­me­di­ately sent to Dilibazaar Prison where he has to serve 12 years five months and 22 days as part of a life sen­tence handed down to him. Dhun­gel's ar­rest on Tues­day fol­lows a con­tempt of court writ filed by Ad­vo­cate Di­nesh Tri­pathi on Oc­to­ber 24 against the po­lice chief at the apex court, say­ing fail­ure to ar­rest a mur­der con­vict, who has been seen in pub­lic places on many oc­ca­sions, is but a wil­ful dis­obe­di­ence on the part of the law en­force­ment agency. Dhun­gel was first con­victed by Okhald­hunga District Court on May 10, 2004 for mur­der­ing Uj­jan Ku­mar Shrestha of Okhald­hunga on June 24, 1998. Ra­jbi­raj Ap­pel­late Court, how­ever, on June 25, 2006 gave him the clean chit, and he was re­leased af­ter serv­ing a brief jail term. But the SC on Jan­uary 3, 2010 over­turned the Ra­jbi­raj Ap­pel­late Court or­der, up­hold­ing an ear­lier ver­dict of Okhald­hunga District Court and or­dered the au­thor­i­ties to ar­rest him. The apex court on April 13 also had or­dered Nepal Po­lice to ar­rest Dhun­gel and send him to jail “within a week”. How­ever, the court, which fol­lowed Dhun­gel's state­ment in March warn­ing of “phys­i­cal at­tack” on the judge who had handed down a life sen­tence to him, went un­heard. The Maoist party has been crit­i­cal about Dhun­gel's con­vic­tion, say­ing all war-era cases should be dealt with tran­si­tional jus­tice mech­a­nisms. Rights ac­tivists have long been vo­cal about the state's fail­ure to ar­rest mur­der con­vict Dhun­gel. But the Maoist party main­tained that his ar­rest would be in vi­o­la­tion of a peace ac­cord that re­quired deal­ing with war-era crimes through tran­si­tional jus­tice mech­a­nisms. While he was be­ing taken to Dil­libazaar Prison, Dhun­gel said: “My ar­rest will im­pact the peace process”—in line with what his party, the Maoist Cen­tre, has claimed all along. Even 10 years af­ter the peace agree­ment that ended the decade-long Maoist in­sur­gency, which killed nearly 16,000 peo­ple, the tran­si­tional jus­tice bod­ies have failed to en­sure jus­tice to con­flict vic­tims. Dhun­gel's ar­rest can mark a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in the coun­try's at­tempt to set­tle war-era cases of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion by en­sur­ing jus­tice to con­flict vic­tims, but ques­tions still re­main whether the state ac­tors, and po­lit­i­cal par­ties for that mat­ter, are com­mit­ted to ex­pe­dit­ing the process of jus­tice de­liv­ery to all con­flict vic­tims who suf­fered both at the hands of the state and then rebel Maoists. Mohna An­sari, a mem­ber of the Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (NHRC), said Dhun­gel's ar­rest has sent a pos­i­tive mes­sage that jus­tice will ul­ti­mately be de­liv­ered to con­flict vic­tims and their fam­i­lies. “Dhun­gel was in­volved in ex­tra-ju­di­cial killing and the court has al­ready given its ver­dict in that case. His ar­rest will send a pos­i­tive mes­sage that court or­ders ul­ti­mately get im­ple­mented,” said An­sari. Uj­jan's sis­ter Sabi­tri Shrestha who has tire­lessly fought a le­gal bat­tle for al­most a decade, said: “Fi­nally jus­tice has been served. We are re­lieved that my brother's killer has been booked.” Sabi­tri also warned against any at­tempt to re­lease Dhun­gel on one pre­text or the other, re­fer­ring to the po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age Dhun­gel en­joyed in the past. Dhun­gel's ar­rest, how­ever, has come at an in­ter­est­ing time. The mur­der con­vict was picked up by po­lice at a time when the Nepali Congress is at odds with its coali­tion part­ner Maoist Cen­tre for the lat­ter's move to form an al­liance with the CPN-UML. Un­til two weeks ago, Maoist Cen­tre's Ja­nar­dan Sharma was head­ing the Home Min­istry, the line min­istry of Nepal Po­lice which has in the past faced crit­i­cism for fail­ing to ar­rest Dhun­gel. But Prime Min­is­ter Sher Ba­hadur Deuba on Oc­to­ber 17 stripped all Maoist min­is­ters, in­clud­ing Sharma, of their port­fo­lios and took con­trol of the Home Min­istry. Dhun­gel's ar­rest on Tues­day also fol­lowed Nepal's elec­tion to the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil (HRC) on Oc­to­ber 16. As a mem­ber of the HRC, Nepal has an in­creased obli­ga­tion to up­hold hu­man rights and ad­dress hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion cases swiftly. Nepal's Per­ma­nent Mis­sion to the UN said af­ter Nepal's elec­tion to the HRC: “This of­fers post­con­flict Nepal an un­prece­dented op­por­tu­nity to prove its worth as an in­ter­na­tional contributor in the cause of hu­man rights in Nepal and around the world.” Nepal as a state and its po­lit­i­cal ac­tors have faced crit­i­cism from in­ter­na­tional rights or­gan­i­sa­tions for their lack­adaisi­cal ap­proach while deal­ing war-era hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

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