Murder convict Dhungel sent to prison
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.