Activists and lawyers in Nepal are seriously concerned about the lack of proper documentation or official investigation into the cases of suspects allegedly tortured in police and army custody. They say that former detainees who were subject to torture whilst in detention inside army barracks and police stations are often too scared to go to the courts to seek justice and compensation because they fear reprisals by security force personnel.
“They said I would be buried alive if I revealed anything,” said a former detainee on condition of anonymity. He said he was released after two years in solitary confinement in army barracks in Kathmandu where he was tortured severely in order to reveal the whereabouts of Maoist leaders. The former detainee said his only fault was that he had helped a former female Maoist worker go to hospital after she was tortured and released from army custody.
“Many are unwilling to file cases at the courts for fear of being rearrested and tortured again. They are really traumatised, so they keep quiet,” said lawyer Mandira Sharma from Advocacy Forum (AF), one of a handful of NGOs fighting against the illegal detention and torture of detainees.
“They are even afraid to go to doctors and mention torture while undergoing medical check-ups. The victims are constantly threatened not to reveal any information,” added Sharma.
According to AF’s ongoing four-year-old custody monitoring in over 10 districts, most individuals detained under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) have suffered torture and inhuman treatment at the hands of security personnel.
Introduced in 2002, TADA gave special powers to the authorities to arrest anyone without a warrant on suspicion of being either a Maoist or a Maoist supporter. Since then, many innocent civilians have been subjected to illegal detention, say the activists.
A report by leading local human rights organisation, Insec, documented nearly 3,430 arrests in 2002, the highest ever recorded in the nine years since the start of the violent Maoist campaign in 1996.
“The situation for the detainees is quite worrisome. We can easily gauge that from the cases of the individuals released from detention,” said advocate Rajendra Ghimire from the Centre for Victims of Torture (CVICT). He added that many don’t want to take the risk of seeking justice when they are released after receiving mortal threats from the officials not to open their mouths.
A joint study by CVICT and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) showed that torture still exists in most of the detention centres around the country despite constitutional guarantees and the ratification of several international human rights treaties by Nepal.
“The protracted internal armed conflict in the land has shown the human price of allowing torture to be committed with impunity,” reads a line of the report prepared by CVICT and several organisations.
The report was recently submitted to Manfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, who is scheduled to visit Nepal in September. Nowak’s visit has stimulated expectations among activists and advocates that he will pressure Kathmandu to investigate and document torture inside the detention centres.
“The Special Rapporteur takes the initiative of approaching governments with a view to carrying out visits to countries on which he has received information indicating the existence of a significant incidence of torture,” said David Johnson, senior human rights adviser to the office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR).
Johnson added that his visit will allow the Special Rapporteur to gain direct knowledge of cases and intends to start a dialogue with concerned authorities as well as with the alleged victims, their families and their representatives and relevant NGOs.
“The Special Rapporteur’s visit will definitely make a huge impact to pressure both the state and rebels to abstain from torturing their detainees,” explained Ghimire from CVICT.
According to CVIT, some of the most widely used forms of torture are assorted beatings, particularly on the soles of the feet, electric shocks, hooding or blindfolding, rolling a heavy stick around the victim’s thighs causing muscle damage, and placing burning cigarettes on the body. It added that animals, insects and needles are also commonly used as tools of torture.