16 December, 2003

INTERVIEW: SUSHIL PYAKUREL

This interview was done for a trail and unpublished issue of the Nation Weekly magazine.

Sushil Pyakurel, member of the National Human Rights Commission, talked with Sushma Joshi of the Nation Weekly about the follow-up to Doramba, the new Human Rights Promotion Center set up under the auspices of the Prime Minister, and the urgent need for the Army to stop protecting perpetrators who perform acts of impunity.

The National Human Rights Commission only made the report on Doramba public after pressure from the European Union. Why was this?
We investigated in Doramba. 19 people were taken into custody, and then killed. It was a gross violation of human rights by the RNA. Even the Prime Minister said there would be a civilian investigation. The Commission has repeatedly said the perpetrators have to be brought to justice, but neither the Army, nor the government, have followed up the case. The government is so insensitive it didn't even send an acknowledgement after we sent the report. Where is civil society during this time? Where are the political parties - why have they not asked for an investigation?
We've given our report - now its up to the government to follow it up. We're not an implementing agency. The only right we have through the law is to investigate and report.

How is the new Human Rights Promotion Center going to affect the work of the Commission?
One fine morning, we got news that the Prime Minister was going to establish a center. Our chairman initially welcomed the move, thinking that the government would finally be sensitive to human rights issues. There is no proper human rights desk at the Prime Minister's office, and our documents keep on getting sent from one person to another. We thought this would end. Then we saw the terms of reference. The new Center, it said, would co-ordinate our activities. There would also be a lot of overlap in programs, which would cause confusion. We objected to this. We are an autonomous, independent body created by an act of Parliament - the Human Rights Commission Act of 2053. We are even more independent than the Supreme Court. We do not act under the authority of any government body. After a lot of discussion, they took out the clause saying they would co-ordinate us.

What about funding?
Since we started three years ago, we have had a deficit of funds. An independent committee said we would need 1 crore 42 lakhs in the first year, and we got 50 lakhs. This year, we have 65 lakhs, but its still not enough. Now this new Center is diverting funds. How effective are the human rights cells being run through the Home Ministry, and through the Police and Army? What activities are they implementing to change the awareness of the police and army about human rights? All this has to be made transparent.

You are perceived to be critical of the Army.
People think I am critical of the Army. I am not against the Army per se. I see why the country needs them. But I want to see them as an accountable and responsible state body. You can't target civilians and fire indiscriminately on non-armed combatants, as the Army just did in Jajarkot. That's against the Geneva Convention. In Khotang, they took three innocent people and killed them. The Army came out and said it was an excessive use of force. But it is more than that - that's murder of unarmed civilians, and therefore a criminal act. The RNA protects the perpetrators. The Army has a good image in the international arena and in peace-building efforts, but I am afraid the entire institution is going to have a major set back in their reputation with the way they are behaving.