Is Nepal sending accused criminals to serve in U.N. peacekeeping missions?
The United Nations expelled a Nepalese peacekeeper from its mission in Liberia several weeks ago, after being informed by local and international human rights groups that he was facing charges of torture back home in Kathmandu, Nepal. The case places another blot on the reputation of Nepalese peacekeepers, who are suspected of having introduced a ...
The United Nations expelled a Nepalese peacekeeper from its mission in Liberia several weeks ago, after being informed by local and international human rights groups that he was facing charges of torture back home in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The case places another blot on the reputation of Nepalese peacekeepers, who are suspected of having introduced a cholera epidemic in Haiti, killing more than 6,000 people. But it has also drawn criticism of the U.N. for moving too slowly to vet an accused rights abusers from participating in their ranks.
It comes as the Nepalese government has come under criticism from the United Nations for promoting several top military officers who have been charged with abuses. On Tuesday, Nepal’s Council of Ministers appointed Suryaman Dong as minister of state for energy despite an ongoing arrest warrant for his alleged role in the 2005 abduction and murder of Arjun Lama.
“Such decisions will establish a trend to entrench impunity,” said Jyoti Sanghera, head of the U.N. human rights office in Nepal. “The government should respect Nepal’s judiciary and the rule of law.”
The fate of rights abusers in Nepal’s security forces has been a deeply divisive issue as the country continues a fragile transition to democratic rule, coming to terms with abuses committed during a bloody civil war that led to the killing of 13,000 people between 1996 and 2006.
The former U.N. peacekeeper, Basanta Bahadur Kunmar, faced charges of savagely beating a suspected thief while in police custody in Sept. 2009, according to a local rights group. But the Nepalese authorities placed him on a list of police to serve in the U.N. Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), according to Tej Thapa, a South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Nepalese human rights groups approached the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping in New York and the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal to raise concerns about the deployment of Kunmar in the mission, she said. But he was sent anyway.
Thapa said she believes the Nepalese military was seeking to “protect” Kunmar from prosecution by deploying him overseas. What was most surprising, she said, is that the U.N. did not act immediately to block his deployment.
The United Nations, she said, only took action after it was approached by Human Rights Watch. U.N. officials in New York maintain that the United Nations was already in the process of arranging for Kunmar’s return to Nepal when they were approached by Human Rights Watch.
In response to a query by Turtle Bay, the spokesman for the U.N. department of peacekeeping, Kieran Dwyer, said in an email statement that: “A Nepalese police officer was repatriated following information that he had a case to answer to in his national courts for alleged torture in his home country. The United Nations acted as soon as it received informal information about this police officer. After satisfying ourselves about the facts raised, we worked with the government of Nepal and the officer was withdrawn within weeks.”
The peacekeeper, who was not identified by the United Nations, was deployed in the Liberia mission on July 16, according to Dwyer. Two weeks later, the United Nations informed Nepalese diplomats in New York about their concerns about the individual. On Sept. 11, Nepal responded that it “would recall the officer and he was repatriated soon after,” Dwyer wrote.
The United Nations maintained that it is the responsibility of governments that supply peacekeepers to ensure that police sent on U.N. missions are not facing investigation or prosecution for crimes, human rights abuses, or other disciplinarian matters.
But it’s not the first time that Nepal has deployed personnel on a U.N. mission despite an ongoing criminal investigation, according to the statement.
In Dec. 2009, a Nepalese officer, Maj. Nirajan Basnet, was sent home from the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Chad. Basnet faced charges of involvement in the 2004 murder of a 15-year-old girl inside a military compound in Kathmandu. Human Rights Watch credited the United Nations with moving swiftly to remove Basnet from the mission when they were alerted to the charges.
“While a Nepalese military court had cleared Major Basnet of involvement, the matter was at the time before a civilian court, which had issued a warrant for his arrest,” Dwyer wrote. “Major Basnet was therefore repatriated.”
The Nepalese mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
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Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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