Nepal war crimes panel to probe only 'serious violations'

KATHMANDU (AFP) - A truth commission examining Nepal's civil war will only investigate "serious violations" of human rights and could recommend an amnesty for perpetrators, the government said on Friday.

According to an official ordinance issued by the president's office, the commission will only investigate allegations of abuses which were either "committed systematically or targeting an unarmed person or community".

The commission, whose framework was agreed as part of a wider cross-party deal earlier this week, is intended to help Nepal heal some of the wounds left by the 10-year civil war in which more than 16,000 people were killed and around a thousand went missing.

But rights activists said that its remit meant that many people guilty of war crimes would not even have to face the commission while also criticising the previsions for an amnesty "if deemed reasonable".

"There are so many well-documented heinous violations that won't meet the threshold of 'systematic and targeted'," said Mr Govinda Sharma, a human rights lawyer.

"The option for the commission to recommend amnesty without the victims' consent or for serious crimes, including torture and disappearances, is unacceptable," he added.

Mr Ben Schonveld, South Asia director for the International Commission of Jurists, said Nepal's political parties had acted in "bad faith" by agreeing among themselves on provisions for an amnesty before the body begins work.

"Good transitional justice processes are about inclusion not deals done behind closed doors," said Mr Schonveld.

"This move smacks of bad faith," he said, adding that the amnesty provision in the ordinance violates international standards.

Rights activists have previously expressed scepticism that Nepal's new rulers have any desire to investigate abuses during the 1996 to 2006 war, whether committed by Maoist rebels who ultimately toppled the monarchy or soldiers.

The Nepalese government reacted furiously in January when a colonel suspected of torture during the war was arrested in Britain under a law allowing prosecutors to act against people suspected of torture no matter where it took place.

A provisional trial date has been set for June 5.

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