Tejshree Thapa: fierce advocate for justice

A fierce advocate for justice for the world’s most powerless people, with a brilliant mind and a deeply empathetic heart: this is how friends, family, and colleagues remember Tejshree Thapa (pictured below, right), who passed away this week in New York City at age 52 after succumbing to a sudden illness. She left peacefully in the presence of family, surrounded by love.

Born in Kathmandu in 1966, Tej (as she was known to family and friends) attended the National Cathedral School in Washington DC, and graduated from Wellesley College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy before obtaining a Juris Doctorate from Cornell University in 1993.

Her career in human rights began with a job with the first-ever UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. She worked for the organisation in Sri Lanka during the Civil War, helping research and write a report on gender-based violence worldwide for the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Tej then went on to work for almost ten years in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, based in The Hague, where she worked in the prosecutor’s office, researching and documenting crimes of sexual violence under international law.

At the tribunal, Tej was the primary investigator and researcher on a landmark case that resulted in the prosecution, conviction, and eventual imprisonment of eight paramilitary leaders and supporters from the town of Foca in eastern Bosnia.

This was the first such prosecution and conviction exclusively for sexual violence crimes under international criminal law. In addition to sexual violence cases, Tej also worked on other cases at the tribunal, including the case against Slobodan Milosevic. This work required travel to the Balkan states, which was a further exposure to war and conflict.

Tej then joined Human Rights Watch as a researcher, and later senior researcher, on South Asia, focusing in her initial years on the civil war conflicts in Sri Lanka and in her home country, Nepal. Based on her team’s research on Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch produced one of the most comprehensive documentations of LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) forced recruitment of child soldiers.

In Nepal, based on her team’s research, the organisation produced one of the first international reports on the range of violations committed by both sides to the armed conflict. Tej also led research into allegations of sexual violence during Nepal’s armed conflict: her team’s research on this topic led to the publication of the first international report covering sexual violence during the Nepali conflict.

Tejshree Thapa wrote frequent op-eds for Nepali Times on human rights issues. Most recently, Tej was one of the first human rights workers to tell the world about the horrific plight of the Rohingya, fleeing persecution by security forces in Myanmar.

Tej is survived by her 18-year-old daughter, Maya Thapa-Ó’Faoláin, whose brilliant and empathetic nature counts as an important legacy of her mother. Tej’s parents Bhekh Bahadur Thapa and Rita Thapa, the family of her late brother Bhaskar Thapa, and the family of her sister Manjushree Thapa, are proud of Tej as an independent woman with an uncompromising vision of justice.

She was an exceptional daughter of Nepal whose good work changed the lives of many, far beyond Nepal.

Selection of op-eds in Nepali Times by Tejshree Thapa:

Nepali mothers and an Irish daughter

Responsibility at home and abroad

A dirty war

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