'She would have been 33 this year'

Devi Sunar and her adopted daughter Maina in front of the picture of Devi’s late daughter Maina who was only 14 when she was tortured and killed by the Royal Nepal Army. Photo: GULIGO JIA.

These days, every other day seems like an anniversary of one of the more famous crimes committed during the insurgency years. Today marks 18 years since 14-year-old Maina Sunar was detained and murdered by the Royal Nepal Army in Panchkhal of Kavre District.

At the peak of the Maoist War, Maina’s case became a symbol of the human rights violations perpetrated by both sides in the decade-long conflict. Nearly two decades later, her mother Devi is still fighting for justice for the extrajudicial killing of her daughter.

Unable to access official channels, Devi has written an open letter asking Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to uphold rule of law and respect the Court’s decision.

'My daughter would have been 33 this year. I had many dreams for her, as I am sure you do too about your son. Everything was robbed from me and my family. Although I won’t be able to bring my daughter back, and nothing could repair that loss, I want to see those responsible brought to justice,' the letter reads.

Read also: Nepal's unpunished war crimes, Sabita Adhikari

She continues: 'This will give a sense of security and hope, not only to me and my family, but also to hundreds of victims who suffered from similar losses during the armed conflict.'

On 17 February 2004, an army patrol looking for Devi detained Maina and her brother for interrogation as a suspected Maoist. Soon after, she disappeared, never to return. Her brother was however sent back. For three years, Sunar’s family kept looking for Maina, having known that she was taken by the soldiers.

It was later revealed that Maina was electrocuted to death on the same night as retribution for her mother Devi’s vocal criticism of the Army’s involvement in the murder of her niece, Reena Rasaili, accused of being a Maoist supporter.

Under pressure from international rights groups, the Army set up a court of inquiry to investigate the incident and the accused Colonel Bobby Khatri, Captain Sunil Prasad Adhikari and Amit Pun were sentenced to six months imprisonment, fined Rs50,000 and faced a ban on future promotions.

But Devi did not think the punishment was commensurate with the crime and filed a case in the civil court. During this time, with help from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), Maina’s body was exhumed from Panchkhal barracks.

On 16 April 2017, after a thirteen-year-long legal battle, the District Court Kavre found three army officers guilty of murdering Maina but they have not been arrested or punished.

Read also: Still looking for dad missing in Nepal, Anita Bhetwal

In her letter, Devi has questioned the existence of two commissions set up to investigate war crimes, the Disappearance Commission and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that have little to show in the way of delivering transitional justice.

In fact, successive governments made up of former enemies the state has used the commissions to do their bidding and cover up their war crimes. Moreover, the Supreme Court’s order to amend the Transitional Justice Act mechanism is yet to be implemented.

'Dear Prime Minister, I have promised my daughter that unless I bring those perpetrators to justice, I won’t rest. The remains of my daughter are still in the Teaching Hospital, and I am not able to perform her last rituals pending the implementation of the court’s decision,' concludes the letter. 'I am waiting to see your commitment to protecting victims instead of perpetrators and respecting court orders to ensure the rule of law in the country.'

Read more: Open Wounds, Mallika Aryal