KATHMANDU (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nepal's new government pledged on Friday to investigate crimes such as rapes, killings and disappearances during a decade-long civil war, but stopped short of assurances that perpetrators would be brought to justice.
Wedged between Asian giants China and India, the Himalayan nation emerged from violence in 2006, after an insurgency which pitted Maoist guerrillas against the army. More than 16,000 people died, hundreds disappeared and thousands were left homeless.
Both the security forces and the Maoists committed widespread abuses, say human rights groups. But eight years on, no one has been punished or tried in a civilian court.
Legislation dealing with war crimes was drafted by the previous Maoist-led government, but was rejected by the Supreme Court in January because it alluded to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which would give perpetrators amnesty.
Communications and Information Minister Minendra Rijal said Prime Minister Sushil Koirala's government, which was elected in November, would review the issue.
"We will bring a new legislation for this taking into account the Supreme Court directives, concerns of the international community and in consultation with the parties to the peace process (the Maoists) and other political parties," Rijal told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Rijal would not say whether amnesties would be granted to those found guilty of abuses and did not give a timeframe for the drafting of the legislation.
Nepal is under mounting pressure to address the issue of war crimes and bring perpetrators to book. The United Nations human rights agency has called for truth and reconciliation efforts to meet international standards and said serious abuses should not be pardoned.
Some families of victims of the conflict were skeptical about government promises to investigate.
"The government makes promises but never fulfills them. The lawmakers don't raise our issue in the parliament. I am not hopeful of getting any justice from the government," said Mana Kumari Ranjit, whose husband has been missing for nine years. The family believes he was abducted by Maoist fighters.
London-based human rights group Amnesty International said Koirala's new government had an opportunity to turn around the country’s record of impunity and lack of accountability for war crimes.
"People are waiting long for justice," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty's Secretary General. "There must be a prompt, independent and impartial investigation to establish the truth and bring perpetrators to justice. If they don’t resolve this, there will be more international pressure."
Last year, Britain arrested a Nepali army colonel on charges of torturing two people during the civil war. He is the most senior Nepali military officer held over wartime abuses.
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