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Rights groups condemn promotion of accused Nepalese officer

Anti-government protesters demanding the resignation of Nepal's Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, seen in photograph at center, shout slogans during a demonstration outside his residence in Katmandu, Nepal, July 18, 2012.

Niranjan Shrestha/AP

Human rights groups urged Nepal on Sunday to block the promotion of a senior army officer implicated in hundreds of cases of disappearance and torture during the nation's 10-year civil war.

Colonel Raju Basnet, who commanded the Bhairabnath Battalion in 2003 when it was said to have committed the abuses, has been recommended for promotion to the rank of brigadier general, according to local media reports.

"The Nepal Army should adopt a policy of not promoting anyone accused of human rights abuses until the allegations are investigated in an independent and transparent manner," the International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a joint statement.

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At least 16,000 people died in Nepal's conflict between Maoist rebels and the state, which ended in 2006.

There are allegations of killings and torture on both sides, and rights groups say little has been done to bring justice to victims and their families.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported in 2006 it had received "consistent, credible and corroborated" testimony of arbitrary detention, torture and 49 disappearances at a Kathmandu army base.

"Most of the hundreds of individuals who were arrested by the [Nepalese Army] in 2003 and detained for varying periods in Maharajgunj barracks were subjected to severe and prolonged ill-treatment and torture," the report said.

According to Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch, "the allegations against Col. Basnet, his superiors, and those under his command in 2003 are very serious and backed by substantial and consistent evidence reported by the UN and Nepal's own national human rights commission."

"Not only has the Nepali army refused to prosecute or dismiss officers responsible for atrocities during the civil war," Mr. Adams said, "it is now adding insult to injury by promoting a notorious officer to the rank of general."

In 2007 Nepal's Supreme Court ordered an independent investigation and prosecution of the war crimes allegations, including accusations that Col. Basnet himself committed acts of torture, but no probe has yet been launched.

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"We urge the government of Nepal to ensure that no further decisions regarding extension in tenures or promotions of officials implicated in such cases are taken until the completion of full, transparent and impartial investigations," OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

"Lack of accountability for army officials implicated in alleged past human rights violations not only damages the credibility of the Nepal Army but also sends a public message that undermines the rule of law in Nepal," he added.

Nepal's Ministry of Defence was not immediately available for comment.

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