Finland sending pair of forensic experts to suspected Nepalese Army "killing fields"
Mass graves or cremation sites may be found in Shivapuri National Park
By Sole Lahtinen
At the request of the United Nations, Finland is to send two forensic experts to Nepal to make a preliminary study of a possible mass burial or cremation site from that country’s civil war against Maoist rebels.
Notice of the experts’ mission was given by the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday of last week.
Forensic orthodontist Prof. Helena Ranta and Professor Pekka Saukko from the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Turku left yesterday [4.2.2008] for a two-week trip to Nepal.
The Finnish assistance was sought by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and the Nepal office of the UNHCHR, reports Mikko Kinnunen, who heads the ministry’s Unit for Civilian Crisis Management.
After the exploratory two weeks examining remains, any continuation will be discussed separately, if and when the Nepalese government request it.
The short-notice trip by Ranta and Saukko will be paid for out of the Civilian Crisis Management budget.
The campaign of the Maoist rebels and pro-democracy opposition to King Gyanendra of Nepal ended in victory over the autocratic feudal monarchy, whose army was supplied by numerous Western arms-exporting countries.
A comprehensive peace agreement was worked out and signed in November 2006.
The deal permitted the Maoists to take part in government, and placed their weapons under UN monitoring, under the auspices of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).
Now Nepal is in a transitional period to absolute democracy, and there are Maoist ministers in the current interim government.
In December the ruling Seven Party Alliance agreed on the possible abolition of the monarchy, and a Constituent Assembly election - already postponed on two occasions in June and November of last year - that will lead to the drafting of a new constitution is now due to be held in April.
That Assembly will ultimately resolve whether Nepal becomes a republic.
UNMIN, established at the beginning of 2007, has had its mandate in the country extended by the UN Security Council for sixth months, until July 2008.
As well as moves towards a hopefully more stable future for Nepal, there has been talk of late of examining the atrocities of the recent past.
On December 23rd, the rulling Seven Party Alliance signed a document including some important human rights commitments, among them the formation of a commission to investigate the “disappearances” of people who had been arrested and detained in the past.
During the more than ten years of fighting, between 8,000 and 13,000 people died, according to which sources you take.
While the Nepalese army captured and tortured opponents of the absolute monarchy, the Maoist rebels were not exactly innocent parties, as they took people hostage and forced rural youths into their militia - at least one from each family to provide a guarantee of loyalty.
The site to be examined by the Finnish experts was discovered on December 19th in the army-protected Shivapuri National Park, some 16 km to the north of the capital Kathmandu.
Family members and human rights organisations have found fragments of burned clothing, plastic bags, and other remains on a forested hillside in the park, which they believe may have belonged to individuals who disappeared in the autumn of 2003.
At that time the struggle for power in the country was still raging fiercely.
In the space of a few months, two battalions of the Nepalese army are alleged to have imprisoned hundreds of people in the Maharajgunj district.
Of those detained, at least 49 are believed to have been executed without trial, and their bodies were then cremated in the forests of Shivapuri.
An army eye-witness is said to have provided the information on the incident.
The human rights organisation Human Rights Watch and representatives from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the UN’s own human rights mission on the ground went to Shivapuri in December, only a day after the discovery. They have urged the government to investigate with all speed what looks like the site of a mass extrajudicial execution.
Overall, the task in a war-torn country such as Nepal will be a difficult one.
Helena Ranta, who has immense experience of similar cases in such locations as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Cameroon, and Iraq, has observed that actually examining a possible mass grave such as this will require a decision from the Nepalese interim government, and unanimity over the need for research into the matter.
For the past 30 years, Nepal has been a development aid project area in Asia for the Finns, reports Marita Meranto, an attaché responsible for Asia and Oceania matters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A considerable part of the aid given goes into natural resources and basic education.
Last year the Finnish government made available EUR 7 million in aid.
In addition, a Nepal Peace Fund was established, to which Finland is contributing EUR 3 million over three years. The first million euros will go to supporting the April elections for the Constituent Assembly.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 30.1.2008
Previously in HS International Edition:
At 60, Helena Ranta is still ready to take off to a trouble spot at short notice (13.6.2006)
Foreign Ministry Press Release, 30.1.2008
Nepalese Civil War (Wikipedia)
UN Nepal Information Platform
SOLE LAHTINEN / Helsingin Sanomat