Nepal: Intimidation of lawyer, Jitman Basnet, September 2007

Minister Singha Durbar
Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs
Singha Durbar

14 September 2007

Dear Minister,

Re: Intimidation of lawyer Jitman Basnet

We are writing on behalf of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) in connection with the intimidation and harassment of lawyer Jitman Basnet.

In its role as a dual membership organisation, comprising 30,000 individual lawyers and over 195 Bar Associations and Law Societies, the International Bar Association (IBA) influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession. Its Member Organisations cover all continents. The IBA’s Human Rights Institute works across the association, helping to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and legal profession world wide.

The IBAHRI has received a number of reports indicating that death threats have been received over the past months by Mr Basnet as a result of pronouncements he has made condemning the conditions of army detention in Nepal. Mr Basnet was held for nine months in Bhairab Nath army barracks in Kathmandu after being arrested in 2004. It is alleged that while being held in custody Mr Basnet was severely beaten and witnessed countless incidents of torture and harassment against other detained persons. Since his release, Mr Basnet has published a book entitled Andhyaaraa 258 Dinharu (258 Dark Days), detailing his experiences in detention and drawing attention to the flagrant violations of domestic and international law that took place during his time in army custody.

It is believed that some of the threats received by Mr Basnet can be linked directly to those named in his book as perpetrators of human rights abuses; indeed, one of a number of threatening phone calls received in August 2007 was allegedly made by a man who identified himself as one of those named in Mr Basnet’s book. It is also noteworthy that in October the Supreme Court in Nepal is due to rule on a request filed by Mr Basnet last year for the creation of a high-level commission mandated to investigate enforced disappearances in the country. A number of threats have been made on the lives and personal safety of both Mr Basnet and his wife since the book was published in April 2007 and in recent weeks the number of phone calls received has reportedly increased dramatically. On 13 August 2007, Mr Basnet filed a complaint to the police asking for protection, however no action has yet been taken to this effect.

If the above allegations prove correct it appears that the fundamental rights of Mr Basnet, which are assured to all citizens by the Constitution of Nepal, have not been protected. In addition, certain rights accorded to Mr Basnet under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Nepal on 14 August 1991, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading or Inhuman Treatment or Punishment (CAT), ratified on 13 June 1991, have also been violated.

We would like to express our concern regarding this situation and remind you of your obligations under Article 14 (4) of the Nepal Constitution which guarantees that a person detained for any reason should not be subjected to physical or mental torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. This right is also upheld under Article 5 of the UDHR and Article 7 of ICCPR. In addition, the CAT also sets out the duties of states parties for the protection of this human right.

We should also like to draw your attention to Article 2 of the ICCPR under which any person whose rights or freedoms have been violated is entitled to an effective remedy determined by the competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities and such remedies must be enforced when granted.

We should also like to call your attention to Article 12(2) a) of the Nepal Constitution, according to which all citizens shall enjoy freedom of opinion and expression. The right to freedom of expression is further protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and of the ICCPR.

The IBHARI calls on the government of Nepal to investigate the issues mentioned above relating to Nepal’s obligations under domestic and international law. If any one of the above allegations is substantiated, we call on you to take the necessary steps to ensure that appropriate action is taken and redress is provided.

We look forward to your urgent response.

Yours sincerely,

Ambassador Emilio Càrdenas
Justice Richard J Goldstone
Human Rights Institute Council Co-Chairs

CC: General Rookmangud Katawal, Chief of Army Staff;
Om Bikram Rana, Inspector of General Police;
His Excellency Mr Prabal S.J.B. Rana, Ambassador to London
President, The Nepal Bar Association;
President, The Nepal Law Society.