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Nepal: impunity for perpetrators of communal violence
Nepal's government has failed to achieve justice for the victims of communal violence that exploded in 2007 in the Kapilvastu district. On June 2, human rights groups met to discuss their efforts to push the government to take action.
The Kapilvastu Violence Victim Struggle Committee (KVVSC) reported that the organization was able to obtain official government reports on the violence that killed 13 people and displaced thousands. On April 18, the National Information Commission gave KVVSC brief summary reports, but did not release the entire report compiled by the Home Ministry.
KVVSC shared this information with Accountability Watch Commission and representatives from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), which supports both groups.
While police detained a few suspects in the immediate aftermath of the violence, they were later released. The investigations have since been stopped. Human rights groups worry that the government’s failure to pursue the cases will contribute to a culture of impunity around communal violence.
Competition over land is at the root of the communal violence, and it has been exacerbated by state-sanctioned migration into Kapilvastu. The district lies in the Terai area, in the foothills of the Himalayas, and about 80 percent of its 500,000 people are of the Madhesi group. Over the past few decades people from the “hills” have moved into the area. The settlers are known as the Pahidis, a group that includes Muslims and Hindus of all castes, including landless Dalits.
In the early 1990s, the government distributed land to some Pahadis. Others occupy formerly unused public land. Tensions between ethnic and religious have risen along with migration, and the district has seen clashes dating back to 1990.
The most recent violence broke out on September 16 2007 after the death of a local Madhesi Muslim landowner who was also a former Nepali Congress (NC) party member. Clashes continued for days between the Madhesi and Pahadi communities. In addition to deaths, injuries and displacement, there was widespread looting and destruction of property. According to official figures, more than 300 buildings were damaged or destroyed, including five mosques and 200 houses. The violence spilled over into neighbouring Dang and Rupandehi districts where property was also destroyed and many people were temporarily displaced.
Local authorities and the police failed to prevent or intervene in a timely manner to stop the violence in Kapilvastu and did not reach some of the affected villages for several days. Retaliatory attacks continued in what was essentially a political and security vacuum, particularly in rural areas.
The unresolved violence has increased tension between ethnic and religious communities in Kapilvastu. Human Rights Groups warn that the current tensions could escalate once again into mass violence.