Nepal: New report shows vigilante groups intensifying human rights crisis
The report Nepal: fractured country, shattered lives, based on recent Amnesty International investigations in the country, shows that the creation of so-called 'Village Defence Forces' - supposedly to fight Maoist rebels - has led to an upsurge in mob violence, with the Nepalese government and security forces helping the vigilante groups to spread through the countryside.
Amnesty International is calling for the vigilante groups to be disbanded unless they are officially integrated into existing security forces. Amnesty International Asia-Pacific Programme Director Purna Sen said:
"The creation of 'Village Defence Forces' has blurred the distinction between combatants and non-combatants in Nepal resulting in an increased number of civilian casualties.
"Law enforcement must remain the responsibility of the state and not of vigilante groups."
Village Defence Forces first emerged in February this year - in one rural district of Nepal (Kapilvastu district), but since then have spread to other areas with support from the Nepalese authorities.
Support has included visits to VDF from government ministers, inflammatory government speeches shown on television, training programmes and joint patrols of security forces and VDF members.
Amnesty International is also concerned at the prospect of an increased flow of arms into VDF hands.
Villagers in numerous rural areas have told Amnesty International that the vigilante groups were terrorising them - searching houses, inflicting beatings, sexually harassing Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and forcibly recruiting villagers into their ranks.
In Kapilvastu, in just one week in February, 31 people died in violence orchestrated by a vigilante group. More than 700 homes were also burned down.
Amnesty International's report also highlights numerous cases of human rights abuse by both Nepalese security forces and Maoists.
Typically many of these abuses take place when Maoist suspects are being held in military barracks. Amnesty International has gained access to some of these barracks but remains concerned that some prisoners are being held in secret, making monitoring impossible.
In one case an 18-year-old woman detained at Bhagatpur barracks in Kanchanpur district was hooded for three months with her hands handcuffed behind her back. Many detainees at the same barracks complained to Amnesty International of daily beatings and one man has apparently been beaten so severely that he is now mentally disabled.
Purna Sen added:
"Torture by the military is systematic and routine. Military officials who operate in an environment of complete impunity have admitted to using ill-treatment to extract confessions."
Amnesty International's report also documents numerous atrocities committed by Maoist rebels, including the abduction and killing of civilians and unarmed security force members.
Killings have included that of a peanut vendor, an off-duty soldier from a poor family killed after being hoaxed into believing his mother had died, and a soldier who had been a member of a UN peacekeeping mission in Congo.