ROBIN COOK IN NEPAL: NEED TO COMBAT HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN ëPEOPLEíS WARí

Amnesty International has recorded 44 ' disappearances ' since the beginning of 1998 alone - 18 of which occurred during 1999 - and there is evidence that detainees have been held incommunicado in unofficial places of detention, including the Police Training Centre in Maharajgunj, Kathmandu. Many of those arrested have complained of torture including falanga (beatings on the soles of the feet) and belana (rolling a weighted stick or other object over the thighs of the prisoners). In one case reported in 1999, torture led to the death in custody of the detainee.

Last month's launch by the Foreign Office of a new Torture Reporting Handbook was heralded by Mr Cook as a major step forward in combating torture and assisting victims in seeking redress.

Amnesty International UK Director of Communications Mark Lattimer said:

'The core principle of bringing torturers to justice is particularly pertinent during Robin Cook's visit to Nepal. We would like to see him raising concerns regarding reports of torture and other abuses by the police forces during the ‘people's war', a conflict that has produced new and shocking levels of human rights abuse in Nepal'.

Amnesty International is also asking Mr Cook to raise a range of issues that includes:

* The suspected deaths in police custody of four people whose bodies were found in an abandoned police station at Simrutu, Rukum district, in late March 2000. Another body was recovered from a police station in Salyan district. According to Amnesty International's information, among the four Simrutu bodies were those of two 13 and 16-year-old girls who were arrested in August 1999. The other two have been identified as Bal Bhadra Thapa and Ram Bahadur Kharki Chhetri.

* Growing concern that extrajudicial executions are occurring - for example, it has been reported that in an incident on 22 February 2000 15 unarmed civilians were shot by police in a cordon and search operation in Rukum district following the killing of 18 policemen in Ghartiguan in Rolpa district two days earlier – and that the Nepali Home Ministry is failing to investigate these reports with any degree of urgency.

* Particular concern over the case of Bishnu Pukar Shrestha, a secondary school teacher and human rights defender, who 'disappeared' after his arrest on 2 September 1999 in Kathmandu; sources close to the government have revealed that he is being held at the Police Training Centre in Maharajgunj.

Background According to Nepali government figures, during February 1996-February 2000 the total numbers of reported killings by police and Maoists were respectively 876 (combatants and civilians) and 332 (186 civilians and 146 police). The police have invariably claimed that killings occurred during an exchange of fire with members of the CPN (Maoist), though there is evidence that in many cases police officers have used lethal force without justification. According to official sources over 5,000 people have been arrested since the declaration of the 'people's war'. The total number of political prisoners in custody as of February 2000 was 1,596.

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