An army colonel accused of overseeing widespread torture during Nepal’s decade-long civil war has been promoted to general in a move condemned by rights groups on Friday.
Announcing the decision to make Raju Basnet a brigadier general, the government said that allegations against the battalion he commanded would be investigated by a special commission looking into all war-time abuses.
“At the time he was a responsible officer representing the state… We should not single him out,” Information Minister Raj Kishore Yadav told reporters.
Basnet was the commander of the Bhairabnath Battalion in 2003 when his soldiers allegedly tortured suspected Maoists guerrillas and their sympathizers, some of whom were never seen again after being detained.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human rights (OHCHR) reported in 2006 that it had received “consistent, credible and corroborated” testimony of arbitrary detention, torture and 49 disappearances at a Kathmandu army base where the battalion was based.
Local rights activists condemned the promotion, saying that it would “institutionalize impunity”.
“The human rights groups of Nepal have repeatedly urged the government to punish Basnet for his grave human rights abuses,” said Subodh Raj Pyakurel of the Informal Sector Service Center, one of the country’s main rights organisations.
Rights groups also reacted angrily last month to the appointment of a new national police chief, who is being investigated over the killing of five students during the civil war.
More than 16,000 people died in the conflict between Maoist rebels and government forces which ended in 2006. More than 1,000 are still missing.
There are allegations of killings and torture on both sides, and rights groups say little has been done to bring justice to victims and their families.