Nepal’s authorities must take urgent and concerted actions to prevent custodial deaths including through appropriate legal accountability measures, Amnesty International (AI) Nepal said as it launched the organization’s 2021 edition of the global campaign called Write for Rights.

The ‘Write for Rights’ is Amnesty’s global flagship campaign and the world’s biggest human rights event. It brings people together to raise their voices in protecting the rights of those who are at risk around the world.

In January, four UN special rapporteurs in their communication with the Government of Nepal expressed serious concerns over the continued incidents of custodial deaths and the lack of accountability measures thereto.  Incidents of custodial deaths in police custody have continued this year with the authorities continuously failing to carry out independent and credible investigations.

In July, Paltu Ravidas, 40, of Dhanusha, detained by police was found dead in the toilet of the District Police Office. In August, a police officer on duty during his death has been suspended or six months.

In September, Bhim Kamat, 37, of Biratnagar died, allegedly from torture while in the detention in Morang district. He had injuries on both of his legs. His families and locals protested the death demanding justice. Police claimed that he died during treatment after he suddenly developed unconsciousness.

In October alone, three incidents of deaths in custodies were reported. Mohammad Hakim Sah reportedly died in the custody of the District Police Office, Sunsari. Police claimed that he had committed suicide, but his family and locals alleged that he was tortured to death.

Dhan Bahadur Rana Magar, 35, of Surkhet also reportedly committed suicide at the Area Police Office in Tikapur. Durga Raj Pandey, 59, of Parbat reportedly hanged himself in jail.

In the last three months alone, there have been at least six reported incidents of custodial deaths. Neither the Nepal Police nor the Office of the Attorney General has maintained a record of such deaths and the exact number of such deaths is not available as there is no official record.

“The rising cases of reported custodial deaths is worrisome. No one should die at the safety of state. Once detained, it is the state’s responsibility to protect the lives of the detainees,” said Nirajan Thapaliya, Director of Amnesty International Nepal.

“In case they die in custodies, there should be fair, impartial and independent investigation into the incident with promptness upholding accountability and ensuring effective remedies to the families of the victims.”

Usually, the incident of custodial deaths is projected as a case of suicide or death due to health complications without proper investigations and sanctions for both the commissions and omissions on the part of the authorities. The incidents of torture and ill treatment in custody often resulting in deaths continue even as the new National Penal (Code) Act, 2074 (2017) criminalized torture for the first time in Nepal.

As per the National Penal (Code) Act, 2074 (2017), any person found guilty of inflicting torture shall be punished with five years of imprisonment or fine up to 50,000 rupees or both. However, no individual has been prosecuted under this law till date.

“It is state’s duty to prevent any kind of deaths in custodies. The authorities must ensure police custodies and prisons safer for the detainees and inmates,” Thapaliya added.

“No one should be subjected to any form of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under any circumstances. We call on the government for adopting administrative, judicial and other measures to prevent such deaths in custodies.”

The Office of Attorney General and National Human Rights Commission are two prominent authorities mandated by the Constitution of Nepal 2015 to monitor detention centers and prisons. The continuity of rising deaths in custodies demonstrates their failures as well.

Through the campaign, Amnesty Nepal said it will be calling upon Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and all other concerned agencies to launch a set of actions to ensure that those in detention should enjoy human rights and all incidents of custodial deaths should be properly investigated, and those guilty of inflicting torture and causing subsequent deaths of detainees are held accountable.