The Supreme Court has once again proved that the apex legal entity still remains the only body that guarantees rule of law in the country. The SC on Tuesday ordered the Office of Attorney General not to obstruct the ongoing investigations into the murder case of Dailekh-based journalist Dekendra Thapa, who was killed by Maoist cadres some eight years ago. The Office of Attorney General had sent a letter to Dailekh District Attorney´s Office and District Police Office on Friday last week, instructing them not to proceed with the recording of statements of the five accused in Thapa’s murder.
Acting on a writ petition filed by Advocate Govinda Prasad Sharma ‘Bandi’, a single bench of Justice Kalyan Shrestha issued an interim order against the Office of Attorney General, Dailekh District Attorney’s Office and the District Police Office and issued a show cause notice to the Office of Attorney General, terming the latter’s intervention as against the constitution, the laws and the fundamental principles of criminal justice.
The latest SC dictat has come as a sigh of relief to those fighting the government which tried to disrupt the investigations on the Dekendra murder case. A group of journalists and rights activists in Dailekh district took out a victory rally as soon as they heard the SC decision. This has given the local journalists something to cheer about at a time when they had been facing death threats from the ruling UCPN (Maoist) and the breakaway CPN-Maoist. The SC order to the local bodies not to halt the investigations, and to inform the apex court if any hurdle is created, is now expected to speed up the investigations and take stringent actions against those guilty of burying the journalist alive.
The prime minister and attorney general’s high-handedness on the issue has once again proved the present government’s insensitivity towards the rule of law, and its failure to guarantee the basic human rights of its citizens. The government has time and again flouted the rules of the game since it took charge one and a half years ago. Take, for example, the number of its decisions challenged at the SC. More than two dozen cabinet decisions have been challenged at the SC with the latter issuing stay orders.
Despite its caretaker status, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s cabinet has made many decisions with far-reaching consequences which are against the functioning of the outgoing government. It is hard to imagine how this government would have passed off arbitrary decisions, had there been slackness on the part of the legal body. Even as the opposition parties and civil society leaders continue to call for his resignation to create an environment of trust for the formation of a consensus government to hold the elections of the Constituent Assembly in May-April this year, Bhattarai has not paid heed to the call, thereby becoming a spoilsport of the whole process.
Bhattarai’s argument that the conflict-era killings come under the jurisdiction of the transitional justice mechanism is no doubt true. But it does not hold much substance now as the SC, in its order on Tuesday, clearly stated that the Interim Constitution and existing laws have not anywhere envisioned a situation of neither forming such a commission (on truth and reconciliation) nor taking action as per existing criminal laws. In essence, it has not been guaranteed anywhere that action as per existing laws would not be taken on cases related to the insurgency, it said. We, however, would like to remind everyone that this particular case of a journalist should not be taken as a hindrance to the overall peace process.
More than 13,000 people lost their lives and hundreds others went missing during the Maoist insurgency, and the truth and reconciliation commission and a commission on disappearances are the required mechanisms to address all these issues. Therefore, instead of obstructing justice, Bhattarai and his cabinet should work towards finding a consensus among the major political forces in establishing the transitional justice mechanisms at the earliest