(New York) - The Nepal government’s failure to protect the site of alleged army killings at Shivapuri National Park near Kathmandu signals an unwillingness to investigate past atrocities, Human Rights Watch said today.

“This site may reveal horrific killings linked to the Nepali army, and the government has got to move more quickly to investigate,” said Charu Lata Hogg, South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. “The government has recently made some fine-sounding pronouncements on human rights, but when it comes to actual cases it’s doing precious little to investigate effectively.”

On December 20, 2007, a team from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), found partially buried clothing, half-burnt logs, and other objects on a forested slope in the army-protected Shivapuri National Park, 10 miles north of Kathmandu. The site, which is located close to army barracks inside the park, was discovered following a tip-off from an army source who claimed to have witnessed the cremation of several people who had been “disappeared” in 2003. NHRC member Gauri Pradhan told Human Rights Watch: “Family members of those who disappeared along with a group of human rights activists requested NHRC to visit the site. The information appears credible.”

Between September and December 2003, the Nepal Army’s Bhairabnath and Yuddha Bhairab battalions arrested and detained hundreds of individuals in Maharajgunj. Their detentions were never formally acknowledged, and at least 49 people were “disappeared” by the Bhairabnath battalion in 2003, according to an OHCHR report in May 2006. The OHCHR alleged that members of the Bhairabnath battalion killed possibly scores of detainees in custody, and evidence points to this site being used for extrajudicial killings and cremations.

Following the discovery of the Shivapuri site and after repeated requests by human rights activists, the Nepal police deployed nine police officers to guard the site. Investigations, however, have been slow. Forensic experts have not yet collected all evidence from the site and government laxity in allowing people to freely roam the site could have resulted in tampering with evidence of a serious crime.

Human Rights Watch urged the government to investigate the Shivapuri site in accordance with international standards, such as the Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. Concerned governments should offer support to the Nepal government as required, including with forensic expertise, witness and victim protection, and in the handling and transfer of evidence for prosecution.

Human Rights Watch called upon the Nepal government to take effective action to resolve the thousands of enforced disappearances that occurred during the civil war and to prosecute those responsible. On December 23, the ruling seven-party alliance signed a 23-point agreement including some important commitments relating to human rights, such as the establishment of a commission to promptly investigate new “disappearances.”

“While there are commitments to human rights on paper, it is high time the government takes concerted action to implement these commitments,” said Hogg. “Perpetrators for crimes like ‘disappearances’ must be brought to justice.”

Human Rights Watch also called upon the Nepal government to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances without delay. In line with that convention, the government should ensure an inclusive and consultative process while drafting a law on enforced disappearances, make “disappearances” a crime in line with the convention’s definition, and set up an investigative body with a mandate and composition in line with international standards. There should be no blanket amnesties for serious human rights violations.