The mother of 13-year-old Nirmala Panta, who was raped and murdered in Kanchanpur district, speaks at a mass rally calling for justice, Kathmandu, Nepal, September 15, 2018.

© 2018 Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto

A senior political figure in Nepal, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, was recently arrested on suspicion of rape. Activists and lawyers had initially feared the case would be buried because of the police’s dismal record of responding to rape allegations.

Failure to properly prosecute rape, particularly if the accused has more clout, has long been a problem in Nepal. At least three complaints are brought to police daily – and activists believe that many more go unreported. Conviction rates are low, and survivors often endure humiliating medical tests and police interrogation that tends toward victim-blaming. One in every five reported rapes is of a child aged under 10.

In July 2018, police destroyed evidence in the rape and murder case of 13-year-old Nirmala Pant, leading to public protests. The case remains unsolved. Three months later, in another case, police concluded that 14-year-old Pramila Tharu killed herself, despite evidence she was murdered and possibly raped.

When the alleged attack by the politician was first reported to police, they failed to immediately take action. Then the victim withdrew her accusation, amid credible media reports that she had come under pressure to do so. The editor of the website that broke the story said he received anonymous threats.

But the case has sparked a clamour for action. The National Human Rights Commission established a monitoring team. The United Nations and foreign embassies issued a joint statement noting Nepal’s obligation under international law to ensure justice for victims. On October 4, 2019, the victim went ahead with recording a police statement alleging that the politician had raped her. He was arrested on October 6. Authorities should ensure a proper investigation and evidence-based prosecution.

And not just in this case. Nepali authorities should do more to ensure justice for all rape victims. Police authorities should end abusive investigation techniques, provide greater support and protection for victims, and discipline officers who bury cases or mistreat victims. Police officers, judicial officials, and medical professionals should all be trained on and held to clear standards on handling sexual violence cases. There should be every attempt to end interference in criminal justice.

After a spate of horrific crimes, Nepali activists have created a movement called #rageagainstrape. The authorities need to listen. And ensure that the police and prosecutors can pursue justice without political interference, especially when the suspect is a politician.