Nepal court rules out amnesty for serious war crimes

Nepal's top court has rejected a demand by ultra-leftists that an amnesty be granted to people who committed serious human rights abuses during the country's civil war, an official said Saturday.

More than 16,000 people died in the conflict between Maoist rebels and the state, which ended in 2006. At least 1,300 went missing, according to UN figures.

The Himalayan nation's Supreme Court was ruling on a petition filed last year by the National Network of Families of the Disappeared and the Missing, an organisation of victims' families.

Last year, a Maoist-led government passed legislation that sought to provide amnesty for those responsible for serious human rights violations.

The court said no amnesty could be given for serious cases of rights abuses.

The court ruled provisions of the legislation concerning amnesties, limitations on criminal prosecutions and a 35-day limit for filing cases "contravene fundamental rights" guaranteed by Nepal's constitution and international law.

The amnesty was part of legislation setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission aimed at healing the wounds from the long civil war.

Both the security forces and the Maoists are accused of major human rights violations including killings, rapes, torture and "forced disappearances" during the civil war.

"The court has said cases of forced disappearances come under criminal act and violators should not be given amnesties," Supreme Court spokesman Srikant Paudel told AFP.

The Truth and Reconcilation Commission was agreed as part of the peace pact signed between the Maoists and the government in 2007.

The pact transformed the former Hindu kingdom into a secular republic.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay welcomed the court decision delivered on Thursday, calling it "a significant development for the thousands of victims of the conflict".

"The Supreme Court's decision to block amnesties is the first step towards ensuring the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will not be used to avoid or delay criminal investigations and prosecutions of conflict-related cases," said the High Commissioner in a statement.

Nepalese human rights lawyer Hari Phuyal also hailed the Supreme Court's ruling, calling it "historic".

"This decision is at par with international laws. This shows that victims can get justice and perpetrators will not go unpunished," he said.

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.

Although the Supreme Court has issued arrest warrants over several cases of human rights abuses committed during the war, no arrests have been made in Nepal.

But a colonel of the Nepal Army, who was arrested in January last year in Britain over allegations of torture committed during the war, has been facing trial in a British court.