By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal risks more bloodshed in the future if a planned panel set up to investigate crimes committed during a decade-long civil war is given the power to offer amnesty, a senior official from the UN human rights agency said on Friday.
The volatile Himalayan nation is still recovering from a brutal civil conflict which ended in 2006 and in which more than 16,000 were killed, hundreds disappeared and thousands injured.
Sabina Lauber, in charge of Nepal at the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said giving amnesty to anyone guilty of serious crimes ran counter to Nepal's obligations to humanitarian law and would deny victims their right to justice.
"The state of Nepal has an obligation to investigate the truth and prosecute those responsible for grave human rights violations," Lauber, on a visit to Nepal, told Reuters.
"Amnesty prevents genuine peace and risks new conflict," she said after a meeting with conflict victims and human rights workers in Kathmandu. "Victims don't forget these crimes."
Nepal's main political parties, including Maoist former rebels, finalised an order last month to set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of a Comprehensive Peace Accord aimed at healing wounds left by the war.
As part of a deal, they included a clause allowing the panel to grant amnesty in some cases. Victim groups fear the vague wording is designed to let powerful rights abusers off the hook, possibly even those guilty of serious abuses.
Both the security forces and the Maoists have been accused of human rights violations including unlawful killings, torture and rape during the conflict.
The army has promoted suspects while Maoists accused of serious crimes occupy senior positions in the party.
In response to a petition from victims, the Supreme Court has ordered the government not to set up the commission before explaining to the court the decision to include the possibility of amnesty. The next hearing is set for May 2.
In January, an army colonel vacationing in Britain was arrested on suspicion of torture allegedly committed during Nepal's civil war - the most senior Nepalese army officer held for crimes dating back to the conflict.
In Nepal, the Supreme Court and district courts have issued arrest warrants against those found guilty of rights abuses in the past, but they have not been implemented. No one so far has been arrested or tried in a civilian court for serious abuses.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; editing by Mike Collett-White)