4 February 2008Although Nepal has made important progress since ending its decade-long conflict with the Maoists more than a year ago, a senior United Nations official has warned that an ongoing culture of impunity for human rights violations is endangering the peace process. “Impunity remains unchecked in Nepal and not one perpetrator of past or ongoing human rights violations has been convicted as a result of a criminal investigation,” Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang said yesterday at a press briefing in the capital, Kathmandu.Wrapping up a five-day visit to the South Asian nation, Ms. Kang added that “the consolidation of the peace process will continue to be at risk without political will on the part of the authorities to end this culture of impunity.” An estimated 13,000 people were killed during the civil conflict that formally ended when the Government and Maoists signed a peace accord in 2006. The agreements between the parties include the setting up of a commission on disappearances and a truth and reconciliation commission. These are important measures “to bring out the truth, address the past, and also the underlying causes of the conflict with a view to ensuring that the violations of the past are not repeated,” Ms. Kang stressed. “These commissions must be set up in accordance with international standards if they are to guarantee the rights of victims and their relatives to truth, justice and reparations.”She added that ongoing impunity as well as a “security vacuum due to weak law enforcement and criminal justice” has also led to an increase in violence, including killings and abductions by armed groups. “These acts of violence only serve the interests of those seeking to disrupt the peace process and will make more difficult the holding of free and fair elections,” Ms. Kang said, referring to the Constituent Assembly polls slated for 10 April. The elections for the Assembly, which is supposed to draft a new constitution for Nepal, were originally scheduled to be held in June last year but had to be postponed because of continuing mistrust between the Government and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).In addition, the Deputy High Commissioner noted that discrimination based on caste, gender or ethnicity remains “entrenched” in Nepali society and stresses the need to address the problem “or it will continue to place the peace process at risk.”At the same time, she drew attention to progress on several fronts, including in addressing the situation of marginalized groups and the appointment of senior officials to the National Human Rights Commission. But it is evident that further efforts are needed, she added, pledging the continued support and assistance of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for the peace process and for strengthening human rights protection in Nepal.