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KATHMANDU (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than two weeks after a Nepalese hunger striker died, his frozen corpse still lies unclaimed in a hospital morgue - a grim reminder of the desperate struggle for justice by the families of victims of the decade-long civil war.
Nanda Prasad Adhikari, 56, and his wife Ganga Maya had been on hunger strike for 11 months, demanding a formal investigation of the death of their teenage son in 2004, a time when conflict raged in the impoverished Himalayan nation.
Adhikari died in a Kathmandu hospital on Sept. 22, while 54-year-old Maya, still on hunger strike, is "stable but critical" in the hospital's intensive care unit, doctors say.
"The tragic outcome of the protest by Nanda Prasad Adhikari shows the desperation of the demands for justice by victims of the conflict in Nepal," Rory Mungoven, Asia-Pacific head of the United Nations Human Rights office, said after Adhikari's death.
"The Nepalese authorities should step up their investigation into the murder of Krishna Prasad Adhikari as promised by the government in 2013 and take every possible step to bring the killers to justice without political interference," he added.
Nepal, wedged between China and India, is recovering from a decade of fighting between Maoist rebels and government forces in which about 18,000 people were killed, thousands wounded and hundreds went missing.
Human rights activists say both security forces and rebels committed crimes against civilians such as abduction, rape, torture and murder, but no crimes have been investigated since the war ended in 2006.
Adhikari’s son, 18-year-old Krishna, is believed to have been abducted and killed by Maoist rebels while visiting relatives in the southern district of Chitwan.
Over the years the couple lobbied human rights groups, the police and government officials, and even staged a sit-in in front of the prime minister’s residence to get justice - in vain.
Desperate to draw attention to their cause, they resorted to a "fast unto death" to put pressure on the authorities to bring Krishna's killers to book.
Police arrested two suspects and charged them with Krishna's murder earlier this year, but they were later freed because of a lack of evidence. Eight other defendants have been released on bail, but no date has been set for their trial.
Making people accountable for crimes committed during the war remains a serious challenge in Nepal.
The Maoists, now the main opposition group in parliament, have protested against the arrest of their cadres and say war abuses should be investigated by a South Africa-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
The Nepali parliament passed a law this year to set up a TRC and another commission to investigate the disappearances of more than 1,300 people during the war, but the panels have not yet been formed.
Law, Peace and Reconstruction Minister Narahari Acharya said the government also planned to appoint new panels to investigate all other cases of human rights violations during the war.
But activists say there is no real political will to punish those guilty of serious crimes, who could be granted amnesty.
"The main parties to the conflict – the army and the Maoists – feel that they might be prosecuted for the crimes committed during the conflict. That is their main fear and is the main cause for the delay," said Hari Phuyal, a human rights lawyer.
Writing by Nita Bhalla; editing by Tim Pearce