Tejshree Thapa, Defender of Human Rights in South Asia, Dies at 52


Tejshree Thapa, a human rights lawyer who helped to reveal the scope of mass rapes within the war-torn Balkans and South Asia and to construct the authorized arguments for the prosecution of these rapes as crimes in opposition to humanity, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. She was 52.

Her household mentioned she died at Mount Sinai Hospital of a number of organ failure.

Ms. Thapa, who was born in Nepal and primarily based in The Hague, had spent the final 15 years as a senior researcher with the nongovernmental group Human Rights Watch. In 2017, she was among the many first human rights employees to journey to the Bangladesh-Myanmar border and doc the Myanmar army’s ethnic cleaning of Rohingya Muslims.

She made her mark within the 1990s as an investigator with the Worldwide Prison Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. She headed a unit that investigated mass rape and sexual enslavement in Bosnia and Herzegovina and helped win the landmark Foca circumstances, named for the Bosnian city the place sexual crimes have been dedicated in opposition to Muslim girls in 1992 and 1993.

Her work resulted within the convictions and imprisonment of eight Serb paramilitary leaders and their supporters. The Foca convictions upheld a precedent set in 1998 by the same tribunal after the Rwandan genocide, which established rape as against the law in opposition to humanity, and so they expanded the definition of crimes in opposition to humanity to incorporate “sexual enslavement.”

“On the time, there was not lots of established authorized doctrine on this space,” John Sifton, an advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, mentioned in a cellphone interview. “With the Foca circumstances, rape and sexual slavery have been acknowledged as atrocities, among the many most reviled of human behaviors. It was her work with victims and witnesses that helped make that occur.”

She additionally helped construct the case in opposition to Slobodan Milosevic, the previous president of Yugoslavia and later of Serbia who was referred to as “the Butcher of the Balkans.” He was tried on costs of genocide, crimes in opposition to humanity and different atrocities however died in 2006, earlier than a verdict was returned.

After 15 years on the tribunal, Ms. Thapa joined Human Rights Watch in 2004. One in all her early successes there was to assist drive the United Nations to acknowledge what it referred to as its “systemic failure” in defending civilians throughout the 26-year civil warfare in Sri Lanka, which left no less than 100,000 folks lifeless, together with as many as 40,000 within the final 5 months of 2009, when the warfare ended.

Her work in documenting and revealing that failure helped result in an inner United Nations investigation and a report with the blistering conclusion that “many senior U.N. employees merely didn’t understand the prevention of killing civilians as their duty.”

The investigation prompted Secretary Basic Ban Ki-moon to determine an initiative referred to as Human Rights Up Entrance, which emphasised the significance of responding early to human rights violations as a prevention of genocide.

As an acknowledged knowledgeable on Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, Ms. Thapa wrote quite a few experiences concerning atrocities, disappearances and travesties of justice. Lots of these experiences have been launched beneath the banner of Human Rights Watch, however Mr. Sifton mentioned she was typically the nameless writer.

Along with the civil warfare in Sri Lanka, Ms. Thapa reported extensively on the 10-year civil warfare in Nepal, documenting widespread warfare crimes, crimes of sexual violence and different abuses perpetrated by each side. She interviewed tons of of witnesses, and her experiences helped persuade Washington to chop its army help to Nepal over human rights considerations.

She additionally attended numerous hearings and took part in briefings in Washington, London, Brussels and Tokyo with high-level diplomats and officers.

However she spent a lot of her time within the area with survivors of intercourse crimes, witnesses and households of people that had been killed or tortured or had disappeared. She earned their belief, recorded their experiences and stood by them as they testified in court docket in opposition to their abusers. She additionally stayed in contact with lots of them lengthy after her work was finished.

“She was in a position to join with households in a rare method,” mentioned Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “She dealt with them with a lot empathy. Sooner or later, most individuals in her place stroll away. She by no means walked away.”

Tejshree Thapa was born on Nov. 10, 1966, in Kathmandu. Her mom, Dr. Rita (Basnet) Thapa, established maternal and toddler care clinics in Nepal and campaigned for ladies’s reproductive rights. Her father, Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, held a number of positions in Nepal’s authorities, together with overseas minister and ambassador to India and to the USA.

Her mother and father survive her, as does her daughter, Maya Thapa-O’Faolain, from a wedding that led to 2005. (One other marriage additionally led to divorce.) She can be survived by her sister, Manjushree Thapa, the writer of a number of books set in Nepal. Her brother, Bhaskar, died in 2013.

When she was a young person, Tej, as she was referred to as, moved along with her household to Canada, the place her father labored for the Worldwide Growth Analysis Heart in Ottawa.

When her father was named Nepal’s ambassador to the USA in 1979, the household moved to Washington. She graduated from the Nationwide Cathedral College there in 1984.

She attended Wellesley School, graduating in 1988 with a level in philosophy, and graduated from Cornell Regulation College in 1993.

Contemporary out of legislation faculty, she went to work for Radhika Coomaraswamy, a world human rights advocate and the primary United Nations particular rapporteur (investigative knowledgeable) on violence in opposition to girls.

Working with Ms. Coomaraswamy, Ms. Thapa traveled extensively, interviewing survivors and generally perpetrators. She gained the expertise that might serve her all through her profession as she went on to organize authoritative experiences and transient diplomats world wide.

Not too long ago, on the Myanmar border, she was doing what Human Rights Watch mentioned in a tribute to her she did greatest: “ensuring that victims and survivors might inform their tales, and that policymakers might now not ignore their struggling.”

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