27 June - 3 July 2014 #713

Just justice

Reconciliation is not possible without truth and justice for the relatives of those murdered and disappeared ten years ago.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled on a writ rejecting provisions in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act that would have allowed pardons in cases of heinous crimes committed during the conflict, and those already being heard in the civil courts.

The bloody 10-year Maoist insurgency was accompanied by massive  human rights violations by both sides. State security forces perpetrated most of them (summary executions, torture, rape, and forced disappearances) many on innocent civilians suspected to be Maoist sympathisers.

The Maoists, too, carried out public executions of so-called ‘class enemies’ after extremely brutal torture that included dismemberment, disembowelment, crushing bones of victims with boulders and logs, gouging out eyes, burning and burying people alive. There were also many murders that had nothing to do with the war, as the conflict became a convenient excuse to settle personal scores.

The Truth and Reconciliation Act would have allowed many of these crimes to be classified as conflict-related and under the purview of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on Forced Disappearances. Neither side lost the war, and after 2006 both the parliamentary parties and the Maoists became part of the Nepali state. 

While this has made many elements of the peace process (like the integration of the armies) easier to resolve than in other post-conflict countries, it has also pushed the two sides to collude to let bygones be bygones so that they don’t have to be accountable for their crimes against humanity.

The latest egregious example of this was that while the ruling NC-UML coalition and the opposition Maoist-Madhesi alliance can’t agree on anything to do with the constitution, they were in complete agreement in dividing between them up the leadership of the TRC and the Commission on Forced Disappearances (CFD).

Both former-ambassador Surya Kiran Gurung in the TRC and former justice of the appellate court, Lokendra Mallik, at the CFD are decent people who may not blatantly flout the principles of transitional justice and contravene Supreme Court verdicts. Even so, the way the two have been going door-to-door calling on their political godfathers and the chiefs of the security forces since their appointment doesn’t send a very encouraging signal about their independence.

The Supreme Court verdict of 26 February has shaken up the political establishment, and the brass of the Nepal Army and Nepal Police. Their carefully laid plans to evade the long arm of the law has suddenly unravelled. While the army and police are not saying much, the verdict seems to have sent shock waves through the Maoists. Their six factions came together this week to warn that the Supreme Court decision goes against “the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement” and they threaten that it could “take the country back to war”. And just so the message is clear, they have decided to terrorise the people with successive nationwide shutdowns in April unless they have political guarantees against prosecution for war crimes.

The main agenda of the Maoist-led 30 party alliance is ethnicity-based federalism, but it is clear that for the rump Maoists the alliance is just a useful way to magnify its enfeebled voice. Also mystifying is why the Madhesi parties haven’t seen through this, and are helping protect the Maoists from being answerable to wartime excesses. After all, it is not their fight.

The other mystery is the curious hush from the internationals who, as erstwhile champions of transitional justice, pumped millions into NGOs looking at wartime human rights violations. Inconsistency, insincerity and geopolitical expediency seems to have silenced them all. The need to protect the process has become more important than doing the right thing.

Even if the top parties come to an agreement on federalism and on the five disputed districts, therefore, it is unlikely that there will be a consensus on the constitution because the real issue here is transitional justice. Proof of this is how UCPN(M) Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal has repeatedly sabotaged efforts by the Madhesi Front leader Bijay Gachhadar to push what should have been a perfectly reasonable compromise formula to break the deadlock on the constitution.

By putting a spanner in the works of the transitional justice mechanism, Dahal is letting down tens of thousands of his own cadre and their relatives as well as ordinary civilians who were executed or disappeared by the Royal Nepal Army, Armed Police Force and the Nepal Police between 1996-2006.

It is important to remember not to forget our past because if we do we may repeat the horrors. Not to pursue justice may send a message in future to misguided revolutionaries and a brutal state that they can get away with mass murder again. Only the relatives of the victims have the right to forgive, but we as a nation should never forget.

Read also:

****Justice in transition**, Binita Dahal

Maoist protest SC ruling

Who doesn’t want a TRC?, Om Astha Rai

“I need to know why”, Gopal Gartaula

Death of justice

Just want justice, Bhrikuti Rai

Bad blood, Kalpana Bhattarai