War victims lose hope as two former enemies accused of war atrocities are in power together
Two leaders who will rule Nepal together for the next two years have something in common: they both face charges of wartime atrocities, from opposing sides.
Backed by Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba, CPN (Maoist-Centre) Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal is set to become Prime Minister for the second time. Parliament will likely elect him next week as Nepal’s 23rd prime minister in 26 years. Under the Maoist-NC deal, Dahal will have to step down and back Deuba as the new Prime Minister next year.
Dahal was the supreme commander of a guerrilla army that fought a decade-long war in which 17,000 people were killed. In April, when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) began registering complaints, many families of war victims lodged complaints against Dahal. He then expedited efforts to unify all breakaway Maoist factions under his leadership.
In May, when Deuba tried to unseat Prime Minister KP Oli, Dahal used the opportunity to sign a deal with the UML to amend several laws within two weeks, in order to withdraw legal cases against Maoist leaders. Dahal was desperate to get this done, but Oli tarried.
Then, two weeks ago Dahal ditched Oli to forge a new alliance with Deuba. In Parliament this week, he accused Oli’s party of trying to incarcerate him and other Maoist leaders. In June, Dahal had cancelled a visit to Australia at the last moment, thinking he might be arrested there and suffer the same fate as Col Kumar Lama in the UK.
Deuba is also charged with human rights abuses. During his second tenure as Prime Minister from July 2001 to October 2002, he had deployed the army against the insurgents by declaring a state of emergency – a period of many human rights violations by the security forces.
In most of the 50,000 complaints received by the TRC, families of war victims have demanded answers from both Dahal and Deuba for the innumerable incidents of summary execution, extrajudicial killing, forced disappearance, rape and torture.
Gyanendra Aran, 40, has been fighting for justice ever since his father, Tika Raj, was kidnapped, tortured and shot dead by the Maoists in Ramechhap in 2001. He had to wait for years to file a case with the TRC against Dahal. “But the man who ordered my father’s killing now holds power,” he told us this week. “I am not hopeful that I will get justice soon.”
Dhak Bahadur Basnet, a Maoist sympathiser, had been detained by the army in 2002 in Baglung. He has neither been found alive nor declared dead. His wife, 44-year-old Chham Kumari, has lodged a complaint with the TRC against Deuba. “He was the leader when my husband was detained, and he is becoming a leader again just when I am hoping to get justice,” she told us.
It will not come as a surprise if Dahal, and later Deuba, use their time in office to tinker with the TRC law to exonerate themselves. Deuba and Dahal will probably scratch each other’s backs.
Suman Adhikari of the Conflict Victims’ Common Platform hopes that the Dahal-Deuba partnership will not be able to dodge international pressure. “We do not have faith in the TRC, which we believe was set up by the leaders to protect themselves and their cadre, and not to deliver justice for us,” he said.
Adhikari was one of the 234 conflict victims who moved the Supreme Court, challenging the provisions in the TRC Act that allowed the transitional justice body to grant amnesty on behalf of the victims. The Apex Court ruled in their favour, but Adhikari says much more needs to be done to harmonise the Act with international laws.
Former enemies in the Maoists and NC warn that strict adherence to international law will jeopardise the peace process, and Nepal’s truth and reconciliation process should abide by the Comprehensive Peace Accord of 2006.
After the nine-point agreement in May, efforts were underway to limit grave violations of human rights to include only the murder of hostages, torture, enforced disappearances, rape and sexual violence. Previously, murder, illegal property seizure and displacement had also been deemed grave violations of human rights, which meant all Maoist leaders could have been jailed for wartime atrocities. Dahal was positive about the efforts, but he faced pressure from his comrades accused of murdering and torturing prisoners. He finally backed off.
With Dahal now allied with Deuba, and the UML – the party that was not involved in the war as much as the Maoists and the NC – out of power, there are fears that transitional justice will be delayed further, if not denied completely.
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