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Just justice

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

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 heinous crimes committed during the conflict, and those already being heard in the civil courts.

The bloodshed of the ten-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) mostly on innocent civilians they suspected to be Maoist sympathisers.

The Maoists, too, ‘exterminated’ ‘class enemies’ after gruesome 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 (TRC) and the Commission to Investigate Enforced Disappearances (CIED). But since neither side lost the war, the parliamentary parties and the Maoists became part of the Nepali state after 2006. While this has made many elements of the peace process (like the integration of the armies) easier than in other post-conflict countries, it has also allowed the two sides to collude in letting bygones be bygones so that they don’t have to be accountable for conflict-era crimes.

The latest egregious example of this is that while the ruling NC-UML coalition and the opposition Maoist-Madhesi alliance can’t agree on anything to do with the constitution, they had absolutely no problems dividing up the leadership of the two Commissions between themselves.

Both former-ambassador Surya Kiran Gurung in the TRC and former justice of the appellate court Lokendra Mallik at the CIED 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 mentors 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 shook up the political establishment, and the ghosts of the dead have come back to haunt the security forces. 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 has sent shock waves through the Maoist ranks. Their splinter groups came together this week to warn that the Supreme Court decision goes against “the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement” and they threatened that it could “take the country back to war”. And just so the message is clear, they want to terrorise the people with successive nationwide shutdowns in April unless they get political guarantees against prosecution for war crimes.

The main agenda of the Maoist-led 30 party alliance is supposedly ethnicity-based federalism, but the rump Maoists are using it to shield themselves from war crime trials. More puzzling is why the Madhesi parties are tagging along to protect the Maoists. After all, it is not their fight.

The other mystery is the hush from the internationals who, as erstwhile champions of transitional justice, pumped millions into NGOs tracking war-time human rights violations. Inconsistency, insincerity and geopolitical expediency has 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 federalism.

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 tortured, 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 purse justice may send a message to misguided revolutionaries and the state that they can once more get away with crimes against humanity. Only the relatives of the victims have the right to forgive, but we as a nation should never forget.

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One Response to “Just justice”

  1. sz on Says:

    Thank you for your excellent analysis! Since both China and India respect the national integrity of Nepal, then the problem should be simpler. I am an American who knows decidedly little admittedly. But is there in fact not common ground between the two contesting parties? Militarism should be wholly abandoned and national neutrality declared a priority. Without following through on the intended path toward post-colonial armaments it would not be entirely impossible to withdraw from this equation entirely.

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