The first anniversary of the massacre at Doramba on 17 August passed unnoticed.
A ceasefire was in effect when 19 suspected Maoists, including five women, were captured. When news got out, the Royal Nepali Army initially said the rebels had been killed during an ambush. A fact-finding team sent by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) concluded that 'the majority had died of gun shots to the head, fired from close range'. Two months after the massacre, Manjushree Thapa visited the site and wrote in this paper ('Storm over Dormaba', #165): '.the captives were then led to a forest and, with their hands tied, summarily executed'. An Amnesty International report stated: 'Observers in Nepal cite the Doramba killings as being instrumental in the breakdown of peace talks and the resumption of violence ten days later.'
An independent army investigation into Doramba ultimately put the blame on the major who had commanded the patrol in Doramba, and the 2004 AI report stated that proceedings to court martial him had begun. However, there are signs of a coverup: the initial story that the 19 were killed in an "encounter", the troops being in civvies, the victims having been subdued some three hours before being executed, and the questionable assertion that a massacre of such magnitude could have been decided by a junior officer in the field.
Doramba had presented a real opportunity to bring the RNA back under civilian control, and the role of its international supporters was key. It was, and is, on them that the army depends on to successfully pursue the counter-insurgency war.
One year later, the legacy of Doramba is glaring: Nepal tops the world in the number of 'disappeared', the 'widespread impunity' cited in the Amnesty 2002 report continues unabated, and Nepal's judiciary lies in helpless disarray its independence and authority undermined by the power of the army.
There is an immediate protection crisis in Nepal which needs to be addressed. The government's recently-announced National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) backed by UNDP needs careful scrutiny. The official UNDP description of NHRAP says it 'outlines a detailed plan of actions to be carried out in the next five years or so to improve the overall human rights situation in the country'. Yet, as William O'Neill, the independent human rights lawyer brought in to review the NHRAP made clear in his internal report now in the public domain, the NHRAP 'as currently conceived, is the wrong strategy at the wrong time for Nepal's human rights crisis. The focus for the UN should be on protection and enhancing government and Maoist accountability for human rights violations, not on the long-term, more development oriented approach to human rights that is embodied in the NHRAP'.
Embarassing though it may have been, the consequences of this review need be taken seriously because Nepal is at a critical stage. O'Neill says: "I have worked in Haiti, Rwanda, Burundi, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, and Nepal ranks among the worst human rights situations I have even seen."
We cannot afford to have human rights projects which end up being a distraction to the immediate protection crisis, if not an alibi for the continuation of human rights violations. The continually undermined and overlooked Human Rights Accord is the only way to independently measure the commitment of the Maoists and the government to the peace process by 'measuring' their actual behaviour. This has to be made a priority.
NHRC's Sushil Pyakurel stated in an interview last year about Doramba: "All this makes us look like enemies of the army. Whereas we are just trying to enhance their legitimacy. They are a legitimate force of a democratic country. If they don't observe democratic norms, how can they ask the rebels to?" A Human Rights Accord with serious monitoring needs to be prioritised and implemented immediately.