17-23 April 2015 #754

Just Justifying war crimes

Transitional justice could suffer a setback under a package deal on constitution
Damakant Jayshi
We are not a country that scores high when it comes to respecting international human rights norms. It is no consolation that our two big neighbours – China and India – fare even worse.

After the passing of the highly objectionable bill on forming the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED), the hope that relatives of the victims of the conflict would get justice had died.

But thanks to the courage and determination of 234 petitioners who challenged the shameful amnesty provisions that would allow perpetrators to go scot-free, that is now unlikely to happen. Had the existing provisions been allowed to stay on, those who suffered would be asked to pardon those who murdered or disappeared their relatives. If they refused, the Commissioners would do so. The Supreme Court (SC) emphatically rejected any provision that would allow conflict-era perpetrators to get away with their crimes.



Photo: Kumar Shrestha- A People War

This raised the hackles of the six Maoist parties, even though the Army and Police personnel would also be equally liable for prosecution. They concluded that the SC order was against Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and organised a joint rally against the order in the capital, only to see that very few of their own cadre turned up.

The worry, however, is that government and the two main ruling parties have given disturbing signals to scuttle justice. The denial of justice could be institutionalised because it could become part of a ‘package deal’ the three major political parties – the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and the UCPN (Maoist) are negotiating on the constitution. This deal not only would untie the federalism knot and power-sharing after the new constitution is drafted, but also water down the provisions in the TRC.

The NC and the UML leaders are also wary of their own fate if justice is allowed to run its course, and do not want to offend the Nepal Army which matched, and in some cases, topped the revolutionary comrades in rights abuses.

So, we hear a familiar script from Maoists and their apologists accusing rights activists as being backed by “dollars”. They even questioned the death of  hunger striker Nanda Prasad Adhikari who wanted the murderers of his son to stand trial. Nanda Prasad’s body is still in the morgue of the Teaching Hospital as the family has refused to perform the last rites until justice is done.

Politicians say transitional justice cannot be separated from ‘politics’. Really? Tell that to the mother of Maina Sunar, or to parents of Sarla Sapkota – tortured and murdered in army custody – who are still waiting for justice. Or to the families of the five Madhesi youth from Dhanusha murdered by army. Headmaster Muktinath Adhikari’s hands and limbs were broken before he was executed by the Maoists and his body hung in public view. Mention ‘politics’ to the family of eight-year-old Kajol Khatun and four others who were burnt alive in a bus in Chitwan. Ram Kumar Bhandari has been searching for his father, Tej Bahadur Bhandari, ever since December 2001 when security forces took him away -- talk to him about ‘politics’.

Now, the Maoists want bygones to be bygones and to forget the tortures and executions of their own supporters in Doramba or Bhairabnath Battalion. Can they look into the eyes of the families of the victims? Can these crimes be justified just by the use of the term ‘revolutionary violence’? Some radical left writers who keep sermonising others on behalf of Maoist have actually justified even heinous crimes as a small price to pay for the emancipation of the people.

Those who demand justice are labelled ‘Maoist baiters’. They forget that the activists are as critical about abuses by the Army and Police. It was the Baburam Bhattarai government which promoted Col. Raju Basnet, the army officer named by national and international human rights bodies for torture and executions at the Bhairabnath Battalion.

Besides the Maoist parties and their lackey intellectuals, the victims’ families are also up against the NC, UML and the Nepal Army. It might be possible to deny justice for the time being, but sooner or later the truth will be revealed. World history is replete with examples of war crimes and abuses being prosecuted after a long gap as in Cambodia and Bangladesh. Nepal cannot be an exception.

@damakant

Read also:

The landscape of fear, Foreign Hand

Another lost decade, Editorial

Death of justice, Editorial

Maoists protest SC ruling

Open wounds, Mallika Aryal

Remembering Maina

Dhanusha 5

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