25 April - 1 May 2014 #704

Haunted by ghosts of the past

Do we want to institutionalise impunity and sanitise offenders, or preserve accountability and the rule of law?
Rubeena Mahato
Nothing unites the political parties of Nepal more than their fear of having to face the long arm of the law on atrocities they were responsible for during the conflict. Interesting that politicians who think nothing of punishing the people with crippling shutdowns over petty disagreements show such striking solidarity and unity of purpose.

The vocal opposition by survivors, relatives of victims and rights groups against the  Truth and Reconciliation Bill tabled by the government in parliament two weeks ago has triggered a vicious backlash from the Maoists and a section of the mainstream media. They wanted a forced reconciliation, proving they learnt absolutely nothing from ten years of war. Instead of facilitating a wider debate on the contested TRC bill, our policy makers and agenda setters engaged in victim-shaming, promoting a false dichotomy of justice versus peace and argued that human rights is a relative concept.

A Maoist leader demanded action be taken against UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay for criticising the TRC bill. On Monday another Maoist CA member demanded that the American and European ambassadors be deported or jailed. What can you expect from a party that considers pluralism such a threat that it doesn’t even want the term mentioned in the preamble to the constitution. What is more distressing, however, is that so-called democrats are undermining the entire transitional justice process only to protect some perpetrators.

Nobody is demanding prosecution in all cases, nobody is even asking for them to be  investigated. But if we want rule of law and democracy in this country, it is unacceptable that the executioners and torturers of the Bhairabnath Battalion, the Badarmude bus bombing, the Doramba or Kotbada massacres, and other cases of grave human rights violations where victims have specifically come forward demanding justice are let go.

We are now told that the majority of victims don’t care for justice, that all they want is closure and reparation from the government and the delay in the TRC bill is hampering this process. But it was these same parties which put off forming commissions on disappearance and truth and reconciliation all these years despite widespread demand.

And now they say the victims and families cannot possibly want justice because they are poor, and therefore incapable of conceiving the idea of justice much less articulating it. Indeed, if nothing else works, blame the victim.

How many times have we heard that Dekendra Thapa was an informer so he deserved to be tortured and buried alive. That the personally motivated murders of Ujjan Shrestha and his brothers should be seen as a political act because it was carried out by Maoist party members? That the custodial death of Krishna Sen Icchuk should not be probed because he was a Maoist? Maina Sunar’s mother Devi, Ujjan Shrestha’s sister Sabitri, Krishna Prasad Adhikari’s dying parents Nanda Prasad and Gangamaya, all have been defamed, harassed and accused of cashing in on their own personal tragedies. What an utterly insensitive and brazen society we have become.

War is not a license to murder and maim as one pleases. Even those fighting in the battlefields have rights. Rape, murder and killings of civilians, committed both by the state and the Maoists have to be brought to trial. It is the victims’ prerogative to grant amnesty, but the wrongfulness of those acts have to be established and the guilty have to accept responsibility. The government, Maoists and state security forces are unwilling to do even this, and their anxiety is reflected well on the TRC bill.

Clause 2, Article 26 of the bill states that the Commission cannot recommend amnesty for rape and in cases of serious rights violations. By not explicitly stating what those violations are, the bill leaves legal loopholes which can be exploited to save perpetrators. Furthermore, the provision of a politically appointed Attorney General compromises the independence and credibility of the process.  These are valid concerns that should be addressed. What we are hearing instead is that the human rights community in Nepal is ‘corrupt’ and ‘donor-driven’ and therefore the TRC bill is perfect and should be passed as it is.

The debate has been made to look like as if it is between those who want ‘peace’ and those who want to revive the conflict when it is really between those who want to institutionalise impunity and sanitise offenders and those who want to preserve accountability and the rule of law.

What kind of peace do we hope to achieve by rewarding Balkrishna Dhungel or Raju Basnet? Victims should not be asked to choose between compensation and closure, nor should they be treated like criminals for demanding justice.

Read also:

Pro-perpetrator justice, DAMAKANT JAYSHI

Healing the wounds of war, RUBEENA MAHATO

Irreconcilable truths EDITORIAL

The tale of two commissions BINITA DAHAL

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