18-24 April 2014 #703

“Forgive and move on”

All cases of grave human rights violations must go for trial, but victims must also have the power to forgive.
Anurag Acharya
STATUS UNKNOWN: Indra Keshari Shrestha holds a picture her son Ganga Ram who was abducted by police in 2001 from Surya Binayak in Bhaktapur
Thirteen years is a long time to be waiting for a son whose face is almost fading from the memory. “I can neither live nor die peacefully without knowing what happened to my son,” an ailing Indra Keshari Shrestha says feebly. Her 14-year-old son Ganga Ram was abducted by police in 2001 from Surya Binayak in Bhaktapur.

As I sat talking with Ganga Ram’s family in Maharajganj this week, the extent of their loss and tragedy hit me. His sisters Ruby and Narayani told me that both their husbands, Rajendra Mali and Basu Dev Chhuwal, were affiliated with the Maoists and were also abducted by the security forces in 2003 and 2004. They were never seen again. The sisters are glad their father Tulsi Narayan did not live to hear horrific tales of Ganga Ram’s torture in Nepal Army’s Surya Dal barracks.

“They tortured my husband, but my brother was just a child who had nothing to do with the war,” Ruby said, her voice trembling as she looked across the road at the high walls of the Bhairabh Nath concentration camp in Lajimpat where her husband was believed to have been tortured.

Like many of the victim families on both sides, Ruby’s family was displaced from their home, they lived in constant fear of the midnight knock, and in hope that they would live to see those who wronged them brought to book some day. But it seems the victims of this cruel war will have to live with their wounds and die with it, their tormentors redeemed because of the nation’s need for closure.

“I guess my mother will die like my father, without knowing what happened to her son, since she is too old and sick to start a hunger strike, and she does not have national and international support behind her,” says Narayani. On the table infront of her was a front page story about the tabling of the bill to set up the Truth and Reconciliation and Disappearance Commissions.

If passed, the TRC will only ask the victims to forgive, forget and get on with their lives with meager compensation. The bill defines rape, torture, custodial killings, forced disappearances, among others as ‘grave human rights violations’, crimes which merit prosecution. However, it also gives power to the Commissions to grant amnesty, and in such cases closing door for prosecution. The Commission can also put cases in a state of limbo, citing lack of evidence.

Even in cases which are ultimately recommended for prosecution, the bill leaves several legal hurdles for the victims, giving the Attorney General the discretion over whether or not to file the case as per the recommendation of the Commissions. Since the Attorney General is a political appointee and the cases that reach AG’s office will ultimately be settled politically, the entire process of justice will be an eyewash. Perpetrators on both sides will never answer for their crimes.

Five years ago, when the Maoists were in power, everybody blamed them for obstructing the drafting of the bill. Today, the party is in minority, yet the parties have presented a bill which is even weaker than the one before. The Nepali Congress government is trying to save its own leadership which was in command of the police and army during the war years and under whom many of the cases of illegal detention, torture, execution and rape were committed. The parties, including the Maoists, have not just been ignoring wartime excesses; they have been rewarding known perpetrators with promotions.

Three weeks ago, the government formed a drafting committee and invited stakeholders to submit their suggestions. Human rights groups had specifically warned not to give the Commissions powers of amnesty and leave filing of cases to the discretion of the Attorney General. They had suggested all cases of grave violations must go for a trial, and only if the victims were convinced by perpetrator’s admission of guilt would the Commissions have the power to seek amnesty for the perpetrator from the highest authority in the land, the President. Unsurprisingly, none of these suggestions were incorporated in the bill.

Even more appalling is that a section of the national media is now arguing that the peace process should not be held hostage to the demand for justice by the survivors. If closure has to come at the cost of victims’ right to justice, so be it.

The facade of untruths and forced reconciliation is not just happening in Nepal. After the Sri Lankan war the Rajapaksha government swept all the dirty truths of war under the carpet through a Lessons-Learnt Commission. Years of investigation into Gujarat massacres have led to nowhere and the prime accused is today India’s front runner for the prime minister’s post.

The political regimes in South Asia have become a safe haven for war criminals and mass-murderers. But the almighties presiding over sacrilege of justice in their land would do well to learn from global experience where perpetrators of Nazi era war crimes and genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda and elsewhere are being brought to book even to this day. Capt Kumar Lama is not an exception, only an indication of what is to come to the guilty who should think twice about travelling abroad.

One victim had told the drafting committee members at a hearing: “We have waited enough. If you deny us justice this time, we will take matters into our own hands.”

Read also:

Irreconcilable truths, Editorial

The tale of two commissions, Binita Dahal

Healing the wounds of war, Rubeena Mahato

Just want justice, Bhrikuti Rai

True reconciliation George Varughese and Tamar Luster

Pillay not pleased

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