20-26 December 2013 #686

The moment of truth

The newly elected legislature offers another opportunity for the country to confront the dirty truths of the conflict
Anurag Acharya
FINAL GOODBYE: Families of 17 young men, who were massacred in Kotbade in 2002, stand above the mass grave where the remains are buried. Their journey from Dhading to Kalikot 10 years after the incident was made into a documentary Don't go so far by the ICRC.
“Don’t go so far, my son,” Mana Maya BK of Jogimara in Dhading recalls telling her son Raj Kumar 11 years ago. He was only 15 years old, an eighth grader who wanted to share the burden of his father. “Tell Baba I’ll come back with money, in time to sow maize,” he wrote in his three letters. But he never came back.

In February 2002, 17 innocent young men from the tiny village of Jogimara working as contract labourers to build an airport in Kotbada of Kalikot were killed by Nepal Army along with 20 other villagers suspected of being Maoist insurgents. Seven years after the conflict ended, the families have not got full compensation, nor have they been told who killed nearly all the young men in their village.

Pramila Shrestha whose brother Raj was also killed in the incident is angered and pained by the insensitivity of the state. “They did not even bother to tell us that they killed my brother. We came to know about it through the radio after one and half month. My mother committed suicide because she couldn’t live with the grief. How come we aren’t even told who did it? Don’t we have the right to know?” she asks.

Last week, the families of the 17 Jogimara victims travelled once more to Kathmandu to seek truth and justice, ironically on International Human Rights Day. There was no media fanfare.

Seven years into the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord that promised a Truth Commission, the political parties are too scared to open the can of worms. There is an underlying fear among top Maoist leaders along with prominent NC leaders in power then and high ranking officers of Nepal Army and Police, who oversaw and overlooked war crimes, that they may one day have to answer for the atrocities. With both sides of the conflict now in legislative and executive positions, there is little hope that the new CA will form an impartial truth commission.

Maoist governments promoted army and police personnel involved in the most egregious violations of human rights and the other parties have ignored Maoist perpetrators. The media, rights bodies, and international community cherry pick cases to suit their own agenda, without lobbying effectively for the formation of an independent commission that should be investigating cases on both sides.

“I have no hope from the so-called defenders of democracy in Kathmandu who are benefiting from our loss,” says Gita Rasaili whose 17-year-old sister Reena was dragged out of her house in Pokharichaur of Kavre at midnight on 12 February 2004, gang-raped, and killed. Two years before the incident Gita’s brother, a Maoist cadre, was killed by the army, because of which she joined the rebels. Reena was a hardworking student who volunteered for the government’s adult literacy program teaching elderly folks in her village.

For six days, the villagers mourned her death and refused to perform last rites, demanding that the guilty be punished. Devi Sunar who was also witness to the crime mobilised the villagers because of which they abducted her 15-year-old daughter Maina Sunar, tortured, and killed her in the army base.

For the 17 young men of Jogimara killed 800km away in Kalikot, for Reena Rasaili and Maina Sunar of Kavre, for journalist Dekendra Thapa of Dailekh, and Muktinath Adhikari of Lamjung, the elderly parents of Krishna Adhikari of Gorkha who are on extended hunger strike in Kathmandu, for the 36 bus passengers killed in Madi by a Maoist bomb, there has been no justice.

Only an impartial and empowered truth commission can provide effective redressal to the families, bring perpetrators on both sides to book, and assuage our collective conscience. But this needs public pressure and unbiased campaigning by rights activists, media, and international community.

Read also:

“I weep at night”

Vanished without a trace

Weeping not allowed

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