More than 10 years after the end of the Maoist war, the absence of truth has left many Nepalis unable to get on with their lives. A new report titled We Cannot Forget: Truth and Memory in Post-Conflict Nepal tries to illuminate other aspects of the transitional justice process besides the prosecutions – and lack of prosecutions – that sporadically makes news in Kathmandu.
Referring to the dysfunctional truth and disappearance commissions the report says: ‘So far only a relatively narrow constituency of two broadly opposing sides has been involved in debates. Among national and international NGOs, human rights lawyers, and victims’ groups, the dominant discourse has focused on the demand for individual criminal accountability, while government leaders and representatives of the major political parties and security forces have worked to ensure that criminal prosecution and trials are completely off the table.’
Prepared by the International Commission for Transitional Justice (ICTJ and Martin Chautari, the report notes that victims desire truth for various reasons. It says many victims needed closure and an end to the ambiguous loss, others simply wanted acknowledgement of the suffering. Many others seek the truth as a first step towards reparations or criminal prosecutions.
‘Our people will come home today or tomorrow. We watch the roads,’ a woman in Bardiya told interviewers preparing the report.
The wife of a man forcibly disappeared in Jhapa says making his name public would be insufficient: ‘For us this is not enough. It must be proved that someone killed them . . . the killer must also tell where he buried them. For sure the army keeps some kind of recognizable personal things. They must keep their clothes or photo. I will not accept being simply told, “Your husband was killed”.’
While victims’ seek the truth about individual cases, the report notes that truth is important for various cultural reasons. For example: ‘Families of the missing and forcibly disappeared in particular emphasised the need to see the body of their missing relative or have the body signifies the cultural importance of proof of body, which is necessary for holding appropriate death rituals across the varied cultures in Nepal.’
Some people are looking for public recognition of their loved ones’ roles in the conflict – often by being declared martyrs – or the fact that they were innocent victims of a war that left 17,000 Nepalis dead.
Still others continue to suffer silently: ‘For some, especially victims of sexual violence, truth is more complicated, and effort will be needed to help victims to overcome societal stigma and use existing opportunities to break down harmful misconceptions about their experiences.’
Among the report’s recommendations: policy makers should issue ‘an official apology to victims for human rights violations experienced at the hands of state actors as well as for the state’s failure to protect victims of violations committed by non-state armed groups’.
Go online for full report:
The real truth about the Truth Commission, Om Astha Rai
Justice delayed, justice denied, Editorial
Trust and the TRC, Charan Prasai
Justice in transition, Om Astha Rai
Toothless Commission, Om Astha Rai