Nepali Times
Guest Column
Truth without justice



The war may have ended five years ago, but the country is not at peace. It will not be at peace until the surviving families and victims of the conflict are not told the truth, and do not get justice. Unless these grievances are addressed, revenge will fester, and there is a danger of another, more virulent conflict.

By trying to brush the dirt under the carpet, by attempting to push through a general amnesty, by protecting those accused of war crimes, the state is rubbing salt on the wounds of the families of wartime victims. A colleague recently told me the hallmark of Nepali political culture is a penchant for 'big picture' solutions, ignoring the 'little picture' and the 'little people'. Our political leaders have failed to listen to the victims, and their need for truth and justice.

They see the 'logical' end of the peace process as being confined to the integration of combatants and drafting of a new constitution. Over the past six years they have fought tooth-and-nail for power and abused it, signed countless agreements, and have been obsessed with their own power-sharing concerns and not those of the people who suffered during the war that they waged.

A recent package deal between the main political parties has removed the amnesty clause on serious crimes from the draft bill, but they have agreed to appoint commissioners on the basis of political consensus. This is a dangerous game. The commissions will then just be committees of the parties rather than independent bodies as has happened with the NHRC, the women's commission and state restructuring commission.

The selection of commissioners is the key to their independence at a time when human rights activists are still receiving death threats, the guilty have political protection. Who will protect the hundreds of voiceless victims when they want to speak out? The proposed bills are silent about witness protection, and victims' welfare. With the departure of OHCHR, the weaker role of the NHRC and a polarised human rights lobby, the internationals need to monitor this process carefully. The peace process is not just about integration. The Nepal Peace Trust Fund (NPTF) should be made transparent, justice-oriented and foster sustainable peace.

The euphoria of peace in 2006 has been replaced by widespread disillusionment and cynicism about politicians. Impunity is rife, accountability is feeble, and there is declining political trust. The social injustice that lay at the root of the conflict is all but forgotten, and so is the war's legacy of violence.

Surviving families and victims are fed up with the politics of compromise that sidelines their concerns, and the false commitment to justice from the establishment. Us victims will not follow secret accommodations made in Kathmandu that ignore grassroots realities.

Known perpetrators openly walk the streets, pose for TV cameras in the company of party leaders, completely discrediting the peace process. The instigating party that unleashed the bloodshed sits in power, and does its best to ensure general amnesty with the acquiescence of its erstwhile enemies. It is hard to imagine that the kidnappings, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, rape and torture will ever be investigated in Nepal and the victims will ever get justice.

When victim groups who suffered from excesses by both sides visit the top brass of political parties, there are platitudes and assurances, but nothing ever happens. The president seems sincere, but he can't play a proactive role. Under intense international pressure, the two commissions on truth and disappearances are being set up, but there are still loopholes which will allow the guilty to get away.

Our agenda is clear: 'Truth without justice and reconciliation without accountability will not be acceptable'. We realise now that Nepal lacks a suitable transitional justice environment, and it would be better to have no commission at all rather than a bad commission.

Human rights organisations and the donor cartel should also be sensitive to the priorities of the victims when they support transitional justice mechanisms. The survivors and victims of conflict are now ready to boycott this process if government adopts general amnesty provisions.

Any law or mechanism lacking minimum international human rights standards aimed at establishing truth and delivering justice will not be acceptable to victims and their relatives. Provisions such as pardons, the independence of the commissions, the role of the attorney general, the protection of victims and witnesses, the exhumation process, the statue of limitations and coordination between the commissions should be victim-centric and need to be reviewed.

If these demands are not addressed, and if attempts are made to deprive victims of justice under the pretext of seeking truth and reconciliation, such mechanisms will not only be called into question, but will be rejected by the victim community.

Ram Kumar Bhandari, whose father was disappeared by state security forces in 2001 in Lamjung, is a human rights activist and chair of the National Network of Families of the Disappeared (NEFAD).

See also:
Forgotten futures, RAM KUMAR BHANDARI
The focus on the constitution has taken attention away from the plight of the families of the disappeared

Read also:
Cleaning out the closet, ANURAG ACHARYA
The Maoists, Nepal Army and Police have to face the victims and tell them what really happened during the war

1. D B Adhikary
I would like to express my deep sympathy to all members of the families of the disappeared Nepalese peopple and fully agree with what is written by Ram Bhandari in this article.

2. Sam
These families must be heard.  They must be integral to ensuring those victimized  are given full due diligence in line with international human rights standards.  

 Perhaps those most heavily impacted by past and present government policies should come together, work together and then, ensure that alleged perpetrators are held to count with the full support of the international community.  Certainly, the sentiment of losing a family member can be shared by anyone who has lost a loved one in such a traumatic and illegal fashion?  

Thank you for bringing forward the issue of continuing impunity for human rights violations in Nepal.     

3. Bishnu
Its a big shame for Nepali politics that the political leaders are still silent in this humanitarian concerns. Families simply demand the right to truth, they want to know about their beloved ones, its a big question of accountability to the government. Without knowing truth, how difficult to live in ambiguity, only the family members feel the suffering and pain. We have developed a "who cares culture" in Nepal, where crimies are growing and impunity is institutionalised. The perpetrators are highly protected by politicians, they make agreements and go for their political shake, not for justice and peace for long. I agree with the author that its not possible to reconcile without truth and justice, people will revenge and violations continue. Government should provide security to the people like Ram and the proposed commissions should include a strong protection mechanism for victims and witnesses, otherwise we can not find truth, people have still a big fear. I express my solidarity and salute to your wider campaign for truth seeking and justice. Thanks.

4. vija

The formation of proposed Truth &R Commision  and the Commission on Inquiry into Disappearances  is a by product or better say consequences of our actions turning into tragedies,human rights violations,legacy of it,untold injustice, however we must look forward to  future and recognition of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence and development opportunities for all Nepali citizens irrespective of who is who and that should be a work of our future,it shouldn't divert or stop us from concluding a New Constitution.
The pursuit of national unity, peace require reconciliation between the people of Nepal and the reconstruction of society.

The adoption of a New Constitution of Nepal should clearly lay a secure foundation for the people of the country to transcend,go beyond and above and strife of the past .The Constitution should address that there is  a need for communication,understanding but not vengeance ,a need for reparation but  not retaliation, a need for accepting blame and guilt, but not for victimisation.

 In order to advance such reconciliation and reconstruction, amnesty shall be granted in respect of acts, omissions and offences associated with political objectives and committed in the course of the conflicts of the past.

Parliament under new  Constitution shall adopt a law determining a firm cut-off date ,providing for the mechanisms, criteria and procedures, including tribunals, if any, through which such amnesty shall be dealt with at any time after the law has been passed. the granting of amnesty to persons who make full disclosure of all the relevant facts relating to acts associated with a political objective committed in the course of the conflicts of the past during the said period; affording victims an opportunity to relate the violations they suffered; the taking of measures aimed at the granting of reparation to, and the rehabilitation and the restoration of the human and civil dignity of, victims of violations of human rights; reporting to the Nation about such violations and victims; the making of recommendations aimed at the prevention of the commission of gross violations of human rights; and for the said purposes to provide for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a Committee on Human Rights Violations, a Committee on Amnesty and a Committee on Reparation and Rehabilitation; and to confer certain powers on, assign certain functions to and impose certain duties upon that Commission and those Committees; and to provide for matters connected therewith.
With this Constitution and these commitments we, the people Nepal are open  to new chapter in the history of our country and that has to be understood by all.

And war doesn't mean that people were just caught in the middle of people who couldn't negotiate.  The life is not just life and death is not just death.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission,  is a unique opportunity to define what was just and what was not. and not hide behind concepts of just war and if we want to go ahead,we should start with the political leadership,Mr.Dahal,Mr.Bhattarai,individuals who say ordered and organized the attacks on unarmed citizens of the country.We might be getting New Constitution after all,if we start with political leadership.


(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)