KUMAR SHRESTHA / A PEOPLE WAR
One of the buzzwords of Nepal's prolonged peace process is 'transitional justice'. But most people, even victims of conflict violence and their relatives, do not understand exactly what it means.
But after six years, most relatives of victims know they want more than just a token compensation amount: they want to know the truth, and they want acknowledgement from the state about why it happened. They are realistic enough not to expect justice right away.
At a recent conference in India on Asian Sites of Conscience on Transitional Justice, Nepali participants like me were forced to relive the memories of the relatives who were killed or disappeared during the conflict. How we can connect the past to present, and convert memory into action? What happens to a family that loses a member? How is it different when the relative has been disappeared? How do people cope with that loss or ambiguity, and move on? How do they feel when they do not get a response or recognition by the state?
There are many sites in Nepal where citizens were illegally detained, disappeared, tortured or killed in army barracks, in police custody, in village squares, school playgrounds, in forests. We have not been able to link past violence with the sites because in many cases we don't have access to them.
There is no systematic archiving process, and many of the evidence are either forgotten or being obliterated. The state is in denial mode, and has tried to push through an ordinance on the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would pardon perpetrators, and gloss over their crimes. There is collusion between the former state and the former rebels because both are now in the administration.
This is the reason that the government has never made a move to support the establishment of 'memory places' and to create a space for dialogue not only to the victims' community, but for general public to respect their legacies.
Cambodia established the Tuol Sleng museum at a lycée in Phnom Penh where thousands of people were tortured and executed during the Khmer Rouge genocide. In Bangladesh, a pit where the bodies of massacre victims were dumped in 1971 is now a small museum.
The objective of identifying historic sites is to locate the places of detainment, enforced disappearances, and killings, and to create historic structures that preserve both visual and narrative memorials showing the suffering of people.
Memorials can speak about the past and show younger generations how such incidents happened and why they must not be repeated. More important of all, they keep the issue of truth and justice alive. Once we establish truth and public memory, society can move further peacefully in a respectful way, with no sense of revenge.
Reviving public memory and revealing truth automatically generates a certain moral ground for justice in a post-conflict environment. The continuous denial of justice and the politics of memory in Nepal have created a vacuum for truth-seeking and the justice process. Political parties have cynically manipulated truth and justice, applied it selectively, or have tried to sweep past crimes under the carpet.
For example, the ruling Maoist party is creating several memorial gates only for victims of state violence, such memorials do not create peace, tolerance, and reconciliation and instead glorify violence and politicise the cult of martyrdom.
On the other hand, the army and police bases that became infamous centres for detention, torture and executions like the Bhairabnath Battalion on Lazimpat road, Charali Barracks in Jhapa, the Chisapani Barracks in Bardiya are out of bounds. Scenes of massacres and terrorism, like Doramba in Ramechhap and Madi in Chitwan, will have memorials, but erected by one side or the other.
Fortunately, women groups made up of relatives of victims who suffered at the hands of both sides have got together in many places to create peace memorials, plant trees, and collect testimonials. Like with a lot of areas in Nepal, communities have stepped in where the national government has dragged its feet.
The people have forgotten their past enmity and shunned vengeance to work for truth and reconciliation by remembering. The politicians could learn from them.
Ram Kumar Bhandari, whose father was disappeared in 2001, is a human rights activist and chair of the National Network of Families of Disappeared and Missing (NEFAD)
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