Nepali Times
Peace at what price?


Nepalis want peace-but at any price? Not if you listen to the people of the war-torn hinterlands. In Dailekh and Kalikot and Jumla, people who have seen family members and neighbours killed either by the Maoists or by state security forces are asking what will be done, in the peace process, to redress these killings.

While in faraway Kathmandu the government announces its negotiating team, the villagers ask whether all the war dead will ever be accounted for. While political parties and the palace jostle for advantage, the Jumlis want to know whether their families will be compensated. "What will happen in cases where civilians were wrongly branded Maoists and killed by the state?" asks a teacher in Haudi. A farmer from Pakha asks if compensation is on the agenda for the peace talks. In Tatopani, a young Maoist cadre asks why human rights organisations have not documented all the violations of the past year: "Will they ever come to find out what has happened?"

These raw questions are not being heard in Kathmandu, which in the past few weeks has been as giddy with bad politics as ever. Now that the Maoists have come above-ground, the media, intellectuals, NGOs and other civil society actors are in a mad rush to kiss and make up, in between attending conflict-resolution talk-shops. At his first press conference, even Baburam Bhattarai became coy when asked about IGP Krishna Mohan Shrestha's death. He preferred, he said, not to dwell on the individuals who had been killed in the war. It would be more constructive to look forward than back, he said.

This would obviously help exonerate his party members from the murders that they have committed. It would also help exonerate the state security forces, which, if made to look back, would have to answer allegations of rape, torture, disappearances, arbitrary detention, and killings of thousands of civilians and unarmed Maoists.

Do we really want this kind of a "quick-fix" peace? It would be dangerous, say human rights activists. "The trauma of war has to be addressed all the way down to the village level," says Bhogendra Sharma of the rights group, CVICT. "The government must set up a truth and reconciliation commission."

Subodh Pyakurel of INSEC agrees. "The process of truth and reconciliation should begin the day the peace talks begin. At the very minimum, every violation must be documented. Those who committed crimes must take responsibility for them. And those who suffered at their hands must forgive them." The motto 'Forgive, but forget not' motivated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

International human rights experts point out that achieving truth and reconciliation is a drawn-out, complicated process, especially in countries such as Nepal, with weak justice systems. The push for peace can make people compromise on discovering the truth. "The biggest danger at times like these is that the day they sign the peace agreement, all past violations will be forgotten," says Pyakurel. "Sentimentality will take over. Someone will say, 'Whatever's happened has happened. Now we are united.' From that day on, all the perpetrators of war crimes and of human rights violations will get blanket immunity."

The Mallik Commission report of 1990 stands as an infamous example. That report on government repression during the People's Movement was buried soon after its preparation, an atmosphere of moral compromise tainted all the political parties from the start of the second democratic era.

An Amnesty International report last year cited state-supported intimidation of a young girl allegedly raped in the Chisapani army barracks. If this glaring case could not be countered, who will press for the truth about the 7,000+ dead, and the other casualties of war? "That doubt is well founded," Pyakurel admits. "The human rights community has its weaknesses. Because of our past affiliations, our present political loyalties, the state favours that we depend on, and the relationship between the state, the parties and international partners, we sometimes cannot fulfil our duties."

"I won't say that a truth and reconciliation commission here would be unsuccessful," he concludes. "But it may not be as successful as it should be."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)