25-31 January 2013 #640

Voice of the victims

The transitional industry in Nepal has turned the entire peace process into a ‘project’
Ram Kumar Bhandari

The longer this endless transitional period drags on, the more painful it is for us families of victims of the conflict. The past month, especially, has proven beyond doubt that truth and justice are not priorities for this government.

The Disappearance, and Truth and Justice Commissions, which should have addressed the grievances of victims have themselves become victims of political horse-trading. The leadership is preoccupied with attaining and retaining political power by any means, undermining and instrumentalising justice.

Government and non-government efforts have abused and wasted resources generated in the name of victims and abused them for their own political or fund-raising ends. The trend is to look at victims ‘only as victims’, and not as campaigners of justice. This perspective has not changed even after the failure of the constitutional process.

After facing abuse during the conflict, the families of victims now face abuse by the government, political parties, corporate non-governmental groups, and partisan civil society activists. A donor-oriented, state-controlled process has not allowed a victim-centred discourse. The state has played with the psychology of victims, either throwing money at the problem in the name of reparation, or ensuring that its disbursement is partisan. The transitional industry in Nepal has turned the entire peace process into a ‘project’ in which the financial beneficiaries are the state or non-state actors, and not the victims.

The present caretaker government is exploiting the political fluidity after the dissolution of the CA, and has tried to merge the two commissions on disappearance and justice, violating the right of victims to know the truth and secure justice. There is a long history of justice denied in Nepal starting with those who ordered the hangings of Gangalal and Dasharath Chand during the Rana regime. Those who were found to be the key suppressors of the 1990 and 2006 people’s movements were never held accountable. The recommendations of the Dhungana, Mallik, and Rayamajhi Commissions all gather dust, blacklisted individuals were never made public.

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s latest moves to protect those involved in wartime atrocities just follow this trend. Kuber Singh Rana who was implicated in wartime excesses was promoted to police chief, the Nepal Army’s Raju Basnet who was involved in the disappearances of civilians from Bhairabnath Battalion was rewarded. Ironically, policemen known to have been involved in the death and torture of Maoist journalist Krishna Sen were promoted by this Maoist government.

For the families of victims, the only bright spots have been the investigation into the detention, torture, and murder of Dekendra Thapa and the arrest in the UK of Col Kumar Lama. But in both cases, the Maoist government has shown its contempt of justice. The opposition parties spoke out against Col Lama’s arrest, and then proceeded to shamelessly politicise the Dekendra Thapa case. The government’s response to these cases have not just weakened the discussion on the proposed commissions, but also undermined the truth and justice agenda of the victims.

The leadership of the army, police, and administration as well as the former rebels has tried to protect each other from the need to face up to the guilt of their past. But a cathartic coming to terms with the crimes of the conflict is necessary to stop vengeance and a relapse into violence and conflict.

The families of victims want truth, they want to be compensated, and they want justice. But these demands have been sidelined in the current state of impunity and mutual accommodation between former enemies. When they are raised, the victims’ agenda tends to be just a fund-raising bullet point for Kathmandu-centric NGOs. This actor-tendency of civil society groups ends up paying lip service to victims, and holding superficial dialogue.

Although the Maoist government seems to be slightly more receptive to a reworked bill on the formation of proposed commissions after a stern warning from donors last week, it doesn’t look like there is the political will to go through with it. The bill languishing with the president was written by former war criminals, and is not acceptable.

The voices of victims need to be heard if a new bill is going to be drafted, otherwise the state of impunity will persist, undermine long-term peace and ensure that our wounds from the war never heal.

Ram Kumar Bhandari represents a network of the victims of the conflict and is chairperson of the Committee for Social Justice.

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