23-29 August 2013 #670

Truth, justice, constitution

Unless wartime ghosts are exorcised, an election will not be the end of the peace process
Trishna Rana
CATCH US IF YOU CAN: Leaders of UCPN (M) attend the orientation program of YCL’s Newa State Committee at Rastriya Nach Ghar, Jamal on Wednesday.
Angered by the cabinet’s decision to go ahead with the investigation into the murder by the Maoists in 2004 of Krishna Adhikari, Pushpa Kamal Dahal launched into yet another vitriolic attack against those demanding justice for war era crimes and threatened “stern consequences”.

The fact that he was speaking to ex-guerrillas of the YCL was meant to show the government and human rights groups that he meant business. His deputy Baburam Bhattarai also spoke and took to twitter to justify the violence unleashed by the party during the conflict, arguing that since the bloodshed was for a ‘revolutionary’ cause they should not be under the purview of criminal investigation.

This is not at all surprising coming from a man who has never renounced violence and openly bays for “blood of patriots and tyrants” on social networking sites. With less than three months before the scheduled election date, the country’s largest party is once again proving how unworthy it is of the people’s trust and support.

Whenever questions of transitional justice and prosecuting conflict era excesses are raised, the Maoists resort to intimidation that harks back to their wartime tactics of threats of violence. Earlier this year, Maoist cadre in Dailekh roughed up locals who were angry about the Bhattarai government quashing the investigation into the torture and murder of journalist Dekendra Thapa.

In March, UCPN (M) cadre bullied protesters at Occupy Baluwatar for demanding the arrest of Bhattarai crony Bal Krishna Dhungel who was convicted of murder of Ujjan Shrestha in Okhaldhunga in 2004. The anniversary of the Doramba massacre last week in which an army patrol summarily executed 18 unarmed Maoist cadre during a ceasefire went largely unnoticed – indicating a conspiracy of silence between the two former enemies who now represent the state.

The Maoist-led coalition had an implicit understanding with the security forces to let bygones be bygones and did everything in its power to grant blanket amnesty to perpetrators on both sides of the conflict. During his time in Singha Darbar, Bhattarai even pushed a TRC ordinance that not only had provisions for amnesty, but also merged the Disappearance Commission bill into a toothless Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Today the same leaders argue that conflict era cases should be addressed exclusively by a TRC. Krishna Adhikari’s frail parents have been on hunger strike off and on since January, they have been detained, sent to a mental asylum, deported back to Gorkha and are now in hospital. They are not convinced their son’s murderers will face justice. No one knows how long they will have to wait.

According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of November 2006, the TRC was supposed to be established within six months. November elections are looking doubtful and it might be a while before Nepal gets its second Constituent Assembly. Issues of federalism and state restructuring will dominate a future CA not the conflict’s violent legacy.

However, if the main goal of writing a new constitution is to stabilise Nepal’s politics and bring it back on track after almost two lost decades, such major political transformation cannot preclude justice. And it should be clear to both former warring sides and the Nepali public that as long as we don’t exorcise the ghosts of our brutal past, true progress won’t be possible.

Victims and their families are yet to recover from the physical and emotional trauma of losing loved ones. Then there are the residual effects of war that we can see in the criminalisation of politics, a growing gun culture, and increase in domestic violence.

Just like a new constitution isn’t the magic wand that will solve all of Nepal’s problems, the TRC isn’t the answer to a more peaceful society. But it is at least a starting point. Unless larger transitional justice issues are bought into the mainstream debate of constitution writing, everyone will lose even if elections happen on time.

Read also:

Justice delayed and denied, RAMESWOR BOHARA

Just want justice, DAMBAR K SHRESTHA

Wounds that haven’t healed, TOOFAN NEUPANE

True reconciliation, GEORGE VARUGHESE and TAMAR LUSTER

War’s legacy: a gun culture, SULAIMAN DAUD

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