19-25 February 2016 #796

Post Truth Politics

The TRC’s first report expresses deep frustration at the lack of cooperation from those in power
Foreign Hand

It came as a pleasant surprise to see the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) mentioned on the front page recently, like hearing news of an old friend long presumed dead.

The occasion was the delivery of its first annual report to the PM's office, 10 years after the war ended, in which it duly reported there was nothing much to report. Though disappointing, one can’t really blame the commission which has faced stiff opposition at every turn, especially from those guilty of the conflict-era crimes it is supposed to investigate.

All signatories to the 2006 Peace Agreement consented to forming the TRC, and most have been actively undermining its formation and efforts ever since. The Maoist government under Baburam Bhattarai dismissed hundreds of criminal charges against their cadre, including those for rape and murder, a move since declared illegal by Nepal’s Supreme Court because it contravenes international law. Despite the pleas of victims seeking closure, it took nine long years before the TRC was finally formed, and its first report expresses deep frustration at the lack of cooperation from those in power. Even hiring staff has been problematic, since all eligible civil servants fear reprisals from those under investigation.

Such is the sorry state of truth in Nepal today, the result of state institutions weakened by civil war, 20 years of Maoist inflicted mayhem and rampant corruption. The very word ‘truth’ in politics seems almost quaint these days, a throw-back to a long-gone era of chivalry and honesty when the elite took its responsibilities seriously. Whether such an age ever actually existed is debatable but there’s little doubt that truth, as a higher concept, was the Pointless War’s first victim.

The Hand noticed in 2007 (issue #339, ‘Post Truth Nepal’) that ideologically driven politicians lied differently than others. A belief in ideology, it seems, frees one from caring whether the lie being told is believed or not, and when lying for the cause becomes a patriotic duty anything goes. Chairman Mao himself said a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth, a maxim our local comrades seem to have made their own.

By now it’s painfully obvious the very premise of the war was a giant fabrication. Promises of an egalitarian society and communist utopia (excuse the oxymoron) to uplift the masses were proven false when the only ones uplifted from poverty were the Maoist leadership. The thousands of young people used and abandoned by the party stand as living testament to this massive duplicity.

Meanwhile, the army was denying persistent rumors of torture and disappearances, telling journalists and NGOs they respect human rights while secretly imprisoning and killing thousands. The fact the military ran torture centres in the heart of Kathmandu while telling these lies shows how ugly it got.

It’s been downhill for truth ever since and the Peace Agreement changed little. Just as the Maoists lied when they promised to abide by the precepts of democratic politics, everyone lied when they promised to respect the TRC and its findings.

Alas, the commission’s first report sounds more like a cry in the wilderness than anything else. Nonetheless, to its credit it made the most of its moment in the spotlight, warning the government of dire consequences if it doesn’t get required support to do its job.

One can almost picture our PM yawning as he tries to cut the meeting short, eager to get back to enjoying the spoils of power. As a dedicated Marxist-Leninist, KP Oli was never much interested in the truth and probably sees the reconciliation part of the commission’s title as already achieved. After all, he’s running the country in cahoots with former enemies and they all seem to be getting along just fine.

The TRC chairman, Surya Kiran Gurung, gave it his best shot when he declared that Nepal might ‘lose control’ of the process if nothing is done to move the cases forward. He rightly advised that cases involving heinous crimes could get ‘internationalised’ as happened with Colonel Lama of the Nepal army, arrested while visiting the UK for torture committed in Nepal.

Despite all appearances, Nepal is a signatory to international conventions that require war crimes be prosecuted, even if the perpetrator is your new best friend. The jurisdiction of these treaties under international law is considered universal and perhaps herein we find the solution.

Everyone knows our political class find all-expense paid junkets to foreign shores totally irresistible, so perhaps the TRC should offer a free holiday in London to everyone on their list. The Brits have a proven track record, as shown by their refusal to release Colonel Lama until his case is heard in court, and will simply arrest anyone with an outstanding warrant. Outsourcing justice would not only be cost effective (only one way tickets required) but also ensure the crooks don’t get away with murder, something local courts cannot yet guarantee.

One way or another, the many victims of conflict era crimes deserve justice, but are unlikely to get it until the TRC is empowered by the government and allowed to fulfill its mandate. We wish them luck.

Read also:

20 years wasted, Editorial

The tale of two commissions, Bineeta Dahal

Post Truth Nepal, Foreign Hand

Commissions of convenience, Trishna Rana

TRC and Col Lama

Irreconcilable truths, Editorial

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