25-31 March 2016 #801

Forcing us to forget

As a society we have failed the victims of conflict in more ways than one
Bidushi Dhungel
TRUTH BE TOLD: Ram Kumar Bhandari (left), whose father was disappeared by the Police and Suman Adhikari, whose father was murdered by the Maoists, are among thousands struggling for truth and justices for war crimes. Both were at a rally on Wednesday at Baluwatar. Pic: Bidushi Dhungel

In the 365 days of the calendar year, the UN has thought up a way to have basically every day represented by one issue or the other. Usually, this has meant that people working in each sector have a day or two in the year to mobilise around a certain subject. Whether it’s World Water Day or World Happiness Day or day to end all forms of discrimination, however, these days hold little more than symbolic meaning in the days of ordinary people.

In Nepal, these days are often just an opportunity for NGOs and INGOS to organise poorly attended rallies and discussion programs and perhaps even use up the budgets they often struggle to spend. But 24 March was the International Day of Truth. And while it was just another day and yes another protest, Nepalis seem to have long forgotten the value of truth. The International Day of Truth is actually associated with truth-seeking for victims of conflict.

And while us Nepalis often like to conveniently forget that there was an armed struggle in this country that left at least 15,000 people dead, that truth must not be forgotten. The struggle of those affected by that conflict will not be over until they are given some semblance of justice, whether it is through legal justice or simply by giving them access to the truth about what happened to their near and dear ones and why.

What is most upsetting is the way in which ordinary people see the inconvenience in acknowledging the truth and thus choose to ignore it. But, while each Nepali individual may not have been directly impacted by the conflict and the bloodshed it caused, the reality of the state’s protection of criminals and rampant impunity is an issue that affects us all. For example, those that feel pain and injustice regarding the recent murders in the Tarai must know that justice cannot be fought for alone and only for selective injustices.

Civil society, and NGOs in particular, have hijacked the conflict victims’ agenda into cases represented by one civil society leader or another. For years, the victims were pitted against one another by parties and the civil society which profited from the division. Victims of state atrocities and victims of the Maoist atrocities were socialised to be suspicious and angry with each other. Now, they have finally come together and it’s high time that the rest of Nepali society gave these brave and persistent citizens the support and encouragement they deserve.

As a society, in many ways we have already failed the victims of conflict. People, not just politicians, stood idly by as an illegal bill was passed and two sham commissions were formed. It is common knowledge that the agendas of the TRC and the Disappearance Commissions are not victim-centric, but rather focused on tiring out any opposing voices before pushing through what is effectively going to be blanket amnesty. Their tenures have passed a year already and they have only just drafted their working regulation.

With all parties focusing on forcing people to forget – much less investigate, expose and take cases to court – it is an uphill battle for the victims of conflict.

Even their allies – civil society and NGOs – have moved on as funding patterns have shifted. But until the grievances of the conflict victims are publicly addressed and the impacted individuals are ready to move on with their lives, the fundamental and democratic principles of justice and accountability cannot be truly established in Nepal.

Read also:

Healing the wounds of war, Rubeena Mahato

Post-conflict stress syndrome, Taylor Cladwell

“I need to know why”, Gopal Gartaula

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