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For victims of Nepal’s civil war, hope for justice is about expire

January 31, 2019

For victims of Nepal’s civil war, hope for justice is about expire

Kathmandu: One afternoon in Western Nepal’s Lamjung district, headmaster Muktinath Adhikari was teaching a class when a gang of armed Maoists barged into the classroom and dragged him away, even as his horrified pupils watched in stunned silence. With hands tied behind his back, he was taken to a nearby hill and shot in the head. A rebel against the “rebels”, Adhikari had not only been a government informer but also refused to shell out money to the Maoists.

It has been 17 years. Since then the Maoists have laid down arms and joined mainstream politics. But justice still alludes the headmaster’s son. “I want those behind the murder of my innocent father booked and punished as per the law. My fight for justice will continue till we succeed,” Suman says with a firm resolve in his eyes. He knows he is not the only one seeking justice. The decade-long Maoist insurgency that began in 1996 had killed about 17,000 people while several thousand had gone missing in the former Himalayan kingdom.

Looming expiry of transitional justice mechanisms

What has worried conflict victims is the looming expiry of an extended four-year term of transitional justice mechanisms that are mandated to provide justice to the conflict victims. During peace negotiations, the government and the Maoists had agreed to settle conflict-era cases of crimes through Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission for the Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP). Established in February 2015, the two bodies have the mandate to investigate conflict-era cases and recommend the government to provide reparations to conflict victims and prosecute the guilty. As their extended four-year term expires on February 9, the two bodies are, however, nowhere close to accomplishing their goals.

TRC had received about 61,000 complaints but has completed the investigation on only about 3,000 of them while CIEDP is yet to finish work on 20% of the cases. Conflict victims complain that apart from inadequate financial and human resources, lack of legal enforcement and political will remain big hurdles for these commissions; this despite perpetrators in most cases being named by the victims.

International community calls out Nepal

As the Nepal government doesn’t seem to have a clear plan to address the woes of the conflict victims once the term of the two bodies ends in the next few days, the country’s transitional justice process is now the subject of international scrutiny.

On January 24, the United Nations and major western countries urged the Nepal government to clarify to the public what its plans were to take the transitional justice process forward in 2019. A joint statement issued by the UN and nine embassies stressed on the need for public trust in the transitional justice process, saying without that “Nepal will not be able to bring closure to the wounds and grievances that persist from the conflict era, nor be able to complete the peace process”.

A WWII-era British rifle is left unattended as a group of Maoist rebels in Nepal’s Rolpa district pass time with a board game during a ceasefire in 2005. Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Nepal government has, however, taken strong exception to the suggestions. Slamming the international community, the government said that foreigners do not need to remind Nepal about transitional justice process as this is being expedited under its own unique model. Government spokesperson Gokul Baskota, who is also the Minister for Communications and Information Technology, said the transitional justice process is being expedited in the spirit of the constitution and the peace agreement. “We will move forward in our own way and at our own pace. None of the actors of the peace process [in the country] can deviate from consensus. We have been holding adequate discussions on cases related to heinous crimes. We are open to any suggestions and feedback also,” he said.

The government has maintained that since none of the warring parties was defeated in Nepal’s conflict, a unique model of transitional justice needs to be applied in this context. “One of the two sides in the conflict is defeated in other major conflicts around the world. It is only in Nepal that a win-win situation for both sides has prevailed,” the minister said.

Victims divided

Conflict victims, now united under the banner of Conflict Victims Common Platform (CVCP), are also divided on how transitional justice issues should be resolved. While a section of them argue that the existing TRC and CIEDP need to be dissolved and replaced with a “credible high-level political mechanism”, another group wants to give continuity to the existing mechanisms with some reforms to make it effective. Those rejecting the idea of political mechanisms argue that such steps could be a ploy to grant blanket amnesty even to those who had been involved in serious human rights violations during the conflict as they are likely to be led by the perpetrators themselves.

Officials at the Ministry of Justice, Law and Parliamentary Affairs, which oversees the transitional justice issues, said they plan to take “appropriate” decisions after holding consultation with conflict victims across the country.

CVCP chairman Bhagiram Chaudhary said they have asked the government for meaningful participation of conflict victims in the whole process as well as in designing a policy roadmap to conclude transitional justice. “Transitional justice does not mean only amnesty and prosecution. Truth-seeking, prosecution and justice, reconciliation, reparation, memorialization and institutional reform stay at the core as interrelated and complementary themes,” he said.