Nepal: the long road to justice

By Ram Kumar Bhandari
13 February 2020

Memory matters
The decade-long ‘people’s war’ in Nepal (1996-2006) brought enormous pain and suffering for a great many people. The social impact of the war was extreme, with victims stigmatized not only in their communities but also within their own families. People have long sought acknowledgment of these horrific incidents and recognition of themselves as victims. They demand justice and comprehensive reparation process to create an environment for true reconciliation.

The primary victims were the victims of enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, torture, rape, displacement and loss of property. However, we must not forget that their families are also victims – a fact often overlooked.

Main political leadership betrayed victims and turned themselves into the novel elites of the state. They have already forgotten the past showing disrespect for the martyrs and disappeared people, the people who made the ultimate sacrifice for the social change of the present-day Nepal. There is no conducive environment to accommodate victims’ demand for truth and justice. Instead, the State often defends past crimes while many alleged perpetrators still sit in powerful positions. Those who killed Krishna Sen “Ichhuk”, forcibly disappeared Milan Nepali, Purna Poudel, Bipin, Tej and hundreds of others; tortured, raped and killed Maina, Reena Sunuwar, Rupa Chaudhary and many more, still serve in the Nepal Army and Nepal Police. Let us remember our relatives, friends and comrades who fought against the State repression; shame to those who are sold out and undermined the legacy of the people’s war.

This attitude reflects the lack of political will to address the needs of people affected by the war, especially those who lost their family members and struggle on a daily basis to make a living in the face of adversity and social stigma.

After a violent war, society needs to find a way of laying past to rest so that it can build a common vision for the future. If the past is not addressed properly then it will be difficult for people to trust institutions of the State. We will not be able to achieve economic prosperity, stability and security or build common values. If unaddressed, memories of the violent past will fester like an untreated wound perpetuating distrust, the absence of rule of law and accountability and the risk of such violence being repeated in the future.

(Transitional) justice ignored
With various provisions and procedures of transitional justice being debated in Kathmandu for so long, very little attention has gone into probing what justice means to victims and survivors. Also unexamined by those in power or those implementing transitional justice is how the denial of justice for a prolonged period has changed the conventional and legalistic notions of transitional justice in the minds of victims. The top-down exclusionary state approach has made victims more excluded and silent. The truth, economic support and memorialization as a part of public recognition are priorities of the victims to be achieved through the processes, majority victims seek social justice rather than legal ones. Until a deeper victim-centered understanding of justice is reliably articulated, the truth commissions will not be able to address the core needs of victims and satisfy them. If truth commissions cannot contribute to understanding what drove the armed conflict, the likelihood of another armed conflict increases.

Most often, victims and survivors are excluded from policy level debates. The transitional justice process and the truth commissions through which they work tend to be prescriptive and top-down that is disconnected from the context on the ground and reality of victims. Wider victims and survivors demand that the process also address the root causes of the conflict, such as poverty, exclusion, structural violence, and social injustices. However, the transition process has focused almost exclusively on civil and political rights as the frame of reference for justice, ignoring the social, economic, and cultural rights of the victims.

Human rights in crisis
 Government is failing to address past violations, often defends alleged perpetrators, protects criminals and corrupts at the top. Nepal is still confronting with the fair deal of justice. Thousands of families of the martyrs, disappeared, injured, displaced, ex-combatants and many others see themselves as they are marginalized. There remains a high need for an honest deal and honoring them as national martyrs those who sacrificed for social transformation. Instead, former Maoist led home ministry declared dead security members who fought against Maoist forces as martyrs which has been highly confrontational. Government does not listen it’s citizen, doesn’t respect Supreme Court verdicts and not implementing recommendations made by National Human Rights Commission on serious human rights abuses.

Recent political ban of Biplav led Communist Party of Nepal by the government is unconstitutional and against the international law that has brought an unwanted tension and threats to the political climate. There are more than 900 political prisoners under the home ministry led by former Maoist rebellion Ram Bahadur Thapa. The recent illegal arrest of student, Pratik Sudal from University library, police encounter of Kumar Poudel and illegal arrest and re-arrest after Court’s verdict of hundreds of political detainees are some of worse example of ongoing human rights abuses in Nepal which are under-reported. Torture, sexual abuses and rape are increasing, most often the perpetrators walk free and protected by power elites. Government has registered various anti human rights bills in the parliament such as media council bill, National Human Rights Commission bill, new NGO act and recent Nepal army intelligence bill which are all controversial and against the current constitution and international human rights laws that may not only scrutinize the civic spaces but also control the freedom of expression, independence of human rights body, freedom of thoughts and political activism. More than 13 years after Nepal’s 2006 Peace Accord, Nepalese political parties are still largely failing to politically stabilize and democratize the country, respecting human rights and rule of law.

Concluding remarks
Nepal’s conflict was the product of a society built upon the codified exclusion of most of its people. Such social exclusion militates against the engagement of a large fraction in many areas of society, on the basis of caste, ethnicity and gender, and human rights practice is no exception to this. Victims of violations are most likely to come from marginalised communities, such as from indigenous communities, or from the lower castes. As a result, the rights agenda is constrained to the civil and political, with such agencies essentially ignoring the issues of social, economic and cultural rights: these are the issues that victims also prioritise and which drove the social exclusion that fuelled Nepal’s history of conflict.

While unaddressed grievances of the conflict live on, Nepal’s post-conflict agenda has been dominated by political elites and security agencies that lead the discussion through their control and threats. While limited progress has been made at the political level, peace and reconciliation remains elusive at the local level.

Bhandari, a human rights activist, had his father forcibly disappeared by state security forces during People’s War.

The author is solely responsible for opinions, ideas and information contained in this article – Editor

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