Don’t ask, don’t tell

An article from the Nepali Times:
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell


A victim of Doramba massacre who
was handcuffed and shot
A few months back when Nepali media and politics was rife with Maoist politburo member Agni Sapkota, then minister of information, we said a media trial into such cases could delay the peace process and impede efforts to find a national consensus on statute drafting. Moreover, individual approaches in such high profile cases may even eclipse larger wrongdoings. Hence, there is an urgent need for an empowered commission which can impartially look into the cases making a clear distinction between political killings during the conflict and individual war crimes.
The resignation of Prabhu Sah for an alleged involvement in the killing of a Hindu Yuva Sangh activist Kashi Tiwari in Birganj last year has once again stirred that debate. But the wishy-washy attitude of the political parties on the issue leaves enough room for us to suspect that none of the parties across the political spectrum want to see such a commission take shape, much less investigate cases. When everyone has skeletons in their closets, no one wants to open any of them for fear of being exposed.
In a decade of conflict and in the following years of the Madhes and other ethnic movements, everybody got their hands tainted: Maoists, the Army, the King and parties that came to assume power and keep musclemen in their payrolls.
It is not so much about whether Agni Sapkota had instructed the killing of Arjun Lama of Kavre out of personal vendetta or if it was a “party decision”. Does a political motive justify cold blooded murder of unarmed civilians? But we are not talking about one case here, neither are we talking about one party.
Politicians realise that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is mutually assured destruction. No matter how much they hate each other, they won’t risk being dragged down together. At a time when the country’s politics is delicately balanced, none of the parties want to risk losing the support of the army which itself has been internationally censured for unpunished massacres and rapes.
The biggest paradox in Nepali politics today is, despite having gone through a revolution that took us from a monarchy to republic there are still only two real protagonists: the powerful and the powerless. During the Jhalanath Khanal government, the home ministry had forwarded 35 cases to the Law Ministry requesting that the cases be dismissed citing their “political” nature. But the ministry sent back 12 cases saying the cases in question did not fulfill the legal parameters to qualify as “politically-motivated” cases.
When we requested the Law Ministry this week to provide us a copy of its decision regarding the cases under Freedom of Information provisions, officials refused. The secretary at the ministry claimed that the cases were still “under consideration” and hence could not be made available to the public. But an insider told us that the cases have been sent back because they were mostly of non-political nature involving personal crimes committed during and after the war and the Madhes movement.
Soon it will be five years since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in November 2006 providing for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Commission on Disappearances within six months. We have had five governments since then, but the bill remains in limbo. Chances are the commissions will never be formed and even if they are formed, its jurisdiction may be limited to submitting reports which will never be made public. It is even less likely that a future government will act on them. We all know the fate of the Rayamajhi Commission report.

Berghof Foundation supports action research in collaboration with NEFAD

The Berlin-based Berghof Foundation for Conflict Studies is funding a study that revolves around NEFAD to increase understanding of victim mobilisation in post-conflict contexts.  The research is a collaboration between Simon Robins, a researcher with a significant experience of both post-conflict contexts in general and Nepal in particular, and Ram Kumar Bhandari, the President of NEFAD. The project aims to be both an academic investigation of victim mobilisation in a low income state and an effort to support NEFAD by providing input to mobilisation using experiences from elsewhere in the world.

Researchers meeting families of the disappeared in Sunsari district, September 2011.

The discourse of transitional justice has emerged as a response to the needs of societies emerging from conflict or political violence and has become one of the preferred lenses through which to examine democratising states. Typically, it describes institutional responses to violations of international humanitarian law, human rights law or domestic law that occurred during a previous regime. Despite a widespread understanding that it is the poor and disempowered who constitute most of the victims of conflict, a sustained engagement with such constituencies has not become part of the mainstream practice of transitional justice. Transitional processes and the mechanisms (such as trials, truth commissions and reparation schemes) through which they work tend to be prescriptive and top-down: they are created by elites, often those who were themselves involved in the conflict that preceded the transition, supported by an international community remote from the context and from indigenous understandings. In many cases processes of consultation with victims and communities are cursory. The continued marginalisation of evidence based approaches to dealing with the past that engage with victims of conflict in favour of a “one size fits all” universalism that ignores particularities of culture and context serve to fundamentally compromise peacebuilding processes. Some literature is now emerging to challenge this deficit, but there remains a dearth of praxis that interrogates the idea of a transitional justice driven by the grassroots.
One of the few ways in which the views of those most impacted by the legacies of violence can challenge such prescriptive approaches and impact in a transitional context is through victim mobilisation. This remains particularly true in Nepal where the bulk of victims are poor and socially excluded, live in rural areas far from the capital, lack education and are ignorant of their rights. Social movements of conflict victims constitute one of the few routes to increasing victim agency in transition. This project aims to understand the process of victim mobilisation, and the challenges to it, through a study of the case of Nepal using a participatory action research approach that will support and empower associations of victims. It will focus on families of those subject to disappearance, one of the defining violations of the conflict. The project will be a collaboration between an academic researcher with extensive experience working with conflict victims in Nepal and the coordinator of the largest independent national victims’ group in the country. It will seek to understand processes of victim mobilisation and ask how best to mobilise such a community of victims in order to maximise their influence on the development of Nepal’s transitional justice process, and understand such processes more deeply.
The study is now ongoing with district based affiliates of NEFAD in Bardiya, Sunsari and Lamjung. First results will be reported at the end of 2011, while the project will also seek to evolve a plan of action for NEFAD at district, regional and national levels, which will be discussed and presented at NEFAD’s next national meeting early in 2012.