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.

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