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.

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