By Ram Kumar Bhandari – As published in issue #620 of the Nepali Times
The caretaker government on Tuesday approved an ordinance which includes a provision to pardon those involved in extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances during the conflict. This is against democratic norms, prevailing international practice, previous political agreements, and violates the Supreme Court directives.
Those who were expecting a full airing of war atrocities by both sides in the transitional justice process to help the healing and reconciliation process are deeply disappointed, but not surprised. News of the ordinance came as the nationwide network of families of about 1,400 people who were disappeared by both sides gathered this week to mark the International Day of the Disappeared.
Reconciliation is an important goal, but it cannot be built on a foundation of impunity for serious crimes under international law, and it cannot be achieved by coercing victims. The ordinance forces the victims and their families to artificially ‘reconcile’ and give up their rights to truth, justice and reparations.
The draft ordinance also tries to make it a two-in-one arrangement by merging the Disappearance Commission bill into the Truth and Reconciliation Commission bill, thus diluting the provisions further and sweeping the dirty secrets of the war under the carpet.
The families are justifiably outraged not just about their own personal tragedies and the remote possibility of finding out what really happened to their relatives, but also because it will prevent closure for them and for the nation as a whole.
The 10 year war brutalised society and caused incalculable damage to the country. It inflicted deep psychological trauma on victims and their families who still suffer the legacy of violence in their daily lives.
Aside from the tens of thousands who were killed, wounded, raped, tortured, and displaced, perhaps the most enduring legacy of the conflict is the missing and enforced disappeared. Families still wait for information about the fate of their loved ones and for the chance, if they are dead, to retrieve their remains and perform appropriate rites.
While the original ceasefire agreement and many subsequent agreements committed to address the issue of the disappeared, six years after the signing of the CPA, no progress has been made. Beyond merely ignoring the demands of victims, the government has added insult to injury by continuing to support direct perpetrators and even promoting known abusers.
The regular promotion of Kuber Singh Rana who was in charge of the infamous Dhanusha case where five students were disappeared, and other attempts to obstruct the path of justice by the state have encouraged impunity and given the Maoists an excuse to get away with their abuses. From the victims’ perspective, forming a Truth Commission through ordinance would simply confirm their worst fears that the state is out to protect and support perpetrators of war crimes while denying victims’ basic demands for justice and sustenance assistance.
This regime is more likely to destroy remaining evidence and manipulate the truth, thereby killing any hope for truth, justice, and reconciliation. A Truth Commission overseen by perpetrators is no Truth Commission, it doesn’t even meet the minimum international standard for a transitional justice mechanism.
Nepal’s post-conflict period has seen the politicisation and commodification of victimhood. The movement towards reconciliation is fragmented by vested political interest groups, holding hostage the grief of thousands of victim families. Various players have instrumentalised the victims’ agenda, exploiting their pain for political and economic benefit.
The politicians have intentionally ignored the victims, while civil society has selective attention. We in the victim community now find ourselves squeezed in the middle: with an inert government laden with perpetrators of atrocities on one side, and on the other a civil society concerned primarily with perpetuating its own existence.
The transitional justice debate in Kathmandu over the last six years has been between a government advocating impunity and a human rights community advancing the global discourse of ‘truth, justice, and reparation’. The families of victims and survivors have had little voice and agency in the proceedings.
Distracted by daily political wrangling, leaders in Kathmandu have forgotten the pain of our recent past. As a result, impunity is deeply rooted and the politics of revenge is polarising society. The interrupted peace process and the dissolution of the CA have left a dangerous void.
The transitional justice process must not just address crimes of the past, but also avoid a future conflict. If this wilful ignorance continues, Nepal may have to pay an even higher price than it did during the 1996-2006 war.
In recognition of International Day of the Disappeared this article was also published by the International Centre for Transitional Justice