Victims of Nepal’s armed conflict from 1996 to 2006 have expressed the hope that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) could finally become a reality under the country’s new Constituent Assembly (CA) and prime minister.
Nanda Prasad Adhikari, 56, and his wife, Ganga, 54, have been on a hunger strike since November 2013 in the hope of securing justice for their teenage son, who was executed in 2004 by Maoists rebels fighting to overthrow the constitutional monarchy and establish a republic. “My son was killed mercilessly - I want to see justice,” said Adhikari, the boy’s father, who spoke to IRIN in the intensive care unit of Bir Hospital, in the capital, Kathmandu.
“There is finally a good opportunity for the TRC after all these years. Let us hope that our parliamentarians do a better job of making it happen,” said Suman Adhikari, 34, president of the Conflict Victims Orphan Society, a network of victims and families. His father, Muktinath, was 45 years old when he was tied to a tree and shot in the head by Maoist rebels in Duradanda village in Lamjung District, about 300km southwest of the capital, an execution that shocked the nation.
Nepal had been under a caretaker government led by former Maoist rebels since May 2012. In the assembly elected in 2008 after the monarchy was abolished, the former Maoist rebels had held a majority of seats, but after years of political stalemate, the NC, the country’s oldest party, gained a majority in the election on 19 November 2013, winning 196 of the 601 seats in the CA.
Despite opposition by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal, the pro-monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party, and a number of smaller parties, the newly established assembly elected Sushil Koirala, president of the Nepali Congress (NC) party, as prime minister on 10 February.
A question of impunity
One of the most contentious issues in the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord, brokered by the UN, was the matter of setting up a TRC, which has not been established due to political infighting over the question of impunity.
The process of drafting a bill to establish a TRC began in 2007, but from the outset it has been fraught with problems and controversies, often focused on granting a blanket amnesty and giving the Attorney General, a political appointee, too much power over decisions to prosecute or not.
Then, in a major victory for victims and their families, the Nepal Supreme Court decreed on 2 January that a blanket amnesty in serious cases of human rights violations would be unacceptable.
“This verdict is a good sign, but now it is again up to the parliamentarians and their parties in power, who should take up their responsibilities and be more accountable,” said Mandira Sharma, a prominent lawyer in the Advocacy Forum, a national NGO. Sharma is one of the leading advocates of the TRC and has played significant role in fighting political impunity.
According to the Nepal National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), more than 17,000 people were killed in the conflict, while thousands more were tortured. Over 3,000 cases of severe human rights abuse have been registered with the NHRC, and around 850 cases of enforced disappearance have also been registered and are under investigation.
“The peace process will remain incomplete if the severe crimes committed during the armed conflict are not addressed, and justice is not provided to the victims,” said Bed Prasad Adhikari, NHRC’s top official.
But activists say progress so far has been slow, with little or no parliamentarian follow-up to start the process, a claim downplayed by parliamentarians.
“There is little time and we need to act soon… with the new CA there is better hope of forming the commissions [TRC and Disappearance],” said Maoist parliamentarian Shakti Basnet, who is also a member of the central working committee of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN). He said the new government would be initiating a discussion shortly.
Human rights and legal experts worry that parties to the discussion will revert to the same debate over the issue of amnesty, but parliamentarians say they cannot go against the Supreme Court ruling.
“We have spent all these years debating some contentious issues related to the TRC. We cannot waste time by repeating the same mistakes as before,” said parliamentarian Ramesh Lekhak, a member of the NC leadership.
Some legal experts also claim that the failure to understand the real meaning of transitional justice by both public and politicians is a major part of the problem in setting up the TRC, which is seen as either a vehicle for granting amnesties, or for criminal prosecution.
“In Nepal, transitional justice is very narrowly conceived, and there is a lack of understanding about the form and function of truth commissions,” said Santosh Sigdel, senior programme officer at the International Centre for Transitional Justice.
He stressed that “Victims’ right to truth should be the cornerstone of any future truth commission.”