Fourteen years on, victims of the armed conflict are still awaiting justiceAs Nepal marks 14 years since the signing of the peace deal that brought the Dahal-led Maoists to mainstream politics, rights bodies have warned delay in concluding transitional justice process could be investigated by international courts.
Shanta Dhakal, 47, from Surkhet would have known the whereabouts of her husband years back, had political parties on behalf of the state and the former Maoists been honest to their commitments made in the Comprehensive Peace Accord signed between the government and the rebels in 2006.
Revealing the status of those forcibly disappeared during the decade-long conflict within six months of signing of the agreement and providing justice to the victims of murder, rape and torture, among other gross human rights violations, were among the major goals of the deal.
Saturday marks the 14th anniversary of the peace accord. But these goals remain largely unaddressed, thus only increasing the pain of the victims like Dhakal.
Her husband Ganesh, a government employee, was arrested by Nepal Police from Timurkot in Surkhet district on May 7, 1998. He was accused of association with the then rebels, the CPN-Maoist. Ganesh was never released, and the police never told her where he was.
Twenty-two years on, Dhakal’s search for her life partner continues, to no avail.
“Different parties including the Maoists used the peace accord as a ladder to power,” she told the Post over the phone from Surkhet. “But they never showed any interest in providing justice to victims like me even though it was a major goal of the peace deal.”
Integration of the Maoist combatants in the security forces and rehabilitation of those who aren’t integrated; socio-political transformation of the country and justice for the victims of the human rights violations were the three broad goals envisioned by the peace accord, signed by then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala on behalf of the state and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the then Maoist commander and now chair of the governing Nepal Communist Party, on behalf of the rebels.
The integration of the Maoist combatants was completed in 2013 while the Constituent Assembly promulgated the constitution two years later, setting the foundation for socio-political transformation.
Political parties that have come to power since 2006, however, have remained reluctant to conclude the transitional justice process.
Suman Adhikari, whose father was killed by the Maoists in 2002, says it is more saddening that the parties have even stopped marking the day the peace deal was signed.
“The parties who fought against each other have one voice when it comes to transitional justice and they are now treating the victims as their opponents,” he told the Post.
As many as 13,000 people, according to an official estimate, lost their lives while 1,333 suffered forcible disappearance during the armed conflict that lasted till 2006 from 1996. The Maoists entered mainstream politics through the peace deal signed on November 21, 2006 and led the government three times since. However, along with other political parties, it too did nothing concrete towards concluding the peace process other than forming the largely ineffective Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons.
Various national and international human rights organisations have said there is neither law nor the interest of the state for delivering justice to the victims. Issuing a report on the eve of the 14th anniversary of the agreement, the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the Kathmandu-based Advocacy Forum have jointly said the authorities in Nepal are preventing police and prosecutors from pursuing conflict-era cases of human rights violations. The 94-page report, “No Law, No Justice, No State for Victims: The Culture of Impunity in Post-Conflict Nepal,” has pointed out how the state remains indifferent towards providing justice for the thousands of insurgency victims.
“The government of Nepal has maintained a robust commitment to impunity, protecting alleged abusers at the expense of victims’ rights, and undermining the rule of law,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in the report. “Rather than providing truth and reconciliation, the weak transitional justice structures have been used to create delays and make excuses to avoid criminal investigations or essential reforms.”
The report has raised a concern over the failure of the two transitional justice commissions—Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons—to deliver justice to the victims.
It’s been five years since the two commissions were formed but they have done nothing other than collecting the complaints. The truth commission has received over 63,000 complaints while over 3,000 cases have been compiled by the disappearance commission. But they haven’t completed investigating any of the cases.
The Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Act was promulgated in 2014, eight years after the signing of the peace deal, and the two commissions were formed in February next year with a mandate of finishing their work in two years.
But soon after the parliament enacted the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Act, there was a controversy.
In February 2015 the Supreme Court ordered the government to amend the Act. It said that the Act did not adhere to international principles of transitional justice. The existing law gives the transitional justice commissions room for amnesty even in serious cases of human rights violations. The 2015 verdict says convicts in cases related to rape, extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance and torture cannot be granted amnesty. However, the successive governments are yet to amend the law as directed by the court.
“We need an immediate amendment to the Act to expedite our work,” Ganga Dhar Adhikari, spokesperson at the disappearance commission, told the Post. “Currently, we are at a preliminary stage of investigation into the complaints.”
Human Rights Watch and Advocacy Forum have called on foreign donor governments and the United Nations to press Nepal’s government to stop impeding justice and to amend transitional justice legislation to comply with Supreme Court rulings and obligations under international human rights law.
“These commissions are politically motivated. Don’t expect justice from them,” Daman Nath Dhungana, former Speaker of the House of Representatives and a veteran civil society leader, told the Post. “I fear that the violence could relapse if the state continues to ignore the victims’ demand for justice.”
Dhungana also says there could be an intervention from the international community if concrete steps are not taken towards delivering justice soon.
Human Rights Watch and the Advocacy Forum, Nepal, too, have reminded the Nepal government about the universal jurisdiction of transitional justice.
National judicial officials around the world could also investigate and prosecute those implicated in serious international crimes, under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” according to the report.
“This principle allows authorities in a third country to pursue individuals believed to be responsible for certain grave international crimes even though they were committed elsewhere and neither the accused nor the victims are nationals of that country,” reads the report.
Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission has also raised its concern over the delay in concluding the transitional justice process.
Among the 1,195 recommendations made since 2000 by the National Human Rights Commission for government action, 940 are related to the decade-long conflict period.
However, their implementation remains unaddressed. “Non implementation of the recommendation is promoting impunity while also has breached Nepal's commitment in the international forum,” reads the statement issued by the commission before the 14th anniversary of the signing of the peace deal.
“There is anger among the thousands of victims [of the conflict] and that could any time change into a revolt,” said Dhungana.