Nepal Communist Party dispute risks further delay in justice for war victimsAs Oli is wooing former Maoist combatants for his political gains, Dahal is warning that the peace process could be derailed because of the House dissolution move.
While the Nepal Communist Party fight has turned Nepal’s politics murky, the one section that seems to fall prey to its leaders’ actions is victims of the decade-long armed conflict.
Thousands of victims of the 1996-2006 insurgency, which resulted in the deaths of at least 13,000 people and disappearance of thousands of others, have been awaiting justice for over a decade and a half now, largely due to a lack of will on the part of Nepal’s political parties to conclude the peace process.
After a political split in the Nepal Communist Party as a result of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve the lower house on December 20, the faction led by Oli is now in a bid to woo former Maoist combatants.
On the other hand, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who leads the other faction along with Madhav Kumar Nepal, has charged Oli with dissolving not only the House but also the peace process—one of the major components of which is ensuring justice for conflict victims.
“So far, except for the transitional justice process, other tasks of the peace process—integration of the Maoist combatants in the Nepal Army and promulgation of the constitution by the Constitutional Assembly—have been completed,” said Dahal last week while addressing a mass gathering organised by his faction to protest against Oli’s House dissolution move. “KP Oli didn’t just dissolve the House of Representatives but his steps have dissolved the peace process and the federal system too.”
At a time when the task of concluding the transitional justice process has been in limbo, Oli’s sudden change of heart for the former Maoist combatants has raised quite an eyebrow among rights defenders and conflict victims.
Many are concerned if the armed conflict, which many want to forget once the transitional justice process is concluded, is emerging as a new tool for the two communist factions in their game of one-upmanship.
Last week, Oli held a meeting with former Maoist combatants, including those who were disqualified from the integration process.
During the meeting, Oli said that the government was committed to facilitating an early conclusion of the transitional justice process. Oli went on to say that he wasn’t a betrayer like Dahal, who was co-chair of the Nepal Communist Party until a little more than a month ago, and that he is committed to providing justice for everyone victimised by the insurgency.
Two days after the meeting, the Oli Cabinet on Monday decided to honour and provide separate identity cards for all those who fought during the armed conflict and were part of the 2006 second people’s movement.
Even though Oli decided to join hands with Dahal in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party, he is one politician who never hesitated to heap scorn upon the latter for leading an armed conflict.
Observers and rights defenders say Oli appears to be using former Maoist combatants, around 15 years after the peace deal, for his political gains.
According to them, both Oli and Dahal are playing dangerous politics against each other and they are trying to make the victims of the armed conflict their pawns.
“Oli’s attempt is purely guided by a motive to expand his vote base,” Kapil Shrestha, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission, told the Post. “When Dahal says that the peace process is in danger due to Oli, the question will be raised as to what he did to conclude it when he was in power.”
The other governments led by various leaders too have failed to do any substantial work to conclude the peace process.
Now with the House dissolved and elections declared, the process is likely to take a back seat.
Ever since he dissolved the House on December 20, Oli has been in a campaign mode for the elections he has declared for April 30 and May 10.
Even though the House dissolution decision is being tested by the Supreme Court, Oli has been constantly making statements that there is no constitutional ground to restore the House and that the elections will take place on the declared dates.
If elections do happen, people will vote on the 91st day from today.
Many say by bringing the former Maoist fighters into his fold, Oli is trying to kill two birds with one stone. Firstly, Oli can expand his vote base by creating an image for himself as a person who cares about the neglected. Second, he wants to send a message that Dahal, who was the commander of the armed conflict, has conveniently deserted those who once were ready to die at his orders.
“Oli is clearly trying to politicise the transitional justice issue,” Govinda Sharma Paudyal, another former member of the National Human Rights Commission, told the Post. “His Saturday’s move is guided by his vested interest–clearly for political gains.”
According to him, Oli might be trying to get the support of the victims of the armed conflict, at least those who have filed complaints at the two transitional commissions–Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission for the Investigation of the Enforced Disappeared Persons.
A little over 63,000 cases have been filed with the truth commission while more than 3,000 cases are with the disappeared commission.
Both the commissions were formed in February 2015, nine years after the peace deal. However, for years, it could not accomplish any of its tasks, as it was deprived of both laws and resources.
As the commission officials’ tenures ended, the two panels once again fell victim to politicians' interest, as they jostled for installing “their people”.
The term of the current office-bearers at the commissions, who were appointed on January 18, last year after “a deal” among Oli, Dahal and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, is going to end on February 9.
Whether new officials could be appointed remains uncertain, as the country itself is facing uncertainty due to Oli’s House dissolution move.
Some even believe Oli’s move, especially of trying to appease former Maoist combatants, as his tactic to threaten Dahal with whom his relations have badly soured lately.
Oli has not missed a single opportunity to use scathing words to criticise Dahal, describing him at times as a person whose sole goal has been access to resources and power.
As a leader of the Maoist conflict, Dahal is party to transitional justice.
By promising to address former Maoist fighters' concerns, Oli is also trying to portray himself as the only leader who cares for them. And technically, he won't be wrong to take that credit because despite failed commitments to deliver justice to conflict victims, none, not even Dahal, has made any public commitment towards the disqualified Maoist combatants.
None of the governments so far have recognised the demands of minor combatants.
Lenin Bista, former coordinator of the Discharged People’s Liberation Army Struggle Committee, an association of the former minor Maoist combatants, had even filed a petition at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva in 2019 demanding justice for the thousands of former child soldiers left out of the transitional justice process. He demanded that use of child soldiers be treated as a war crime.
“The prime minister has assured us of political placements, jobs and most importantly justice,” said Bista. “Monday's decision of the Cabinet is a positive step towards fulfilling his commitments.”
Bista and his team, through the national and international forums, have been demanding that the use of child combatants be treated as a war crime.
Thousands of Maoist fighters like Bista were disqualified for being minors during the verification process conducted by the United Nations Mission in Nepal in 2007.
Among the 4,008 disqualified combatants, 2,973 were minors while the remaining 1,035 had joined the Maoist People’s Liberation Army after the first ceasefire of May 26, 2006 — six months before the peace deal was signed.
According to Bista, at Saturday’s meeting, the prime minister said that he was ready to form a task force to study the concerns of the former child combatants.
Charan Prasai, a human rights activist, said it has become apparent now that Oli is making various attempts to increase his vote base and his recent move of wooing the former Maoist combatants is one of them.
“Oli will use that also to keep the former Maoist faction on the tenterhooks,” Prasai told the Post. “While providing justice to the victims is always a welcome move, it, however, shouldn’t be guided by malafide intentions.”
Amid delay in concluding the transitional justice process and Oli’s move of wooing former Maoist fighters, even those who once fought on behalf of Dahal like Kali Bahadur Kham, some say, could put the whole process in jeopardy.
According to Paudyal, the former member of the National Human Rights Commission, when Dahal says the peace process will be derailed, its implied meaning is the transitional justice process is not going to conclude anytime soon.
“The transitional justice process won’t progress unless there is commitment from concerned parties,” said Paudyal. “Such a commitment is unlikely now.”