Dahal accused of trying to appease conflict victimsThe government recently announced a new cohort of martyrs and cash relief for former child combatants.
The Pushpa Kamal Dahal government on Monday announced a cash relief for the thousands of former CPN (Maoist) combatants who were disqualified for integration into the Nepal Army as they were underage or late recruits during the UN verification in 2007.
The Cabinet will first prepare a working procedure for the distribution of cash. Earlier, the Supreme Court had stalled an attempt of the then prime minister Baburam Bhattarai to distribute Rs200,000 per person to the disqualified combatants.
Interestingly, the Dahal Cabinet’s decision to provide the cash relief comes at a time when just two parties—the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the Jamanat Party—of the 10-party ruling coalition are in the government. If the decision is implemented, it will cost the state around Rs800 million.
The Dahal government’s new decision, which is expected to stoke opposition from non-Maoist quarters, follows its earlier decision to push a controversial bill through Parliament to amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act—a decision that is already drawing strong criticism from conflict victims and human rights activists.
“We welcome the relief package decision. However, we also need a judicial remedy,” Lenin Bista, president of the Discharged People’s Liberation Army Struggle Committee, an organisation of former Maoist child soldiers, told the Post. “If the government thinks it can get away by just providing monetary relief, I am sorry, that is not enough.”
During the 2007 verification process of the United Nations Mission in Nepal, thousands of Maoist fighters like Bista were disqualified as they were underage. Among the 4,008 combatants rejected for integration, 2,973 were minors, while 1,035 were recruited after the first ceasefire of May 26, 2006—just six months before the peace deal was signed.
Human rights lawyers say the Dahal government is trying to divert public attention from the controversial bill by making populist announcements like the cash relief and an updated list of martyrs. Just last week the government enlisted 8,371 persons killed during the 1996-2006 Maoist insurgency as martyrs.
Senior advocate Dinesh Tripathi, a human rights lawyer, said the use of minors was a war crime. “Use of minors in an armed conflict was a war crime the Maoist Centre committed. Its leadership must be held accountable for that,” Tripathi told the Post. “It might be difficult to collect evidence of other crimes. But the UN itself has verified the use of child soldiers by the Maoists. So those involved in the crime must be prosecuted.”
Tripathi said it is evident that the Dahal government, by avoiding the mention of child soldiers in the disputed amendment bill, wants to settle the issue through cash rewards. “The disqualified combatants indeed deserve cash relief, but those who forced them to join the armed conflict must face the consequence as well,” he said.
The amendment bill that has landed in the House of Representatives is mum on child soldiers, other war crimes and crimes against humanity. There is no clarity as to what mechanism will deal with minor soldiers as the truth commission has no authority to address the issue. “By not incorporating our issue in the bill, the government is compelling us to knock on the Supreme Court’s doors,” said Bista.
Two separate petitions demanding criminal investigation against Dahal are already under consideration at the Supreme Court. After a preliminary hearing, the court has ordered Dahal to furnish a written clarification.
But a section of former Maoist child combatants say they would be satisfied with cash relief and they have no intention of pursuing a legal fight against the government for compensation.
Ramesh Basyal, chairperson of the Discharged People’s Liberation Army Nepal, an outfit of disqualified Maoist combatants, said their only demand is that they should be compensated on par with those Maoist combatants who chose voluntary retirement during the integration process.
Of the around 19,000 Maoist fighters who qualified for integration, only around 1,400 chose to join the Nepal Army and the rest preferred voluntary retirement. The government provided between Rs500,000 and Rs800,000 each to those who chose voluntary retirement. “We want a cash package on par with those who chose voluntary retirement,” said Basyal. “As the Maoist war was a political issue it needed to be dealt with politically. We don’t want a legal fight.”