Pulled back inNepal must address the issue of structural violence to prevent its relapse into conflict
Even though the new constitution was approved by the majority in the Consituent Assembly (CA), it continues to alienate the marginalised communities. As a result, the Madhes is burning and the Janajatis are protesting against the statute. This goes on to show that the Nepali state has failed to address the causes of both the previous and ongoing conflict.
Seed for future conflict
The Maoist armed struggle ended in 2006. But the years that followed have been marred by one conflict or the other. The ongoing Madhes Movement, disputes on federalism, religious and ethnic tensions along with systemic corruption have almost turned Nepal into a failed state. The Nepali people struggle to survive while their leaders are only interested in self-enrichment. To make matters worse, despite years of debate and two constituent assemblies, the new constitution has failed to reflect the country’s realities. This inadequate document has instead laid the foundation for renewed conflict by failing to address the issue of structural violence—it was the primary reason for the Maoist conflict and continues to plague the country.
The new constitution has deeply polarised society which could lead to endless conflicts. The Madhesis, Tharus, Janajatis and the radical left have boycotted the new document, and taken to the streets. More than 50 people have already died in the protests in the Madhes that have been going on since the last three months and the blockade that has crippled daily life. Yet, a solution-based dialogue has not taken place between the government and the agitating forces. The government has not made any move towards ending the blockade too.
The political class believes that leftist violence has been relegated to history. But a radical faction of the Maoist party led by Netra Bikram Chand has publicly announced that the peace process has failed. His party even declared a ‘Peoples’ Constitution’ and Chand has spoken of forming a parallel government and reviving the ‘People’s Army’ creating the possibility of a new rebellion, potentially alongside militant groups that are likely to emerge in the Tarai if the ongoing crisis is not addressed soon.
Failure of transitional justice
In case the ongoing violence in the Tarai revives armed conflict in the country, it could create new victims. Thousands of victims of human rights violations perpetrated during the Maoist insurgency continue to struggle and have their rights to truth and justice denied by existing governmental mechanisms. The formal transitional justice institutions created by the state—the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons—have been rendered useless due to lack of political will, capacity and resources. For the victims, both the commissions lack credibility when it comes to impartiality and managing finances. The failure to address historic rights violations could further encourage anti-government militancy. Nepal is condemned to restart the cycles of conflict driven by social exclusion unless it addresses the issue of structural violence.
Both ongoing and past conflicts are driven by the same reasons: exclusion, poverty, structural violence and a highly corrupt government. Therefore, without addressing the issues of poverty and structural violence, it will not be possible to provide justice to either the marginalised or the victims of violence. In such complex times, how will the transitional justice commissions deal with past crimes and lay a foundation for the future? If the government does not seriously acknowledge and address the legacies of past violence, existing tensions will rise fostering a culture of revenge instead of ensuring social cohesion.
During Nepal’s so called transition to peace, countless top-down interventions have failed or resulted in negative impacts, such as lack of victims’ participation in the transitional justice process, exclusion of ex-combatants in the reintegration process, and the flawed constitution-writing process. These three crucial elements of the peace process could not address the issues of the people who fought for change. The Maoist conflict left 17,000 people dead, and more than 1,400 disappeared. Victims and survivors are still waiting for truth and justice while thousands of ex-combatants are still fighting for their rights and support from the authorities. Meanwhile the constitution remains hugely contested among the Janajatis and Madhesis. It has also created a divide between the people in the hills and the plains. In an environment of such growing distrust, systematic corruption and oppression of people’s rights, the current system has failed to solve the ongoing conflict, and could instead fuel a militant culture in Nepal. Currently, there seems to be no respect for life, human rights and rule of law in the country.
As the world marks the Human Rights day, the government should respect humanity and fulfil its duty of protecting and promoting human rights in Nepal. The government has agreed to and signed dozens of human rights treaties. There are established local norms recommended by the National Human Rights Commission and Supreme Court rulings, but the government has not implemented those standards to maintain law and order, and to prove its commitment to human rights concerns that continue to plague the country. To prevent future conflicts, the government must address victims’ rights violations, support ex-combatant youths, amend the constitution and address various movements peacefully. Finally, to curb the threat of the rise of militancy, we must promote non-violent action and communication to not only address civil resistance but also ensure citizens’ rights, freedom, justice, and self-determinism. And for that, the government needs to be made accountable to the people.
Bhandari is the general secretary of Conflict Victims Common Platform