They are sufferers tooWomen victims of sexual violence during the Maoist conflict must get due priority
Last week, we were talking to Sanumaya (name changed), an 83-year-old woman from Sindhupalchowk, whose granddaughter had been killed during the Maoist conflict. The girl was shot dead by security forces inside her home. We asked her about the recent call by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to file applications to get the truth out. Surprisingly, she did not know anything about what was going on with the transitional justice process. Sanumaya’s story reflects the case of many conflict victims who are not aware about the process of the TRC and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP).
This April, both the commissions issued public notices through their websites and district peace committees calling on conflict victims to file reports of occurrences of injustice during the armed conflict. Considering the limited reach of the announcement, a large number of victims may not know about it. Further, many unaware victims from remote areas may be left behind because the deadline to file applications is only two months.
The TRC’s recent move may raise the hopes of conflict victims who have been waiting for truth and justice for more than 15 years that their cases will be revealed through the state mechanism. But at the same time, it raises a number of questions about whether the government has prepared enough ground for the victims to get ready to file their complaints.
The questions relate to the TRC’s insensitivity and lowest priority given to issues regarding women victims, particularly victims of sexual violence. The authorities need to consider if the victims of sexual violence will have the courage to bring their stories to their local peace committee which is largely comprised of male members of political parties. In Nepal, no government has ever been moved by the plight of the victims of sexual violence. It did not even see the need to include women in the definition of victims of sexual violence in its policy. For example, the Peace and Reconstruction Ministry’s guidelines and policies for the interim relief of conflict victims do not mention victims of sexual violence in their definition of victims. Till date, such victims have not received any form of interim relief that other victims have got from the government.
According to the Nepal Conflict Report published in 2012 by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), more than 200 cases of women suffering sexual violence have been documented. However, it is estimated that a large number of such cases have not been recorded. In South Africa, violence against women is one of the hidden sides of the story of its past. Thousands of women bravely recorded their experiences, while many others were not able to come before the TRC because of fear and stigma. Nepal should learn from such experience and encourage victims of sexual violence to come before the TRC as fear and stigma about sexual violence largely prevails in Nepali society.
Lack of commitment
In Nepal, where many cases of sexual violence are still settled through mediation due to social stigma, one can imagine how challenging it is for women survivors of sexual violence to bring their cases out. How can they dare to speak against those powerful alleged perpetrators, the security forces and the Maoists? Do all these women feel secure that their cases will be kept confidential by the government and the local peace committee? The structured power relation between men and women may again result in truth and justice being denied. We still do not know what special measures the TRC has taken to reveal cases of sexual violence even after one and a half years of its establishment. We have never heard from stakeholders and victims on what extra efforts TRC members have made to empower victims of sexual violence during their visits to the districts. How can poor women victims of sexual violence, who are not recognised as victims, gain access to these government authorities?
Another obstacle for survivors of sexual violence is the statute of limitations, the deadline for filing a case, which is six months (it was 35 days previously). This is a matter of shame. How can cases of sexual violence that occurred during the Maoist conflict be addressed when 12 years have already passed since the conflict? Even if women come to report their cases, will the TRC receive their complaints?
If our government was sensitive to issues of sexual violence, the women victims would be able to claim survivor status and gain access to interim relief. The TRC would already have consulted with the concerned stakeholders about how to deal with cases of sexual violence. It would have formed a committee to deal with gender-based violence. It would reach out to the community through different awareness programmes. The TRC has missed the opportunity to work in advance on issues of sexual violence. Much time has passed, but the government should be sensitive and save victims of sexual violence from further suffering in the name of a faulty truth revealing process.
Pokharel and Niroula are programme officers at the Alliance for Social Dialogue (ASD)