Ex-PM warns of fresh conflict if courts handle conflict-era casesBaburam Bhattarai said only transitional bodies should resolve insurgency-related issues.
Former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai, one of the ideologues of the Maoist insurgency, has warned of another conflict if the regular courts started to look into conflict-era cases.
In his response to the Supreme Court in a case related to the use of child soldiers in the insurgency, the former vice-chair of the Maoist party said the regular court processes cannot ensure transitional justice and therefore all the conflict-related cases should be resolved only through the transitional justice mechanism.
He said the bill related to transitional justice should be endorsed by Parliament with necessary amendments and the delayed transitional justice process taken to a logical conclusion at the earliest.
“If we bring the conflict era incidents under the jurisdiction of regular courts, that would foil the transitional justice, and the peace process will remain incomplete,” Bhattarai said. “If all the issues raised by petitioners are made subjects of criminal liability, all the incidents that took place during the people’s war [insurgency] from both the state and rebel sides would be criminalised and the country could again return to conflict.”
Therefore, there is no alternative to the transitional justice system for resolving the issues, and for a peaceful transition of society, they should be resolved on the principle of forgive and forget, said Bhattarai, who has now quit the Maoist party and heads the Socialist Party of Nepal.
Former child combatants Lenin Bista, Krishna Prasad Dangal and five others—who were labelled ‘disqualified’ for integration into the Nepal Army during the verification process conducted by the United Nations Missions in Nepal (UNMIN) in 2007—had filed a petition claiming that they were used as child combatants and should be paid appropriate compensations. They also demanded punishment for Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Bhattarai, who was second-in-command of the then Maoist party.
Bista is currently the chairman of the Discharged People’s Liberation Army Nepal. According to Bista, the petitioner, as the court has received all the responses, the next hearing is slated for October 2.
Writing a response on the same petition last month, Prime Minister Dahal, who now heads the CPN (Maoist Centre), the party that waged the decade-long armed insurgency, had refuted allegations that he used child combatants during the insurgency.
Dahal in his defence argued that no document concerning the peace process has used the term ‘child soldiers’.
Bhattarai, in his response, further argued that the cause of the conflict could only be addressed if the state could ensure the fundamental rights of the people including education, health and employment as enshrined in the constitution and maintain sustainable peace in the country with development, good governance and prosperity.
“So, all the cases of conflict should be resolved through the transitional justice system. Otherwise, transitional justice cannot be ensured through the regular court process of criminal justice,” Bhattarai said in his response.
The petitioners have claimed that the Maoist leaders committed war crimes by using children in the armed conflict. They demanded an investigation through a tribunal, as it was done in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. “We demand an order to suspend Dahal [from his duties] as prime minister until the conclusion of the investigation,” according to one of the points in the petition.
On May 30, the Supreme Court administration had initially refused to register the petition. But, on June 9, the bench of Justice Ananda Mohan Bhattarai ordered the court administration to register it. The petition was then registered on June 11.
During the 2007 verification process for army integration conducted by UNMIN, thousands of Maoist fighters, including Bista, had been disqualified for being minors.
Among the 4,008 combatants who did not qualify for integration, 2,973 were verified as 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.
The government had provided between Rs500,000 and Rs800,000 each to the combatants who chose voluntary retirement. But those who were disqualified, didn’t get any substantial support, except for a few thousand rupees from the United Nations.