Next Door Nepal: Evading truth and reconciliation
Eleven years ago, when the then Prime Minister G.P. Koirala and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chief of the Maoists who had waged a decade-long war against the state, signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord promising justice to victims of the conflict, they probably thought only the monarch(y) and its loyalists would go on trial. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that was to be formed in January 2007 — within 60 days of the accord — took eight years to be formed, almost after all the physical evidence of human rights violations by the state forces and the Maoists had vanished.
Next February, the tenure of TRC, extended twice already, will be over. The new government to be formed after elections this month will have to take a decision on whether to extend the tenure of TRC. It will also need to take a call on giving teeth to TRC to try the cases meaningfully. Nearly 61,000 cases have been filed before the Commission. Given the fact that its members are nominees of major political parties, TRC is divided on the issue of granting general amnesty to those accused of crimes in the civil war.
The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre, which bears the Maoist legacy, has formed an electoral alliance with the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist as a junior partner. The two parties have differed in the past on their approach to the human rights question. This difference of views had become obvious soon after the peace accord and is likely to become a major irritant for the the left alliance.
The CPN-UML, which has a large network of affiliated or supporting NGOs funded by the international bodies and agencies, has all along been against general amnesty, and even supports trial by the International Criminal Court. UML vice-chairman Suhash Nembang, when he was speaker of the House, had instructed the government to sign the Rome statute. It was not implemented because of resistance from the Maoists. The Maoists want a pliant or toothless TRC and seeks a general amnesty for all those accused of war crimes. The Maoists are also opposed to the Supreme Court taking up rights violation cases. Dahal’s campaigners in Chitwan, where he is a candidate for the parliamentary election, told victims of Maoist atrocities that the monarchy would return if the Supreme Court takes up insurgency-era cases. During the campaign, Dahal stopped short of apologising for the bombing of a public transport bus by Maoists 22 years ago, in which 42 people were killed and over 70 wounded. “It was a mistake committed by the party,” he said while ignoring the survivors demand for justice, including compensation.
The CPN-UML, which was in the forefront of demanding justice for the victims of the bus tragedy and other similar incidents, is now silent. Former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, who has since quit the CPN-Maoist Centre, was the head of the “peoples’ government” during the insurgency, which used to identify targets or “class enemies” for the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA, then commandeered by Dahal, would eliminate them.
In fact, the discomfiture has been visible during the electoral campaign. Senior leaders of the CPN-Maoist Centre tried to meet some of the survivors and negotiate deals to buy their silence. The Supreme Court had awarded Balkrishna Dhungel, a former Maoist legislator, a life-term for the murder of businessman, Ramhari Shrestha in eastern Nepal. The Dhungel conviction was the only one of its kind. When Bhattarai was prime minister five years ago, he tried to annul the judgment through presidential clemency. The plan did succeed because of opposition from civil rights groups and the CPN-UML. Three months ago, Nepal was elected to the UN Human Rights Council. It gives the country the added responsibility to pursue justice for victims of rights violations.
The sweeping political changes post 2006 and the peace accord are interlinked, with one complimenting the other. Major parties including the Nepali Congress, which is likely to end up in the opposition in this election, have always been a party to the tacit understanding among major political groups that the peace process be sidestepped till the constitution is promulgated.
Post elections, these questions are likely to come to the fore. The CPN-UML will have to clarify where it stands on the human rights issue. If UML stays true to its old position, it will pit the part against the Maoists. The left alliance has a rocky path ahead.