Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A broken promise

Jitman Basnet

Published in the Republica Daily (for original publication click here)
The war between the Maoists and the royal regime officially ended in 2006, but the conflict continues. The bloody ten-year war claimed thousands of lives and destroyed millions in property. Several thousand were displaced, kidnapped, tortured, and illegally detained in secret locations like military barracks, police custodies and Maoist camps during this conflict. More than 1,300 civilian
are still missing and their whereabouts are unknown. Political parties and the government have made commitments and promised to deliver justice without delay many times, but to no avail. 
In November 2006, the Maoists and the Nepal Government signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), and both parties agreed to address issues related to crimes committed during the ten years. The charter, detailing aspects of the CPA, states (5.2.3): “Both sides agree to make public the information about the real name, surname and address of the People who were disappeared by both sides and who were killed during the war, and to also inform the family about it within sixty days from the date on which this accord has been signed.”  
Additionally, the CPA states (5.2.5): “Both sides agree to constitute a High Level Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) through mutual agreement in order to investigate the truth about those who have seriously violated human rights and those who were involved in crimes against humanity in the course of the war and to create an environment for reconciliation in society.”
Years after the peace agreement, there has been no progress towards the formation of either the TRC or the CIDP (Commission on the Investigation of Disappeared Persons), which would clarify the status of individuals who had gone missing during the conflict. Neither has there been action against culprits to render justice to the victims. Instead of moving toward justice, the government has given recognition, rewards, and promotions to those police and army officers who were involved in the crimes and hence deserve prosecution. 

Back in 2005, the seven main political parties and the Maoists developed a 12-point plan in Delhi, agreeing to a political solution to the armed conflict and to overthrowing the monarchy. In 2006 this culminated in a (mainly non-violent) massive 19-day People’s Uprising in Kathmandu, which served as the final push to abolish monarchy. After the monarch was overthrown and the CPA signed, a high level judicial commission led by Supreme Court Justice Krishna Jung Rayamajhi was formed to investigate the allegations of abuse and atrocities committed by the government against those taking part in Jana Andolan II. 

Top leaders of major political parties publicly promised to implement the recommendations of the Rayamajhi Commission. Six years have passed since the government made the report public, but neither the political parties nor the government has taken the initiative to prosecute the perpetrators named in the report. 

The report stated that out of 9,194 persons injured during the massive protests, 609 were seriously injured and 303 had suffered from gunshot wounds. For these abuses, the Rayamajhi Report recommended action against 202 persons, including the then ministers, officials, royal advisors, and administrators. It also advised the government to formulate necessary laws to take action against the then Chairman of the Council of Ministers (the King), and cabinet members.
The army general Rukmangat Katuwal, whose name was recommended for prosecution by the Commission, was promoted to Army Chief, directly challenging the Commission’s recommendation. The police officer Durj Kumar Rai who opened fire at protesters was promoted recently to a higher post. None of the other 200 has been officially charged with any crime.  
Another police officer, Kuber Sing Rana, was involved in the killings of five students in Janakpur in 2003. In 2008, the National Human Rights Commission recommended his prosecution for the crime, but he was instead appointed the national police chief in 2012. Army officer Raju Basnet, the Commander of Marahajgunj Barrack, was responsible for the deaths of 49 detainees under his command; he was promoted to the positions of Senior Colonel in 2010 and Brigadier General in 2012, despite widespread condemnation from the human rights community. These are just some of the names of major perpetrators who were promoted by the government over the years. 

Prior to the 10-year armed struggle that ended with the People’s Uprising in 2006, a people’s movement in 1990 demanded that the King be replaced by a multi-party system including a Constitutional Monarchy and Parliament. Once these were implemented in 1990, independent judicial commissions were formed for the first time. A high level commission led by a Supreme Court Judge, Janardan Lal Mallik, was formed to investigate the atrocities committed by the government during the1990 movement. 

The report produced by the commission listed over 200 persons who were involved in the crimes, and recommended that they be prosecuted. The Malik Commission’s Report was challenged by the Attorney General of the first ever elected democratic government after the departure of the party-less Panchayat system. It was dismissed as a useless document, indicating that the commission’s investigation held no value in the eyes of the government, and none of the 200 accused was ever charged with a crime. 

The culprits identified by the Commission not only received unconditional amnesty from the government, but they climbed to posts of greater power. Two of them, Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Surya Bahadur Thapa, became Prime Ministers subsequently. This helped the reactionaries to hold onto power in the bureaucracy, disabling future ministers who attempted to exercise democratic power. 

Based on this tarnished history, Nepalis have very little faith that the perpetrators of human rights abuses will be brought to justice. As relates to the current situation, the general public does not find any grounds to believe that the recommendations of the CIDP or the TRC will be properly implemented. Powerless and weak, the legislation for the so-called justice commissions will only carry on the trend. Even if the legislation moves forward without an amnesty clause (which is very doubtful at present), there is little hope that it could move past the office of the Attorney General. 

Providing justice as a step towards peace was understood as an important part of the peace process, and it is one of the major aspects of the CPA. In the absence of justice, the transition process remains incomplete, and we as a nation cannot achieve lasting and sustainable peace. The government’s empty apologies to the families of victims show either its inability or lack of political will to move forward. 

If such procrastination continues, the patience of several thousand people waiting for justice may soon be exhausted. And when that happens, the pent up anger released in the streets could give birth to unprecedented feelings of revenge and hatred. Frustrated groups could turn violent and take the law into their own hands to punish the perpetrators, their families and political leaders. We need only look at what is happening in Syria, Egypt, and Bangladesh to get a sense of the awful future awaiting Nepal if justice is not delivered through lawful processes.

The author is a torture survivor, held captive for 258 days by erstwhile Royal Nepal Army. He is currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, Washington DC. Views are personal.