Once popularly known as the Himalayan Kingdom, Nepal transformed by fits and starts from a Hindu nation-state to a secular, democratic state through the 20th and early 21st centuries. From 1996 to 2006, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), or CPN (MC), waged a bloody insurgency against the royal government. The civil war took some 17,800 lives. In 2008, Nepal finally abolished a thousand-year-old monarchy and the official Hindu kingdom, introducing secularism and a fragile democracy, for better or worse.
Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, aka Prachanda, began his third non-consecutive term in December 2022. He has been the leader of the CPN (MC) since its founding. The prime minister has recently refuted allegations that his party recruited and used child combatants during the insurgency and the years of the peace process. Dahal made the claim in an apologetic response to a petition filed at the supreme court in Kathmandu. The petition claimed that child combatants were used during the Maoist insurgency. Dahal pointed to the documents of the peace process, insisting that the term “child soldiers” was not used.
By documents, he meant the Comprehensive Peace Accord, the Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies, the Interim Constitution, the 2015 constitution and other authentic documents, where “child soldiers” had indeed not been mentioned.
Nearly three decades after the Maoists launched their armed struggle on 13 February 1996, Nepal is still haunted after 27 years of conflict and violence.
Of the 17,800 Nepalis, including civilians and armed forces, who were killed during the conflict, Dahal admitted to being responsible for only (if that word can even be used) 5,000 of the deaths.
Decades later, victims still seek justice
Dahal has left many wondering what it was all for, writes Sonia Awale in Nepali Times. When heinous crimes against humanity including summary executions, torture, disappearances and war rape by both sides go unaddressed and unpunished, it creates a sense of impunity for unpunished war crimes, she wrote.
Families of the victims worry that with the Maoists now in the governing coalition with their erstwhile nemesis, the Nepali Congress, justice may never be served.
Suman Adhikari’s father was brutally killed by the Maoist foot soldiers. He was a popular school teacher at Panini Sanskrit Secondary School in Duradanda in Lamjung district. His crime? Refusing to contribute a quarter of his salary to the so-called people’s war fund.
Adhikari and his family members petitioned the independent Nepal Human Rights Commission (NHRC) but have little hope in justice for the murder. They pled with the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The members of these latter two commissions were selected on the governing party’s recommendation.
Adhikari believes that both of the commissions are more interested in letting war criminals off the hook than in providing justice and protecting the perpetrators. He is worried by reports “that they want a blanket amnesty for all war crimes by both sides in the conflict,” he lamented.
In another case, nearly 3,000 child soldiers were disqualified for integration into the Nepal Army by the United Nations Missions in Nepal (UNMIN) during the verification process in 2007. After being blocked by UNMIN, several of the child soldiers demanded adequate compensation and also demanded punishment for Dahal and his second-in-command, Baburam Bhattarai. The aggrieved young persons claimed that the Maoist leaders committed war crimes using children in the armed conflict.
These thousands of victims are still waiting for justice 17 years after the signing of the historic Comprehensive Peace Agreement. What they need is an investigation through a tribunal, like the trials in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Yugoslavia. The government’s unresponsiveness has lost it the victims’ trust.
On October 15, 2020, the NHRC published a major report evaluating government responses to its recommendations over the last two decades. The commission said that, out of 286 individuals whom it said should face legal action, only 30 had been held accountable. The list of those identified includes 16 civil servants, 98 policemen, 85 Nepal Army personnel and 65 Maoists.
Of a total of 1,195 recommendations made by the commission over the last 20 years, the government failed to act on half, and only 163 recommendations were fully implemented.
A mentality of violence lives on
The Maoist insurgency has profoundly shaped Nepali political psychology. The Maoist rebels still believe in the ideology of violent revolution to bring about what they term “people’s government.” Poor governance, corruption, government apathy towards integrated socio-economic development and, most importantly, political instability have contributed to the continuing growth of Maoism, says researcher Smruti S. Pattanaik, writing for Strategic Analysis Journal.
Former insurgents continue to address political rallies and blatantly boast that they killed 5,000 people. People like Adhikari and the former child soldiers are being ignored while those responsible for conflict-era crimes are walking openly in broad daylight.
Dahal’s decision to declare February 13 as a national holiday marking the start of the “people’s war” in 1996 “sparked outrage in Nepal’s cybersphere and brought conflict survivors out into the streets,” according to Nepali Times. Glorification of the violence continues to come from the highest levels of government.
Meanwhile, Dahal has claimed that he will complete the transitional justice process. In a statement on November 20, 2021 English op-ed in The Kathmandu Post, he termed Nepal’s peace process a successful “home-grown model” that avoided heavy-handed Western intervention.
We must not ignore Nepal or expect the government to police itself of its own volition. I will conclude with the words of an editorial from Nepali Times:The international community, which was once so vociferous on
transitional justice, has suddenly gone quiet. … Nepal’s conflict ended without a victor or vanquished. The
former enemies are now the state. Neither they, nor the police,
nor Nepal Army generals or former guerrilla commanders, want
to rake up wartime atrocities. They have colluded to set up a
Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as a Commission
on Enforced Disappearances, both of which can offer amnesty to
those found guilty.
If something is not done, the victims of brutality may be waiting forever.
[Anton Schauble edited this piece.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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