Despite widespread criticism, the Baburam Bhattarai government has decided to get the president to pardon Maoist MP Balkrishna Dhungel who was convicted for the murder of Ujjan Kumar Shrestha of Okhaldhunga and was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court.
It is true that the government can revoke, pardon or shorten the punishments given by the Supreme Court as per the provision of the Interim Constitution. But during the transition period that we are in, giving mass amnesty to all implicated in cases of human right abuse goes against the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA). This is not to say that all buried corpses should be dug out. The government should, however, immediately set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with such cases. It is sad that calls for setting up the commission have been limited to sloganeering, but even after five years of signing the CPA, nothing concrete has been done to this end.
There is a lot of hope resting on Prime Minister Bhattarai. But he is letting down people by encouraging amnesty and withdrawing cases when he should be working to set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Editorial, 9 November
PM Baburam Bhattarai's decision to recommend to the president to grant pardon to his colleague Balkrishna Dhungel will promote impunity. The decision has tainted the image he had earned by riding a Mustang car and initiating reforms. People had expectations from him but his cabinet took the decision in favour of a criminal just because he was one of their colleagues. The decision has even disregarded the verdict of the Supreme Court which had sentenced Balkrishna Dhungel to life imprisonment for the murder of Ujjan Kumar Shrestha. The court had instructed the government to put him behind bars, but Dhungel walked freely. By seeking a pardon for a convicted murderer the government has set an example that the law doesn't apply to the politically connected.
The government has exhibited the height of irresponsibility by deciding to recommend to the president to grant Dhungel pardon. The president must not accept the recommendation from the government. This time, the state apparatus has been mobilised to protect a criminal. Civil society and human rights activists should strongly oppose this move.
Editorial, 10 November
This decision falls under one of the agreements with the Madehsi front that made Bhattarai prime minister. Civil society, political parties and even the National Human Rights Commission had criticised the move to get a presidential pardon for a convicted murderer and warned that it would sanction impunity. The prime minister risks plunging the country into a vortex of anarchy. The cabinet has tried to cloak in political garb a clear criminal homicide case, and tried to draw the president himself into the controversy. If this pushes through, it will send the wrong message to the public that murderers can go scot free, it will erode the rule of law and the spirit of the constitution.
The cabinet has tried to use a provision in the interim constitution under which the president is allowed to act on a government recommendation of pardon to anyone found guilty in a court of law. However, the president's duty is also to protect the constitution.
Defending the constitution means upholding a Supreme Court conviction, not overturning it. If the executive fails to act on the judiciary's decision on a murder, the entire justice system will have failed. If the government doesn't send the cabinet decision to the president, the issue will not come up. In order to safeguard the political unity necessary at this time, it will be best if the cabinet decision is not forwarded to the president at this time.