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United for truth and justice


ANNE RENZENBRINK


Sangita Rasaili was too young to understand what was happening when the conflict reached her hometown of Pokhari Chauri, a Maoist stronghold in Kavre. But when the army killed her brother, a Maoist, and her sister, Sangita became an unwilling participant of the conflict.

Phanindra Luitel's father, Guru Prasad Luitel, a teacher in Okhaldhunga, was abducted by the Maoists in 2003 when he was returning from school. They killed him, tied him to a tree and left his body there.

Sangita was a victim of state atrocities and Phanindra suffered from Maoist excesses. But years of pain and an unrelenting demand for truth, justice and compensation have bought them together.

Sangita admits that even a few years ago there was a clear divide in the movement for justice. 'Army victims' and 'Maoist victims' would meet separately, organise separate protests and approach the state as two distinct groups.

She says the only time both sides met was during meetings and trainings. When they started talking, they realised how much they had in common. No matter who carried out the killings, they have lost family members and friends, endured immense grief and have similar objectives. It made sense to work together as staying divided only weakened their demand and made it easier for the state to ignore them.

PICS: ANNE RENZENBRINK
SAME PAIN: Phanindra Luitel, whose father was killed by the Maoist.

Phanindra agrees that victims should not be divided. "I think victims on both sides are equal," he says.

The other thing they have in common is a legal system that doesn't penalise but rather enables impunity. Six years after signing the comprehensive peace accord, relatives and friends of nearly 2,000 disappeared and 16,000 killed by either side are still struggling for answers.

Unlike other post-conflict countries where some form of transitional justice has been applied, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Nepal is still at a draft stage. The dissolution of the CA in May has stalled the process once again. Despite the apathy shown by all the political parties, and overcoming their own hardships, both Sangita and Phanindra have not given up on their personal quests for justice.

After the Maoists captured their family land in Okhaldhunga after killing their father, Phanindra Luitel, his two younger siblings and mother fled to Kathmandu. He quit his job two years ago and now works as the vice chairman of the Conflict Victim Orphans Society. "My job was not as important as justice," he says.

The family borrowed money from friends, neighbours and banks to file a lawsuit against the killers and finds itself in debt. Although the case is now before the Supreme Court, the police is reluctant to pursue the perpetrators, and they receive death threats.

The trauma of losing two children has left Sangita's mother psychologically scarred. Like the Luitel's, the family also migrated to Kathmandu after her father was regularly harassed and questioned by the police and army. Sangita Rasaili, however, moved back to Kavre and currently volunteers at the Local Peace Committee.

Both families have received some compensation from the government and legal help from private organisations. But neither is satisfied.

Sangita Rasaili whose brother and sister were killed by the Army, is now working together to help other victims of conflict get truth and justice.

Sangita says the government equates financial assistance with justice. She argues that the government uses money to shut down a case because people within the government are responsible for many of the killings and it's in their interest to close the investigations.

The money helps the family in the short-run, but justice in its true sense has not been given. They still don't know who killed her brother, how they did it and why.

Sangita, Phanindra and thousands of surviving families from both sides want an independent, powerful TRC where victims are part of the decision-making process. They want to know who the perpetrators are, why their loved ones were killed, raped or tortured, where the disappeared are, and they want war criminals to be punished.

Despite suffering, the lack of support and the political deadlock, Sangita says one has to be optimistic because otherwise there is nothing you can do. They will keep asking for justice, she says.

Phanindra too believes his family and others like them will get justice. "We are still hoping. One day, justice will come," he says.

See also:
Giving conflict victims a voice , SIMON ROBINS
Those most directly affected by the war can play a role in addressing its legacy

Truth without justice is an insult, ROBERT GODDEN


United by loss

Laxmi Devi Khadka and Devisara Wali make a formidable pair, working together as activists campaigning on behalf of families of the disappeared. They know what it is to have a loved one taken away. They have lived through the nightmare. In the ten years since their husbands were disappeared by the Maoists and the state, they have knocked every door for answers, only to be sent back with false hopes and assurances. Victimised by opposing sides of the war, one would not expect the two women to be good friends. But that is what they have been to each other through these difficult years, when friends, relatives and even family turned their backs on them.

"We may have been victimised by different groups but the pain is still the same," Devisara says. Her husband, Suresh was last seen in the district police office in Bardiya. Laxmi's husband was taken by the Maoists when they were about to sleep. "They said they would send him back in 15 minutes, but we never saw him again," she says.

Laxmi and Devisara have continued to search for their missing husbands even as the men who took them threatened them to stop. "How can I give up on my husband? I have kept all his clothes and belongings in the hope that he would be back one day," Devisara says.

Two days after Laxmi's husband was abducted, a local paper in Nepalgunj carried a report that he was executed. But since there has been no official confirmation, Laxmi continues to live in limbo.

"I can't believe he is dead until I see his body," she says. "I keep searching for his face in the crowd. At night when the dogs bark, I still get up to see if it's him."

See also:

Same road, SRIJANA ACHARYA
Their husbands were taken away from them by opposing sides during the conflict, but they journey in pain together



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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