In Shakespeare's Macbeth, the plotters of a regicide deal with the aftermath in different ways. Duncan's murder led to regime change, but left the perpetrators mired in a cycle of violence and bloodshed. Lady Macbeth did not do the deed herself, she just master-minded it and egged her weak-willed husband on, but she is consumed by guilt. She cannot seem to wash the imaginary blood from her hands, and is so tormented by guilt that she commits suicide at the end of the play. Human beings are born with an innate ability to tell right from wrong. Our brains are hardwired to be good, kind and to respect the sanctity of life. Which is why militaries invest so much time and energy to train recruits to overcome and suppress this sub-conscious abhorrence of bloodshed.
On 2 October, on Gandhi's birthday, the world marked the International Day of Non-Violence to draw attention to the Mahatma's teachings on peaceful political struggle. But here in Nepal, we marked it by promoting army officers guilty of war crimes, continuing to let a person accused of a war atrocity to serve as the spokesperson for the ruling party, witnessing the head of government publicly coddle a convicted murderer and dismiss 36 cases against members of the government that were in the courts.
In one of his typically hyperbolic moments after the end of the conflict in 2006, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal compared himself to Gandhi. And this is a man who has confessed to ordering his cadre to terminate class enemies "with a bullet to the temple". Gandhi said political violence was never legitimate, it was counterproductive to those who unleashed it, and societies are doomed to live through the legacy of such violence for a long time.
This week, the government had no answer as to why it was trying its best to suppress the Nepal Conflict Report compiled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) which is a meticulous archive of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law of which this country is a signatory. It contains 30,000 cases stored in the Transitional Justice Reference Archive and is based on conflict-era testimonies and documents with the National Human Rights Commission, and courageously recorded and collected by human rights activists during the conflict years. More than 9,000 of the cases are serious cases of violations carried out by both sides.
Nepal is somewhat different than other post-conflict countries in that there is no clear victor or vanquished. Both warring sides are now the state. Some of the Maoist guerrillas have just been inducted into the national army, and former rebel commanders are sharing the governing coalition with their sworn enemies. Which is why there is a conspiracy of silence between the two sides to sweep the dirty bits under the carpet.
In fact, there seems to be a tacit understanding between the security forces and the former rebel leaders to suppress, deny, or openly defy allegations of gross violations of human rights during the conflict. The army's promotion of an officer in charge of a barrack in the heart of the capital which was the centre for torture and forced disappearances, and the Maoists openly protecting war criminals in its ranks is the result of a convergence of interests on both sides.
When asked about why it is against the release of the Nepal Conflict Report, the government uses the argument both warring sides have used in the past: to protect the fragile peace process. In fact, the peace process would be best protected by airing these incidents so that the perpetrators are named. Many victims and relatives of those murdered and disappeared do not expect justice right away, but they want the truth and they want acknowledgement at least. The fact that the former enemies have banded together to deny them even that shows just how ridden with guilt they are about what they did in the past.
Unless Nepal comes to terms with the war crimes committed between 1996-2006, there is a danger that we will repeat them. The structural roots of violence and the objective conditions that led to conflict still remain. In fact, there is a risk a future conflict could be an even more virulent ethnic one. Only by confronting the ugly secrets of the past will we be able to protect the future.
The evil that men do lives long after them, which is why Lady Macbeth asks: "What, will these hands ne're be clean?"
History will not forgive you Mr Prime Minister, ANURAG ACHARYA
The political and moral blunder of promoting a war criminal will haunt Baburam Bhattarai for a very long time