Peace on a war footing

HAMMERS AND SICKLES: Basanta Mahatara (left) and Nirmala Thapa’s husbands were murdered by opposing forces during the Nepal conflict. Twelve years later, both are now fighting for the same cause: truth and justice. Pic: Om Astha Rai

Basanta Mahatara was just 22 and pregnant with her second child when her husband, a policeman, was executed by the Maoists after being captured during a raid in Pyuthan in 1999.

After that, police began hunting down Maoists in reprisal attacks among Pyuthan’s mountains. 

Nirmala Thapa’s husband was a Maoist, and was dragged out of his house and later shot in 2002. Like Mahatara, Thapa was also pregnant with her second child when her husband was killed.

The two war widows, both from Dharmawati village of Pyuthan, struggled to raise their children. They met after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord in November 2006, and were united for a cause: truth and justice. They say their husbands were both summarily killed in detention, and not during battles.

Mahatara and Thapa were among 200 conflict victims who came to Kathmandu this week on the 12th anniversary of the peace accord seeking truth, justice, reparations, and a guarantee of non-recurrence. They have issued a charter, pressing the government to reboot the lingering transitional justice process. 

Bhagi Ram Chaudhary of Conflict Victims’ Common Platform says: “We want the government to give the process a fresh start, involving us and respecting international norms.” 

Transitional justice has been the most neglected component of the peace process. After the peace accord of 2006, political leaders were preoccupied with demobilising and disarming the guerrillas, reintegrating them into the Nepal Army, and writing the new Constitution. They delayed investigating war crimes, waiting for victims to tire out and give up. 

It took the government a decade to even form the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission on Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP). Conflict victims questioned the legitimacy and intention of these bodies from the beginning, arguing that a mechanism led by political appointees would serve the perpetrators, and not victims. 

Chaudhary told us: “As we predicted, the TRC and the CIEDP have failed. We now need to dismantle them, and form a new mechanism that involves conflict victims and civil society.”

He adds: “So far, we have looked at transitional justice just as a technical issue. It should be dealt with as a political problem. We need to forge a political consensus to resolve it.” 

Civil society leaders, human rights activists and conflict victims began discussing the need for a new mechanism, also owned by political leaders allegedly involved in war-time atrocities, after the controversial draft of the new TRC law was out. 

The draft bill, if passed, will allow perpetrators to wash their hands of blood by doing time in open jails or community service.

Conflict victims say it is not just the content of the TRC bill that is problematic but also the process of drafting it. But won’t the new mechanism settle conflict-era cases by just doling out compensation to victims and granting amnesty to perpetrators? 

Chaudhary answers: “We will not allow amnesty for those involved in gross human rights violations.”

Read also:

Just not justice, Om Astha Rai

Justice delayed is justice denied, Editorial

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