14 years after conflict, no closure in Nepal

Agni Sapkota after registering his name as candidate for the post of Speaker of House of Representatives. Photo: BIKRAM RAI

Fourteen years after the end of the conflict, a slew of controversial decisions and pronouncements by leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in the past two weeks has raised doubts about its commitment to resolve issues of transitional justice.

Families of the 1,400 disappeared are still waiting for the truth of what happened, victims of war crimes want justice, while many thousands who were wounded, tortured, raped, or lost property during the conflict still awaiting compensation.

There has been a bi-partisan resistance on the part of the NCP and the opposition Nepali Congress (NC) to address wartime atrocities and provide closure to the families of victims and survivors.

In fact, the former enemies are now not just the state. The Maoists, who killed and persecuted many from the former UML party have now unified under the same NCP banner.  

Last week NCP co-chair and former Maoist leader who has become prime minister twice, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, said in a speech in Chitwan that he took responsibility “only” for 5,000 of the 17,000 Nepalis killed in the conflict. He said the security forces had killed the rest. 

Since 2006, the Maoists under Dahal and later the NCP has tried to make both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission on Enforced Disappearances toothless and ineffectual bodies. He has also tried to prevent prosecution of those who perpetrated proven war atrocities from the courts.

Last week, the NCP and the NC agreed on political appointees to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission for Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) despite strong opposition from conflict victims’ groups and human rights activists.

The term of officials from both Commissions expired 14 months ago, and since then the posts have been vacant. They received many depositions from families of victims and survivors of war crimes, but not a single case has been taken to the courts.

A three hour “consultation”  with victims’ groups was widely condemned as a merely cosmetic gesture and boycotted by many. The transitional justice law has still not been amended, although the Supreme Court struck down key provisions that could grant amnesty to perpetrators back in 2015.

‘These are troubling signs,” wrote Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch on Tuesday. ‘International crimes cannot be brushed away with political trickery. If justice is denied in Nepal, victims may be forced to take their cases to courts abroad.’

The last straw was the NCP’s appointment as the new Speaker of Parliament former Maoist commander Agni Sapkota who is accused of executing a UML activist in Kavre, Arjun Lama in 2005. 

The cruel irony of it is that the UML is now a part of the NCP. Also, a person charged with murder has replaced former Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who is charged with rape, over-stepping Shivamaya Tumbahengphe of the NCP who had a rightful claim to be a Speaker.

The government has not yet investigated Sapkota’s involvement in Lama’s murder. His wife Purnamaya Lama said: “Now, I have lost all hope of justice.”

In 2010, Agni Sapkota was denied a US visa for ‘serious and specific human rights allegations associated with his conduct during the insurgency’. He was earlier also prevented from going to Australia.