Nepal’s transition to peace needs justice

At International Alert, as a global peacebuilding organisation, we often point to Nepal alongside South Africa or Northern Ireland as a country working through a peace process successfully, proving that peace can be writ large.  

Of course, all three countries are still beset by troubles and the peace is far from perfect. In Northern Ireland, for example, today Brexit threatens the peace agreement, while in South Africa entrenched economic apartheid persists. But the guns have fallen silent, and stayed silent. Given that globally, half of all peace deals fall apart within 5 years, that is quite an achievement.

Recently, International Alert and our partner Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD) held a meeting in Nepalganj for victims to meet with the local service providers – local government, district administration, the hospitals, businesses and social services. The aim was to get practical help at the local level, while still pushing for a national solution.

And the scars of war, still unresolved, were still fresh: One man told us how on 8 July 2001, the Maoists cut off his leg, suspecting him of being an informer. Six times he has approached the government offices seeking medical support, but no-one listened to him.

The man sitting next to him told us that his leg was cut off the very next day on 9 July 2001: “My house was destroyed and I was tortured by the Maoists. I get interim relief but not adequate compensation. I registered my case with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and so want to know what is going to happen next.” He wears an artificial leg, but has to treat himself.  

Read also: 

12 years later, justice is a mirage, Sewa Bhattarai

Justice in transition, David Seddon

Calmly, patiently, a woman spoke up for all those waiting for men who have disappeared, calling simply for the truth, another for a lost son, another for a missing father. A woman said she was blindfolded and raped by security forces in the barracks. Severely traumatised and suffering from serious uterus problems to this day, she needs medical support and psychosocial counselling. But like too many others, she is left without support and justice.

These victims and their families are struggling to be heard by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), the two bodies in charge of pushing forward transitional justice in Nepal. Both have so far failed to deliver, despite having registered 63,000 complaints. This week, the four-year tenure of both transitional justice commissions were extended, and new Commissioners will be appointed.

The victims of sexual assault, rape and torture, for example, have not received any support – no recognition that they are victims, no interim relief, no compensation. That is deeply demoralising for the victims and International Alert has been calling on the Nepal government to support a gender responsive transitional justice process.  

Read also: No country for women, Shreejana Shrestha

These initiatives desperately need substantial funds with matching political will to ensure progress. The wounds of war cannot be left to fester and must be proactively addressed. If the Nepal government seems lacklustre to prioritise these issues, the victims’ groups are full of gritty determination. People are more than ready to mobilise to find the truth, support victims to receive compensation and find new work or to mourn their loved, lost ones. To be more effective, the civil societies and victim groups must come under one common platform to take the transitional justice advocacy ahead.

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Just not justice, Om Astha Rai

Rocky transition to justice, Editorial

Nepal still has an opportunity to move forward the transitional justice process constructively in the coming months and to address truth, justice and reparation for victims. But this work needs the Government of Nepal to step up, and it needs donors to commit. If we want peace to last (and who does not?) then it needs long term, patient investment.

Which is why the long time frame of the US Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act is so vital. The bi-partisan Act was passed overwhelmingly through the House of Representatives on 28 November. If it passes the Senate, it commits the US Government to invest in 10 countries (five  already at war, five fragile) over 10 years, with coordination across all government departments from USAID to the military.

Too often, governments lose interest in countries once the crises are past. NGOs are left with one or two-year projects sputtering to an end and no donors in sight to continue investing in building everyday peace. But that is to ignore the evidence and misread the public.

Read also:

State of impunity, Editorial

Justice delayed, justice denied, Editorial

Evidence shows that peacebuilding is effective, and also cost-effective. Every $1 spent on peacebuilding saves $16 in the costs of war, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace. A 2018 global poll undertaken by International Alert with the British Council found the public strongly favour ‘dealing with the reasons why people fight in the first place’ and ‘supporting societies to deal with conflict peacefully’, as effective means of creating long-term peace.

So in 2019, the community of peacebuilding organisations will be pushing for the US Act to be passed into law, for other governments to adopt the approach, and for concrete progress for victims in Nepal as another building block of lasting peace.

Harriet Lamb, CEO of International Alert and Rabina Shrestha, Manager of International Alert Nepal