NCP parliamentarian Agni Sapkota has been elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, despite ongoing protests against his candidacy. Sapkota, of former Maoist faction, has been accused of murder during the conflict.  Fourteen years after the end of the conflict, a series of controversial actions by leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) have raised doubts about their commitment to transitional justice, the most glaring of them bring the appointment of Agni Sapkota to succeed Krishna Bahadur Mahara as Parliament Speaker. (Sapkota is pictured above on Tuesday after having registered his name for the candidacy.) 

Nepal’s cybersphere had poured scorn over a person accused of murder replacing someone charged with rape when all the while a highly qualified female candidate, deputy speaker Shivamaya Tumbahangphe, was available for the post.  

Sapkota has been accused of ordering the murder of Arjun Lama, a UML activist, in Kavre in 2005. Ironically, the UML is now a partner with the former Maoists in the NCP.

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. 

“Theoretically, the Speaker should be someone able to rise above the party line, and not someone controversial. That does not seem the case with Sapkota,” said political analyst Krishna Khanal. “In fact, that has never been the case in Nepal. The Speaker’s post has always been a launching pad for those interested in higher political status.” 

The appointment of the Speaker was deadlocked for more than a month by the power struggle between Prime Minister Oli and his would-be successor Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Sapkota was Dahal’s choice, and Oli wanted a loyalist from his former UML party: neither supported Tumbahangphe’s nomination.

At a farewell press conference this week, the fiery Tumbahangphe lashed out at her own party leadership for not trusting a woman to do the job, saying: “We succeeded in abolishing the monarchy, but we still need to work hard to abolish patriarchy.”

Human rights activist Bhojraj Timilsina from Sapkota’s home district of Kavre said: “A person accused of such grave crimes should be investigated like anyone else.” But few expect that to happen. Of Sapkota’s nomination, Lama’s wife Purnimaya Tamang said: “Now I have lost all hope of justice.”

In another move, the opposition Nepali Congress (NC) joined the ruling NCP to appoint apparatchiks to vacant posts in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission for Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) despite strong opposition from activists.

The two parties did hold a consultation with victims’ groups about the nominations, but the consultation was boycotted by many and was condemned as a merely cosmetic gesture. “This is just a ploy by leaders to give legitimacy to their nominations and it is not acceptable to us,” says Bhagiram Chaudhari of Conflict Victims’ Common Platform. “It also mocks the rule of law, and gives a negative impression of the country in the international arena.”

Last week NCP co-chair and former Maoist leader Dahal said he took responsibility “only” for 5,000 of the 17,000 Nepalis killed in the conflict. Dahal’s irreverence about war-era crimes was seen as a mockery of the rule of law. Since 2006, the Maoists under Dahal and later the NCP have tried to turn both the TRC and the CIEDP into pawns and prevent prosecution of perpetrators of proven wartime atrocities. 

“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.”