No closure after Nepal’s insurgencySixteen years after the conflict ended, families still struggle for transitional justice
Sixteen years after the war everyone in Nepal still needs Transitional Justice.
In November October 2006, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) promised us truth and justice about what had gone on in the previous decade. But nothing has happened.
Perhaps most shocking, the promise that the whereabouts of the disappeared would be revealed within 60 days has been completely ignored, and their families have been badly betrayed.
The only real outcome of the CPA has been the creation of myths and false promises around transitional justice for survivors.
Certainly, the victims, survivors, families, and friends all are central to the process and they must be the first to be consulted. Their priorities and demands fit neatly into what is now an established international tradition of transitional justice after conflict. Four main elements are key: truth, justice, reparations and non-recurrence.
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But we must be clear that while reparations and memorialisation are primarily for victims, truth, justice and non-repetition affect every Nepali— all the people who lived through the conflict had their lives changed, mostly in a negative way, even if only at the basic economic level. Some lost land, others were badly treated, many lived in fear, were displaced, lost jobs, income and opportunities. Everyone has the right to know the truth, to know what happened, and why.
As a society, we also need to know what it is to be like to wait for your loved one for years not knowing their fate. What is to suffer in silence following a gang rape? How does it feel to live without a limb and with the trauma of witnessing the beheading of your near and dear people? What is it like to not have closure?
As a nation, we all need to know what led to the war that cost so many lives to prevent a similar situation in future.
All of those old enough to remember the period before conflict will recall how badly the state served them. How awful the police and army were, how hopeless, expensive and slow the justice system was, how the political patronage destroyed the public institution. Finding the truth of the conflict, unpacking the basis of such conflicts, and the experiences of survivors will help us understand how it affects our daily life today and what needs to be done.
Not many people feel that the police force protects and serves us all as it claims. Not many understand why the army is still so big, and why it is such an important economic actor.
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Not many people realise why law does not treat everyone equally, why they still have very limited access to justice unless they are rich or have good connections. A truth process about the conflict will shed a lot of light on these issues and our system which is often difficult to understand and analyse.
Sexual violence against women is among the biggest societal issues today, as it was during the conflict. If we understand sexual violence in the conflict, we will be better informed about its nature. This in turn will provide us with a much clearer picture of how we must deal with them at present time.
Many of the young women protesting against recent rape cases including that of Nirmala and Sushmita were not even of school age when the conflict ended. They need to know the history to better campaign today.
It is clear that young people are not satisfied with the political set up today, 16 years after the CPA. And they have a right to know the history of their country, the events that made it what it is.
This is not really surprising. We are living in a post-conflict period. Those who make decisions for us in 2022 are the same people who did so during the conflict years, whose decisions cost lives of many people and forced many more to suffer silently, including women raped and tortured. These women are not recognised as conflict victims. They are deprived of interim relief offered to other conflict victims.
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It's tragic we have learnt very little from the conflict which could have taught us so much. Some of us remember the excitement and promise of Republic Day in May 2008, nearly 14 years ago.
No one told us then that there would be no reformation of the police, why we still need the APF, a counterinsurgency force set up in the conflict which no longer has an insurgency to fight. No one told us that our taxes would be used up paying for an army of nearly 100,000, with no enemy to fight unless we decide to invade India or China. No one told us that the new Nepal would remain a place where the lives of women would continue to be hidden and misreported.
Yes, we demand reparations and memorialisation for victims. But we also want truth and justice because this is the society we decided we wanted when the war started and when it ended.
This week, around 30 women who suffered sexual violence and rape during conflict are coming to Kathmandu from different parts of country once again to demand what they want from the TJ process. Their demand for truth, justice and reparation is to help build a new Nepal, to unearth the past and learn from it.
Let us hope the people who have previously claimed to campaign for human rights provide safe space for those open to sharing their pain and anguish, and deliver their promise to establish a credible TJ process in Nepal.
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Mohna Ansari is Commissioner, National Human Rights Commission of Nepal. Mandira Sharma is a lawyer and human rights defender who co-founded Advocacy Forum in 2001.