Ensure Justice To Conflict Victims

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In last hundred years, Nepal has undergone a series of historical political and social changes. Killings and martyrdoms took place before or during all revolutions, but it was after 1996 when the Maoists took arms against the existing political system that took the lives of thousands of people. Those who died include armed and unarmed persons, those who sided with the government, supported the rebels, or remained neutral. Many became orphan, heirless, helpless, isolated, physically handicapped and mentally shattered. Many went missing, their status and fate unknown, leaving their relatives restless over the whereabouts of the loved ones.

Identifying the autocratic monarchy as the common enemy, the then armed CPN (Maoist) and the weakened seven political parties signed a 12-point New Delhi agreement on 20th November 2005, opening the way for a solution to the decade-old armed conflict that ultimately led to the formation of federal, democratic and republican system. They worked together to push nationwide democratic movement, focusing their assault against the monarchy from their respective positions. 

Justice delayed

Signing the Comprehensive Peace Accord with the then government, the CPN (Maoist) agreed to give up the arms and become a part of the mainstream politics in 2006, slating the roadmap to peace. However, new issues and conflicts continued to surface. Peace was time and again disturbed by various agitations launched in the name of identities, ethnicities and regions. After many agreements and settlements, Nepal still faces sporadic eruptions of unrests fuelled by one or another slogan.

As decided by the 12-point agreement, the Maoists armed force and the Nepal Army were put under the UN in Nepal (UNMIN) supervision during the process of the election of Constituent Assembly. It was only in 2010, Nepal Government made a bold decision not to extend the UNMIN mandate, the later withdrew in 2011. This completed the settlement of the parties and the armies as a whole. While issues of transitional justice, human rights violations and compensations to the victims were frequently discussed, it was only in 2014 both sides realised it necessary to find out and publish the incidents of the grave violation of human rights committed in the course of the decade-long armed conflict.

They wanted to create an environment conducive for sustainable peace by enhancing spirit of mutual good faith and tolerance in the society for reconciliation, reparation to the victims, and legal actions against those involved in the serious offences. This resulted in the enactment of The Enforced Disappearances Inquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014. The next year in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed to investigate on the cases of human rights violations and crimes against humanity, and to create enabling environment for social reconciliation. 

Similarly, need for the investigation on the enforced disappeared persons during the armed conflict and bringing the real facts to the public, compensation and reliefs to the victims, legal sanctions against the perpetrators, was strongly felt. As a result, the country enacted The Commission for Investigation, Verification, and Reconciliation of Disappeared Persons Act in 2014, and formed the Commission in 2015. The Commission was also to address the underlying causes of armed conflict and the measures related to political, legal, institutional, administrative and practical reforms to establish sustainable peace and protect the country from such type of armed conflict in future.

However, despite their sincere efforts, the above Commissions could not proceed smoothly with their tasks. Many victims have already died, justice declined. A child born orphan is now grown up and has become a voter. Further delay in addressing the painful issues only worsens the situation. At personal level some wrongdoers may escape due punishments, but at the national and societal levels, hatred against each other will deepen. Denials of timely just punishments, reconciliations and compensations lead to frustrations, fears and hatreds, which in turn can be exploited by destabilizers, giving false assurances of justice. Thus, delays in justice and prolongations of the transition can create lawlessness, damage social harmony and harm the national interests. 

There are already signs of such risks. Not only the governments and the ruling parties, also the opposition parties and independent nationalist forces have become the targets of different types of agitators. See how an army man in UN peace keeping mission was arrested and tried in the UK. See how some people have threatened to sue Nepali leaders and marched to The Hague. See how the mainstream parties were physically attacked during their political activities. See how two sitting prime ministers have been attacked for observing their traditional religious and cultural practices, and see how divisive, hate speeches are being fired by officiating leaders against the gentle peace-loving Nepalis and their religions, cultures and practices. The present situation calls for immediate cooperation among all nationalist forces, ruling and opposition, a signatory of the 12-point agreement or not, in bringing the truth and reconciliation process to a just end.

Limits

Armed conflicts are armed conflicts. Killings take place in such scenarios. But there are limits the warring parties should not cross. Disregarding their political faith, the persons who have committed the grave violation of the human rights must be punished. Perpetrators who committed crimes such as killings after surrender, intentional armed attack against unarmed enemy and persons not in mission, rape, ethnic cleansing, should not be pardoned even with the consent of the victims or their representatives. The victims, irrespective of their political affiliation, or the circumstance under which they fell victim, should be provided justice and compensations. 

As to those who committed crimes but not indicted with the grave violation of human rights, reconciliation should be sought, and can be pardoned if the victim agrees to. In case an agreement could not be reached between the victim and the wrongdoer, the victim can go to the court, with the government providing free legal services to them. What if international bodies do not agree on our principles and settlements? Let us politely explain our views. If we have national consensus on the issue but have differences with international bodies, we can go with the domestic lines. If we are divided, pass our proposal with two-thirds majority of both Houses of federal parliament, separately. In case such endorsement could not be reached, put to plebiscite. 

(Regmi is a professor at Tribhuvan University and a researcher at Charhar Institute, China)

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