by Chin Cabrido -Nepal-
Published in the International Women's Perspective
On April 1, 2013, Nepal’s Supreme Court overturned an ordinance to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), sparking a debate about whether public executions would soon be carried out as punishment for heinous crimes during the Maoist insurgency. During Nepal’s more than 10-year civil war between Maoist combatants and government forces, at least 13,000 people were killed and about 1,300 disappeared. The recent suspension of the TRC, issued by Justice Sushila Karki, is yet another dark shadow in Nepal’s continuing struggle.
The court’s decision was the result of many violations of the interim constitution of Nepal within the TRC . The proposed TRC is not committed to an impartial investigation of the abuses of the armed forces and police, and defers looking into cases of those who were abducted, tortured and killed without a trace. Based on its unofficial translation, the TRC explicitly provides in Article 23 that, while investigating gross violations of human rights, the Commission can recommend to the Government of Nepal that a perpetrator be granted amnesty.
In Nepal, perpetrators are often protected by laws that provide a widespread culture of impunity. The army and law enforcement agencies are seen as vanguards of non-accountability, and while police officers are prosecuted in few cases, it is almost impossible to bring perpetrators to justice if they belong to the army. All too often, witnesses are threatened and police rely on torture to secure confessions.
Along the Baluwatar residence of the Prime Minister, near where I reside, there are daily mass protests happening in the streets as a sign of public outcry. “Our pain as [victims] has worsened with the fear of the government’s decisions [to provide] a blanket amnesty to all involved during that era,” says Sundip Gurung during an exclusive interview with me.
Sundip’s aunt, Deuta Kumari Gurung, was kidnapped, tortured, and killed the night of May 18, 2004 by the Maoists who accused her of spying on them. She was a social activist in a small town in Kahireni, Butwal, about 240 kilometers west of Kathmandu. At an early age, Deuta was compelled to marry a man and become his second wife in exchange for a parcel of land given to her family who was financially struggling. After a few years of marriage, she was unable to conceive and was consequently physically and mentally abused by her husband until her violent demise in 2004.
The recent turn of events suspending the TRC’s implementation of blanket amnesty for perpetrators of grave human rights violations has served as a breather for Sundip and his family. Sundip claims that her aunt was not a spy. “She was in fact a social activist who was largely adored by the local people. After years of suffering, while the culprits are walking freely, we still live our lives [under] constant threat,” he says.
Having no recourse on the prospect of justice, Sundip went abroad five years ago to pursue further studies. A year ago, he came back to Nepal and started gathering documents related to his aunt’s disappearance. “I have found a Police First Information Report (FIR) against the culprits with their names, a notice written on paper by a Maoist which was posted in our home, and a newspaper story on my aunt’s death.”
Civil war victims tell harrowing tales of loss and grief. Sundip is a common face among public protests in Kathmandu, holding up placards seeking the truth about crimes against humanity. His resolve to fight against impunity has long been delayed. “I have lost faith in all the authorities of Nepal after being involved in several campaigns demanding for justice,” he said. His frustration is rooted in the fact that he and his family are receiving threats from these people who press them to file a formal case in court.
“How will it be possible for us to be silent? This is not just about my aunt; this is all about the innocent victims who had nothing to do with the insurgency,” he added. When asked what his next plans were, given the safety issues involved, he tells me, “I do not know what will be my next steps; the good thing is most of my family members have left the country. I have accepted the fact that I will fight for the justice no matter what.”
Sundip’s story reveals the need for an effective process that promotes national healing in Nepal. At least 9,000 international law violations were recorded by the UN’s OHCHR during the prolonged conflict in Nepal without a single prosecution against conflict-related human rights violations to date.
In a similar case, Nanda Prasad Adhikari and Gangamaya Adhikari have been staging a hunger strike demanding that the Nepali government investigate the case of their son. The Kathmandu Post featured the story of nineteen-year-old Adhikari who was abducted from Bakulahar Chowk, Ratna Nagar Municipality, in Chitwan in June 2004 by the Maoists and killed the next day. Following threats from the Maoists, Adhikari’s family had to flee their hometown in Gorkha and has been living in Kathmandu since. One of the murderers was recently arrested as a result of the Adhikari's 47-day fast, creating optimism for all surviving families of the civil war era that justice is attainable even without the TRC.
In a press statement on August 13, 2013, UCPN (M) Chairman Dahal claimed that the Adhikari case was blown out of proportion with the intention of dislodging the entire base of the peace process. The former revolutionary leader said that the current events were part of somebody's grand design. "Those who were against the ordinance on TRC have been playing an active role in intensifying the issue as an act of derailing the entire peace process ahead of the elections," said Dahal in his statement with Republica news.
With the national elections scheduled to take place in November of this year, and no consensus on how to address the human rights violations committed during the civil war, this will likely result in more demonstrations and violence. While the country is walking towards the threshold of political transition, the battle of civil war victims such as Sundip remains unsettled.
What is more depressing is that most of the surviving families of the victims have not performed their relatives’ traditional final rituals because they have not seen the dead bodies. Funeral rituals in Nepal are steeped in religious tradition; Hindus and Buddhists cremate the bodies of their loved ones, while Christians bury their dead.
Since most of the issues raised in the international news focus only on Nepal’s political transition due to the upcoming elections, Sundip believes that it is of utmost importance for the international community to hear the accounts of the victims of the civil war who still have not received justice. “We are not looking for any sort of compensation, because the loss we had is not replaceable by any means; we are simply just trying to find the answers,” he says.