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Victims of Nepal's rebel wars wait for justice

Dharvi Vaid New Delhi
March 17, 2021

Nearly 20 years after a brutal Maoist rebel insurgency left thousands of people dead, families of victims are still waiting for justice.

Nepal People's Liberation Army PLA
A Nepal's People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldier carries a weapon across his shoulders as he walks at the Shaktikhor cantonment site, Chitwan, in 2007Image: Getty Images/AFP/P. Mathema

Suman Adhikari was 23 when his father was killed by Maoist rebels during a bloody conflict in Nepal.

"They dragged him to the hills with his hands and knees tied. Then they hung him from a tree using his own muffler. They shot him in the head and stabbed him in the chest and stomach. This is how they killed my father. For refusing to give the rebels money," Adhikari told DW.

Adhikari has told this story countless times over the past 19 years. He still awaits justice for his father and closure for himself.

"It's a painful story to share over and over again, but, with no help from any state mechanism, we don't know where to turn," he said.

In 2004, Ganga Maya Adhikari lost her teenage son to rebel violence and then lost her husband during a hunger strike to demand justice for their son. In December Adhikari, who is now 61, started her own hunger strike, vowing not to eat until her son receives justice.

According to media reports, Adhikari's health condition has been deteriorating, but she remains undeterred.

Nepal People's Liberation Army PLA
Tens of thousands were tortured, raped, killed and disappeared in the decadelong conflictImage: Getty Images/AFP/W. Vatsayana

Victims of Maoists seek justice 

These people are among the thousands in Nepal who have been demanding justice many years after the armed conflict between the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal and government forces ended with the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in 2006.

The conflict lasted a decade, and tens of thousands of people were tortured, raped, killed and forcibly disappeared.

The CPA cleared the way for the establishment of two transitional justice mechanisms — the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) — to investigate violations and crimes against humanity.

The post-conflict political instability in Nepal has been seen as a key factor in delaying investigations. 

With the dissolution of Nepal's Parliament in December and the recent split in the ruling party, victims and their families feel that justice will once again take a backseat in the face of political problems.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch and Advocacy Forum-Nepal published in November, there have been "hardly any successful prosecutions" since the end of the fighting.

"The main problem with the law is its amnesty provisions. The commissions can recommend amnesty even in cases of severe human rights violations," Om Praksh Sen Thakuri, the director of Advocacy Forum-Nepal, told DW.

Nepal people demonstrate in Kathmandu
Victims feel that justice will once again take a backseat in the face of political problemsImage: Aryan Dhimal/imago images/ZUMA Wire

Human rights violations ignored

Shortly after the law was enacted in 2015, the blanket amnesty provisions were challenged before the court. Following this, the Supreme Court gave the order to amend the law, ruling that people accused of serious human rights violations cannot be pardoned.

The order is yet to be implemented.

Conflict victims and activists say the political fragility in the country is to be blamed for the delay in the implementation of the Supreme Court order.

"The political uncertainty in Nepal has a huge impact on transitional justice because the government is changing time and again," Thakuri said.

"You also see that from the peace agreement: that the main political party that was accused of human rights violations is always in power whether in a coalition government or a full government. It has hugely impacted transitional justice and victims rights," he added.

Several governments have also been accused of protecting people accused of war crimes.

"Accused perpetrators are in power. They don't want to amend the law because they fear that if they amend the law, they might be arrested. There is impunity. The political changes, combined with political shielding have affected transitional justice," Thakuri said.

What is 'transitional justice'?      

The transitional justice commissions were established nine years after the signing of the peace accord. Currently, the TRC has more than 63,000 complaints of human rights violations from the conflict-era while the CIEDP has over 3,200 complaints.

Victims say that, because the commissions were formed on a flawed law, there has been little progress on transitional justice.

"The commissions have failed. They don't investigate and they don't work for justice. The TRC and CIEDP have been around for six years but we have no trust in them because the law is faulty. The process is not credible and transparent," said Suman Adhikari, who is also the founder of Conflict Victims Common Platform, an umbrella network of victims organizations.

Adhikari said scores of victims had died without justice and reparations, while their family members have never learned the truth about what happened to their loved ones.

For a society transitioning to a post-conflict phase, confidence-building measures are critical.

A failure to achieve political stability, and the perceived inaction by the commissions, have made many victims lose trust in the state machinery as a whole.

"The government has no clear cut idea of how the confidence-building measures work," said Khima Nanda Bashyal, the focal officer of transitional justice at Nepal's National Human Rights Commission Nepal. "Peace should be kept in the center."

"We cannot give blanket amnesty," Bashyal said. "So how do we cluster the cases? Which sort of cases are to be prosecuted and which can be brought in the reconciliation process is what needs to be looked at."

Meanwhile, Suman Adhikari and others are increasingly feeling alienated.

"We are left doubting whether we are citizens of this country or not," Adhikari said. "It is the state's responsibility to investigate human rights violations. But we have been struggling. We were victimized before and we are being victimized after the conflict. We have never received the guardianship of the state. Now we don't even care if there is a parliament, justice is all we want."