by Prachi Aryal
While Nepalese government representatives were addressing the Universal Periodic Review of Nepal’s Human Rights Records, Ganga Maya Adhikari began another hunger strike to demand justice for her son, Krishna Prasad Adhikari, who was killed during the Maoist conflict. Her son was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by the Maoists in 2004. Adhikari has staged multiple hunger strikes since 2013, demanding the persecution of the perpetrators. Her husband, Nanda Prasad Adhikari died in 2014, succumbing, after 329 days, to his own hunger strike. His body remains in the mortuary, as the family has refused to perform last rites until justice has been served. The story of the Adhikari family is just one amongst the many thousands whose quest for justice has been quashed by a culture of impunity.
Nepal witnessed a decade long civil conflict from 1996-2006, fought between joint security forces and Maoist rebels. The period was marked by widespread human rights violations, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, arrests, rapes, and torture, committed by both the warring parties. The conflict left over 15,000 dead and over 1,300 remain missing.
The Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA), signed in 2006 to bring an end to the conflict, was a ray of hope for the victims, as it came with a promise of accountability and justice. The accord adopted a gradual approach of disarming and demobilizing the Maoist rebels whilst integrating some of them into the national army and political process. However, 15 years later, the CPA has failed to uphold its promises, with thousands of victims still struggling for justice.
Under the CPA, investigative commissions were established to uncover the truth about the human rights violations that occurred during the conflict. After years of delay, the process was formally started in 2014 with the introduction of the Transitional Justice Act, which authorized the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP). However, the final version of the Act – that was signed into law – differed substantially from the versions agreed upon by government with the victims and the human rights groups, as it contained blanket amnesty for perpetrators of human rights violations.
Despite the Supreme Court of Nepal in 2015 ruling that this provision of amnesty was unconstitutional the government of Nepal has failed to amend the act. In 2020, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by the government of Nepal to reverse its verdict and restated its previous ruling that the act be amended. The government has yet to uphold the ruling. The government has attempted to amend the act in close coordination with Colombian transitional justice experts. The bill has attempted to build on the ‘restorative justice’ idea of the Columbian process however, it seems unlikely that the victims will agree to it as it remains far from the mandate suggested by the Supreme Court and allows political parties the freedom to reduce the severity of the sentences given to perpetrators.
The CIEDP and TRC’s term was extended by the government until the 15th of July 15 year, it is therefore unlikely that all 2,506 complaints of disappearances and 63,718 cases submitted to the truth commission will be investigated. To date the commissions have not recommended any cases for prosecution and the victims have not received any update on the status of the disappeared.
A recent figure released by the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal states that, among the cases of violation investigated by the commission, 779 (65.16 %) were committed by the state, 287 (24.03 %) by the Maoists, and 38 (3.19 %) by both the parties. With the changing political scenario and the dominance of the United Communist Party of Nepal, the power of the commissions has diminished as yesterday’s perpetrators are now leaders. The culture of impunity is reflected by the election of Agni Sapkota as the speaker of the House of Representatives despite him facing a charge for murder.
Another challenge faced in the transitional justice process comes from the Nepalese Army, which maintains a position that Civil Courts cannot try Army Personnel. Human Rights advocates assert that this continued failure of the transitional phase is a direct result of perpetrator-led political maneuvering. Om Astha Rai, postulates in Yesterday’s enemies, today’s comrades, the delayed process is because the current political landscape includes perpetrators of human rights abuses who have consistently blocked and impeached processes of accountability .
Furthermore, the victims are wary of the transitional justice mechanisms as they offer no victim-protection or safety to them. Many victims claim that the transitional justice process is elite-led as it is centered around the metropolitan cities, away from rural Nepal; the battlefield of the ten year long conflict.
An effective transitional justice system requires strong legal foundations consistent with international law and standards, and the political will to address the demands of victims of the conflict, but in the case of Nepal, it is marred by political maneuvering aimed at evading accountability. The culture of impunity and failure to uphold the rule of law will alienate the victims of the wartime conflict and create a fragile state where the respect for rule of law is eroded. With perpetrators continuing to dominate the political landscape justice remains distant for wartime victims.
The peace process heralded by the signing of CPA has now lasted longer than the war, as the country remains mired in transition, without substantial progress. The perpetrators of crime are elected as members of the government while victims like Ganga Maya Adhikari are left to fight an endless battle for justice.
Prachi Aryal is a MA student in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Her research interest is inclined towards Gender, Human Rights, and Cross border conflicts in transitioning nations and how visuals from conflict zones play a role in communicating the realities of conflict to the broader world. She completed her BA in Journalism from the University of Delhi, India.