With no CA, justice for conflict victims uncertain
KATHMANDU, June 12: Muktinath Adhikari was teaching science to Grade 9 students at Pandini Sanskrit Secondary School in Duradanda, Lamjung district till 15 January, 2002. On 16 January, however, all his dreams came to an end. The then warring Maoists hanged him from a nearby tree, photos of which later became one of the abiding images of the "People´s War".
When the then CPN (Maoist) signed a 12-point agreement with the then Seven-Party Alliance, including Nepali Congress and CPN (UML), in 2006, families of conflict victims like Adhikari had faint hopes that the state would bring to book the culprits involved in the deaths of thousands, either at the hands of the state or the Maoists.
Adhikari´s son Suman lobbied hard with the political parties and the international community to formulate a transitional justice mechanism that would ultimately address the plight of conflict victims like himself. But his efforts never bore fruit. And with the Constituent Assembly (CA) now at an end, he feels totally dejected.
He had been optimistic and enthusiastic all along in hopes of getting justice at last for his teacher father. But, with the dissolution of the CA on May 27 without drafting a new constitution, the enthusiasm is gone and hope for justice has faded.
"We are disappointed as our journey for justice now faces an uncertain future," says Adhikari.
"The dissolution has put a halt to our struggle [for justice and truth]," he told Republica. "We victims are in confusion how we should now proceed, as it seems it´s going to be a long wait for justice."
Equally worried is the human rights community that believes that given uncertainty about getting yet another elected parliament, there is no immediate prospect of the enactment of laws relating to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) or a Commission on Disappearances.
Discussions had takan place at the CA on the draft of laws pertaining to transitional justice mechanisms but the laws themselves never saw the light of day. Now that the draft will gather dust at the parliament secretariat for at least another six months even if a new CA is elected on November 22, uncertainty over what will happen to it prevails.
Not only Adhikari, but the human rights community also is in confusion how it should work against impunity in the changed political context and the absence of an elected body.
"We are not yet clear how we should pursue the agenda of justice for victims in the absence of a democratically elected parliament," says human rights activist Govind Bandi. "But we are in consultations."
The international community is equally concerned over the fate of the TRC and the disappearance commission that are supposed to bring out the truth about human rights violations during the conflict period.
Nepal-based foreign ambassadors raised this issue with caretaker Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai during their joint breakfast meeting at the latter´s residence at Baluwatar on Monday morning. But the prime minister had no specific answer to those concerns, according to an ambassador and a government official who attended the meeting.
"The prime minister indicated that his government is looking at various options," one diplomat told Republica.
"The international community is also in confusion how it should move ahead to press the government and the political parties to address impunity in the changed political context," an official at an European embassy in Kathmandu said, requesting not to be named.
Some argue that the government and the parties could agree to bring in laws relating to TRC and the commission on disappearances through ordinance. But human rights activists are opposed to such a move.
"[Enacting laws through] ordinance relating to serious issues like human rights violations and issues that will have long-term effect will not be acceptable to us," says Subodh Raj Pyakurel, chairman of INSEC, the human rights NGO.
Another human rights activist, Mandira Sharma, suggests it is high time the government investigated and prosecuted those human rights violations that have already come under the purview of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, to sustain the hopes of victims awaiting justice.
"We still have a functioning criminal justice system," she says. "So there should be prosecution of those cases whose first information reports (FIR) have already been registered."
As of now, the government and the political parties have shown indifference to the prosecution even of cases where FIRs have been duly registered with law enforcing agencies, arguing that such cases would be dealt with by the TRC and the Commission on Disappearances at a future date.
´The judiciary should also be active in this situation to ensure that its verdicts and orders [relating to conflict-era human rights violations] are implemented," opined Pyakurel, "If it cannot do so, what is the point of the judiciary having a separate directorate for overseeing the implementation of verdicts?"
Adhikari urges political parties to forge a consensus as early as possible and thus further the cause of justice.
"Our struggle for justice should not be undermined on any political pretext," he says. "We hope the political parties will not forget their commitment to providing us justice."