When the District Police Office of Dailekh arrested five people in connection with the murder of journalist Dekendra Thapa early this week, the media fraternity and the family of late Thapa heaved a sigh of relief. The action came late, after eight years of the crime, but was nonetheless welcome. The confession by one of the murder-accused that Thapa was buried alive revealed how gruesome the crime really was. Thus the media fraternity was greatly saddened on Tuesday when reports came out that Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai had put pressure on local police officers to stop investigations. Investigating officer Binod Sharma also revealed that local Maoist leaders had threatened severe action against local journalists; the five people who have been apprehended belong to the two Maoist parties. FNJ Chairperson Shiva Gaule has rightly termed the intervention as a blatant attempt to subvert the rule of law. The prime minister’s attitude regarding the whole affair is made clear by his dubious claim that the arrests were against the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and could jeopardize the peace process.
The unraveling of Dekendra murder case and the arrest of Colonel Kumar Lama by the UK police has once again highlighted why the country needs transitional justice mechanisms. Bhattarai’s latest assertion on Thapa’s murder is not a surprise though, as he and his UCPN (Maoist) party have repeatedly delayed action on rights violations ever since the start of the peace process. We agree with Bhattarai that revival of conflict-era cases could jeopardize the parties’ delicate understandings on the peace process. But how long can those directly affected by the conflict for no fault of their own wait for justice? In cases of Kali Bahadur Kham and Bal Krishna Dhungel, or Agni Sapkota, now the UCPN (Maoist) spokesperson, these individual cases of criminal activities can never be justified as a part of the broader civil war. Of course, this applies not only in the case of the Maoists. The murder case of Maina Sunuwar and the infamous torture cases at Bhairavnath Battalion are yet to be settled, denying justice to the victims of state’s repressive tactics during the civil war.
The armed struggle caused the deaths of almost 16,000 people. Over 1,300 people are still unaccounted for. There were many criminal acts committed during the insurgency, going beyond the all out ground war between the two armed forces. This is where the issue of rights violations comes in. We agree with Bhattarai that efforts are on to establish commissions on truth and reconciliation and disappearance, but they are woefully short of mark. First, the ordinance on TRC has the provision of blanket amnesty, which is unacceptable under any universally acceptable legal norms. Besides, the ordinance was forwarded unilaterally by the current ruling coalition, without establishing broad consensus with opposition forces.
It is this go-it-alone approach that has been hindering progress in the political and constitutional process. Bhattarai’s latest opposition to action against murderers of journalist Thapa has not only raised a big question mark over his democratic credentials, but also seeded serious doubts over UCPN (Maoist)’s commitment to freedom of expression and right to information, the very basic elements for the establishment of a vibrant democracy