By Pragya Lamsal
In Nepal, over 17,000 people lost their lives and more than 8,000 people were injured during 10-year-long armed conflict that formally ended in 2006. According to reports, over 1,500 people went missing in a decade-long conflict.
In February 1996, then Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) launched an armed insurgency. The conflict between the government and rebels escalated over the course of the following decade, resulting in many cases of crimes against humanity.
Violations and abuses by both the government and the CPN-Maoist group were so rampant that acts like murder, torture and rape, were undertaken “as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack”.
Neither truth nor reconciliation
Both the conflicting parties – the government and the CPN-Maoist- agreed to end the armed conflict by signing the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) on 21 November 2006.
Clause 5.2.5 of the CPA states, “both sides agree to set up with mutual consent a High-level Truth and Reconciliation Commission in order to probe into those involved in serious violation of human rights and crime against humanity in course of the armed conflict for creating an atmosphere for reconciliation in the society.”
Despite the commitment by both parties, transitional justice still remains as an unfinished task due to a lack of political will and the absence of powerful justice delivery mechanisms. After much pressure from different stakeholders, two high level commissions the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) were established in February 2015.
Since its establishment, a total of 63,000 cases have been registered in TRC while CIEDP has received 3,197 complaints. Despite the huge number of complaints, both the TRC and CIEDP have not been able to show their lack of independence and credibility. They have so far failed to completely investigate even a single case.
No amnesty for war crimes
In February 2015, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled that the amnesty for perpetrators of serious human rights abuses during a decade-long civil war is impermissible. The decision was appreciated by human rights activists and victims’ group and was seen as a victory for justice movement.
A Policy brief published by Advocacy Forum, a non-government organization working to uphold uphold international human rights standards, states,
“It [the verdict] has tried to clear up the general misconceptions that have been stymying the progress of TJ [Transitional Justice] in Nepal. The SC [Supreme Court] has criticized the government for its ‘insensitivity’ and taking ‘perfunctory and blithe’ attitude towards addressing the past and expressed its resentment over the lack of implementation of its earlier directive orders.”
The Supreme Court decision was an opportunity for the government to intensify the process of transitional justice. But the seriousness and political will to implement the decision has not yet been seen by the people. Instead, the government, in 2018, granted the Presidential pardon for murder-convict Bal Krishna Dhungel, a leader of the erstwhile Community Party of Nepal-Maoist (now ruling Nepal Communist Party).
The government move, according to rights activists, is a clear and apparent denial to the Supreme Court rule and an indication that the government is ready to breach the SC verdict by misusing political power.
Sexual violence and rape against women and girls
Among other issues, justice for survivors of sexual violence during the decade-long conflict is one of the most pressing issues in the country. Despite national and international pressure to investigate the incidents related to rape and sexual violence, Nepal government has yet to take any tangible measure to ensure justice.
A recently published Conflict Related Sexual Violence, report of the United Nations secretary-general states:
“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has registered 308 cases of conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated both by the security forces and the then Maoist rebels. It is highly probable that additional cases were reported as torture, owing to stigma associated with sexual violence. Furthermore, the access of female victims to the complaint system has been restricted by the lack of information and the absence of outreach programmes by the Commissions.”
Similarly, The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) urged Nepal to investigate the rape of a woman during the decade-long conflict, while also highlighting the need to adapt its laws related to rape and sexual violence and remove the obstacles faced by victims to accessing justice and compensation.
Providing a detailed testimony of Fulmati Nyaya, a woman who was raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence, including forced nudity, insertion of objects into her vagina and other sexual assaults, the report has highlighted the need of removing ‘obstacles that hinder the filing of complaints and effective access to justice and compensation for victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls in the context of the Nepali armed conflict’.
UNHRC recommendations for sexual violence cases
The State party is also under an obligation to take steps to prevent the occurrence of similar violations in the future. In particular, the State party should ensure that its legislation:
- criminalizes torture and provides for appropriate sanctions and remedies commensurate with the gravity of the crime;
- adapts the definition of rape and other forms of sexual violence in accordance with international standards;
- guarantees that cases of rape, other forms of sexual violence and torture give rise to a prompt, impartial and effective investigation;
- allows for criminal prosecution of those responsible for such crimes; and
- removes obstacles that hinder the filing of complaints and effective access to justice and compensation for victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls in the context of the Nepali armed conflict;
In the end
The overall justice delivery process for war time victims and their relatives is already delayed. It is time for a sincere move from the government to ensure that justice will not be denied. All cases and complaints should be investigated thoroughly and in a transparent way. Special care, however, should be given to sexual violence cases given the sensitivity of the issue. The government must acknowledge that the transitional justice institutions require reform from a gender perspective to address gender-specific crimes. Justice delivery mechanism should be a safe platform for every women who went through nightmare experience of sexual violence during Nepal’s decade-long war.