The families of Nepal’s conflict victims have had a few ups and a lot of downs in their search for truth and justice since the war ended in 2006. But they have never felt as defeated as now.
The merger of the Maoists with the UML last week may have created Nepal’s most powerful political force, but for the families of those murdered, maimed, tortured or disappeared during the 1996-2006 conflict, it has dashed all hope of reparations.
They are convinced one of the main reasons the Maoists wanted unity was to wash the blood off their hands, and the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) will sweep war crimes under the carpet, and pardon those charged.
In what could be a sign of things to come, the government is reportedly preparing to free Balkrishna Dhungel, an ex-Maoist MP convicted of murdering Ujjain Kumar Shrestha in Okhaldhunga during the insurgency, by granting him a presidential pardon on Republic Day on 29 May.
Ujjain’s sister, Sabitri, told us: “I am very sad that the man who not just killed my brother but also destroyed my family, is getting a Republic Day reward.”
Shrestha pushed tirelessly for Dhungel’s conviction by the Supreme Court in 2010, who was finally caught by police in 2017 after years of ‘absconding’. The pardon next week will set Dhungel free, sending a signal that anyone can get away with murder.
Shrestha says this could be the beginning of the end of the struggle by families like hers for transitional justice: “Not just me, all conflict victims are at a dead end.”
Families of victims had pinned hopes on the UML because it was not in power during the conflict, and its top leaders were not charged with violating human rights in the Maoist insurrection.
After 2006, human rights activists close to the UML were often the only ones speaking for truth and justice. They lobbied governments to set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and amend its provisions so they were in line with international laws and standards.
But the party most strongly pushing transitional justice has now merged with the party whose leaders are charged with unpardonable crimes like murder, torture and rape.
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Suman Adhikari who used to head the Conflict Victims Common Platform (CVCP), says: “The unification of UML and Maoists has further weakened us, and our cause.”
Pro-UML human rights activists have softened their tone as the Maoists whom they tried to indict for war crimes have now become their own leaders.
Meanwhile, the opposition NC will not be raising its voice since Sher Bahadur Deuba himself is accused of enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings.
Gopal Shah of the Maoist Victims’ Association is an NC supporter, but gets no support from the NC. He says: “The party knows it cannot get its leadership to push for transitional justice. All parties will now be united in calling for amnesty.”