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Nepal’s Culture of Impunity Is Derailing Its Human Rights Investigations

In Nepal, the state’s unwillingness to guarantee justice and accountability has posed a serious obstacle to postconflict rule of law and respect for human rights. During the country’s internal armed conflict between 1996 and 2006, 13,000 people lost their lives, 1,300 disappeared, and thousands more were tortured or displaced. Although the peace process has been formally concluded and a new constitution was adopted in August, transitional justice and its mechanisms remain unaddressed.

After years of advocacy on the part of conflict victims and civil society, the government has formed two commissions to dig into the atrocities committed: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons. The purpose of the commissions is to investigate the grave violations of human rights committed during the conflict between the State Party and the then-Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

The commissions’ mandate is to provide reparation to the victims, recommend legal action, and guarantee that such internal conflicts do not reoccur in future. But in the absence of enforcement mechanisms, both of the commissions are essentially toothless.

The entire reconciliation effort has been plagued with problems. Leaders of both commissions were selected in a politically motivated process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the TRC calls for the victims to engage in mediation with the perpetrators, foreclosing the possibility of investigation and prosecution. And victims of rape and torture are denied justice under the TRC, which imposes a discriminatory 35-day statute of limitations to register cases.

In February 2015, 235 victims filed a petition demanding these provisions be amended. The Supreme Court ruled in the victims’ favor, clearly enunciating their right to truth, justice, and reparation. The court also ordered the government to amend the laws that allow amnesty and encourage impunity for the perpetrators.

Despite this ruling and immense pressure from civil society, however, the government and commissions have not yet developed and enforced the required laws and policies.

A culture of impunity is deeply rooted in the political DNA of Nepal. Thirty-eight commissions have convened to investigate human rights violations that occurred between 1990 to 2010. But the recommendations of most of them have yet to be implemented. Even more cases of human rights violations during the armed conflict have been recorded by organizations working in Nepal, but remain uninvestigated by the government.

The National Human Rights Commission has investigated some of these cases, but despite this, the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice. Some of the cases have already been filed in court by the victims and are not moving forward. Likewise, some of the decisions of the court still haven’t been implemented. The participants in the conflict are circling the wagons, creating a major challenge for those who want to hold the government accountable and honor the verdicts of the courts.

The case of Nanda Prasad Adhikari illustrates the level of institutionalized impunity. Adhikari died on September 22, 2014, while fasting with his wife for 300 days in a demand for justice for the murder of his younger son, Krishna. Adhikari’s body, which his family refuses to receive until his killer is brought to trial, remains in the mortuary of Tribhuwan University Teaching Hospital. Since Nanda Prasad’s death, his wife, Gangamaya, continues her hunger strike. Though her health is deteriorating, the government refuses to address their calls for justice.

Since last year’s earthquake, attention in Nepal has been fixated on disaster relief. But to change the culture of impunity in Nepal, it is essential to focus on issues of transitional justice. We must safeguard evidence and witnesses to bring the perpetrators to justice under the law. Until this is done, Nepal cannot heal the scars of its violent history.        

The Alliance for Social Dialogue is supported by the Open Society Foundations.

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