Balkrishna Dhungel, the Maoist leader convicted of a war-time murder, epitomizes the egregious failure of the Nepali political class to provide justice to conflict victims and thereby to close the bloody chapter in Nepali history in which over 16,000 people were killed. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2006 had provided for the formation of commissions on ‘truth and reconciliation’ and ‘enforced disappearances’ within six months; they took over eight years to come into being. The delay owed to the reluctance of the Maoists to part with their arms and the determination of other parties to ensure that the former rebels did so before they entered mainstream politics.
When at long last the two commissions were formed in February 2015, national and international human rights watchdogs were unanimous in their condemnation. The TORs of the commissions appeared to provide amnesty even in cases of grave human rights violations. Had the two commissions been formed on time, all conflict-era cases would have been handled by these constitutional bodies. In their absence, the judiciary was forced to step in. The Dhungel case seemed headed for a close when the Supreme Court in 2010 upheld the lower courts’ life-imprisonment verdict. But Dhungel managed to somehow escape police captivity before he was finally arrested last November.
The political parties, especially the Maoists, wanted to have their cake and eat it too: they asked for all conflict-time cases to be handled by transitional justice bodies but they didn’t want any prosecution for those implicated in rights abuses. They lobbied for watering down the mandate of the two commissions. With the issue of the mandate as yet unresolved, the Maoists are now part of the all-powerful government and Dhungel has been given a presidential pardon. A convicted murderer is now a free man. (The Supreme Court could have overturned the pardon but chose not to.)
No state organ or political party seems serious about transitional justice. They take heed only because it would be impossible to completely ignore the pressure of the human rights community to come good on the CPA’s commitment. There is now a risk that conflict-era cases like Dhungel’s will continue to crop up, with all their attendant controversy, and the ruling communist party will continue to ram through amnesties, even as the judiciary looks on helplessly. Meanwhile, there will be no end to the prolonged suffering of conflict victims.
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