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Geopolitics

Can Nepal's War Victims Ever Get Justice?

A truth and reconciliation commission is investigating crimes committed during Nepal's decade-long internal conflict (1996-2006) between state security forces and Maoist rebels.

A soldier of the Nepalese army checks the luggage on board at a checking point in Kathmandu in 2005.
A soldier of the Nepalese army checks the luggage on board at a checking point in Kathmandu in 2005.
Rajan Parajuli

KATHMANDU — Deepak Hamal's father was abducted by Maoist rebels one evening in 2004 when he was at home having dinner with his wife. His body was found the next day near a walking trail in their village.

Hamal was getting his master's degree in the capital city of Kathmandu at the time. "When I got home, the whole village had gathered there. But everyone was afraid to touch the body because there were a few improvised grenades nearby," Hamal, now 36, says.

"The militants also left a letter with the words, ‘Why we had to kill Mr. Padam Hamal,"" he recalls.

Hamal's father, Padam, was a retired teacher and the ward president of the Nepali Congress party, which was leading the government at the time. In the handwritten note next to his body, the militants blamed Padam Hamal for supporting the police in the arrest of Maoist rebels.

Back then, there was no way to register complaints against the rebels, or state security forces. That's why now, more than a decade after the killing, Hamal traveled 12 hours to Kathmandu to report the incident to the truth and reconciliation commission.

"I went to the head of police and the head of the district immediately after we found the dead body. But no one agreed to file the case. We kept fighting for 10 years," Hamal says.

He adds: "Now at least we have a place that will hear our pain. I have filed a complaint against Maoist president Prachanda and his team. As the leader of the party, he is responsible if it was an institutional decision to kill my father."

Prachanda, also known as Pushpa Kamal Dahal, was the commander of the rebel Maoist group that fought a decade long civil war from 1996 to 2006. Today, he is better known as the prime minister of Nepal.

During the years of conflict in Nepal, 17,000 people were killed and thousands more were displaced. In addition, more than 1,000 people were disappeared.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission at Babar Mahal in Kathmandu, which is just meters away from the prime minister's office, opened a three-month window until July 16 for cases of conflict to be reported.

Commissioner Madhavi Bhatta explains the types of complaints that have flooded in. "We have received a range of cases from extrajudicial killings, property being seized, displacement and torture. There are also complaints of rape, forced recruitment of children as soldiers and many more," she says.

The commission has until 2017 to conduct a complete investigation and recommend appropriate punishment for those involved, as well as to identify opportunities for reconciliation.

But Bhatta says the deadline is, at best, unrealistic. "It's impossible to complete the task by the given date," she says. "We may not finish the complete reading of these cases in the given time. I think we need to discuss with the experts to have an understanding about the time and the process it requires to complete the investigation."

The commission had been marred by controversy from the outset. Lawyer Govinda Bandi is among those who say justice through the commission is highly unlikely for victims.

"What I've found is that people don't really believe they'll get justice," he says. "There are a couple of factors. All appointments in the commission are politically motivated. And independent people kind of boycotted the process."

"The main reason people had to file complains to the commission is because they don't have any alternatives," Bandi goes on to say. "They are afraid that if they didn't file the cases, that could result in the denial of reparation and compensation to them."

A Maoist-led coalition is now in government and includes leaders accused of committing severe human rights violations. Bhatta says there's still debate within the commission about heinous crimes and the application of amnesty.

The Truth and Reconciliation Act does not allow amnesty for heinous cases such as rape, explains Bhatta. "But it doesn't clearly define whether mass homicide, individual killings and severe torture also fall into the category of a heinous crime," she explains. "The provision for case postponement also does not favor the victim."

The Maoists — rebels during the war but now in government — have been publicly demanding that amnesty be granted in cases of murder, the seizure of property and many more cases.

But Hamal says amnesty for crimes such as the murder of his father are unacceptable. He says that if he doesn't get justice now, he'll knock on the doors of international courts to find it.

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