Voice for victims

- Ram Kumar Bhandari
Voice for victims

May 1, 2014-

The tabling of a bill that would again provide amnesty to perpetrators of serious human rights violations, such as enforced disappearance, is nothing short of a disgrace. It is now abundantly clear that the dignity and needs of victims have no space in this false transitional process. There is no room for those people affected at the village level and no room for those who lost their family members and continue to struggle on a daily basis to make a living in the face of adversity and social stigma. And this is despite the fact that the conflict began in hilly rural villages where the poor, excluded, illiterate, indigenous and untouchable majorities suffered. It was there that they struck out against centuries of oppression and marginalisation, and it is there that they remain for lack of governmental action.

Purely political

It is clear now that the transition—though it should be a humanitarian and Nepali process—is a political process and needs political will to fully address the legacy of conflict in Nepal. Surviving families and their associations have accepted the political steps, and are waiting and watching the latest developments with a hope for justice. The families and Victims’ Alliance have time and again demanded truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition for a sustained reconciliation. Furthermore they have demanded respect for their dignity and agency in the process through ensuring victims wider consultation, meaningful participation and representation in the transitional process from policy drafting to the commission level.

Despite these continued pleas for engagement from the victims’ community, the political parties have shown only contempt and continue to use victims for their political ends. Since the time of the conflict and the aftermath of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2006, the victims’ community has demanded a commission to investigate enforced disappearances and provide a modicum of truth, justice and reparation to all affected families.

The Supreme Court ruling of January 2 this year again confirmed the need for this commission and the illegal nature of the proposed amnesties. Yet, this ruling is not reflected in the recent legislation.

Righteous response

The response has been nothing short of deafening, with many speaking out vehemently against the recent bills, including mothers and wives of the disappeared. Motimaya Poudel from Kaski said, “The NGOs and political heads in Kathmandu never support our justice agenda, we know the perpetrators who were responsible for the disappearance of my son, how can I forgive them on their prescription?” Chandra Kumari Basnet and Bimala Karna from Jhapa commented that “the recent bills failed to recognise disappearance and proposed false reconciliation from Baluwatar.” Sushila Chaudhary from Bardiya said, “How can this be implemented at the local level where we have no ownership or say in the bills?” Laxmi Khadka said, “We have chosen a justice path, not a revenge path but this process is leading towards a wrong path, promoting impunity.”

A decade-long conflict and eight years of failed transition point to the distinct need for a serious review and constructive dialogue at a wider public level to change the peace strategy. First and foremost, we must address the fact that victims and their associations have never felt any involvement or ownership of the transitional process and they remain systematically excluded from its leadership.

The major questions and challenges remain. Victims’ associations continue to struggle in the face of a political system that refuses them truth and justice for past violations while it continues to protect and insulate its own for fear of retribution. Victims’ nearly decade-long demand for a fair commission is still in limbo. How can we correct the process and link it to victims’ needs? Victims want commissions for truth and reconciliation and for the investigation of enforced disappearance; they don’t want to see an empty process. There must be a constructive engagement of all actors with due respect in the process; victims appeal to the political parties and Members of Parliament to amend the erroneous provisions immediately.

The Victims’ Alliance and members from across the country have jointly submitted a memorandum to the speaker and Constituent Assembly members for the necessary amendments to address their concerns. From village to district headquarters, and regional centres to the Capital, victims’ groups are mobilising and building their own campaign to create pressure constructively. This alliance is an emerging civil society actor in Nepal that will represent the victims’ voice and lead towards a peaceful Nepal.

Local level impacts

The alliance is insisting that its agenda become a national political issue, with a common agenda demanding a process that has concrete impacts at the local level. Legacies of conflict-era violations are not only a high-level political problem, but also a local level social problem that needs to be addressed. Victim mobilisation and the networks they have created have shown that if the process at the top fails to address their issues, there is no possibility to reconcile societies at the local level. The victims’ agenda has gained another dimension and must be considered seriously. Victims’ groups and their alliance must be seen as the real actors of the transition and their role in the transitional justice process should be defined for positive peace.

NGOs, in Nepal and globally, have increasingly become a part of governance, not challenging the systems that led to conflict or empowering the excluded but seeking to become important actors themselves. Genuine change has not come through a civil society that appears wedded to a system of foreign donors advancing external agendas but through popular mobilisation. The greatest example of this is the Janaandolan of 2006 that catalysed the very idea of a ‘new Nepal’. Of course, NGOs have a role to play in constructing positive change but increasingly, they are seen as a part of the problem.

The revolutions of the Arab Spring, the anti-austerity protests of Spain and Greece and the global Occupy movement were driven not by civil society but by ordinary people who wanted to force change themselves. This new civil society is using new tactics, eschewing the comfortable hotel rooms in which NGO business is done for the streets. In Nepal, the victims’ movement has seen the necessity of such approaches. The braveness of the Adhikari family in their hunger strike, and of the mothers and others who braved police violence to protest at Baluwatar, demonstrate another route for those who have suffered—and continue to—to define a new sort of politics. Victims are on the frontline not only of the struggle for truth and justice but of a new approach to activism in which ordinary Nepalis no longer trust politicians and NGO leaders to represent them but seek to themselves become agents of change.  

Bhandari is chair of the Committee for Social Justice and founder of the National Network of Families of the Disappeared

Published: 02-05-2014 08:58

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