Route to reconciliation

  • Moving forward requires greater concentration on locally-driven efforts and village-level activism
- Ram Kumar Bhandari
Route to reconciliation

Jun 10, 2014-

Eight years after the end of the Maoist insurgency, reconciliation efforts remain fragmented and the grief of thousands of victims’ families is being held hostage to political interests and a narrow legalistic understanding of transitional justice. Nepal’s post-conflict politics and growing peace industry have seen the politicisation and commodification of victims while neglecting their individual dignity and failing to provide a constructive role for families and their associations and justice initiatives. The political parties have succeeded in instrumentalising the victims’ justice agenda for political gain. Former Maoist combatants and ex-security forces have not been effectively re-integrated in their respective societies, causing tensions while the current transitional justice provisions fail to address the needs and demands of both victims and broader society for a fair and secure future.

Focus on victims

A recent compromise by political parties on the truth and reconciliation process has ended the reconciliation debate. This compromise, between the political parties and security institutions, ensures amnesty for past crimes without addressing the need for institutional change or democratisation of the security system. This compromise further demonstrates the lack of political will to promote a victim-centric or citizen-centric transitional process. In short, those in charge have managed to institutionalise a system that fails to acknowledge the past while simultaneously instrumentalising it for immediate political gain. Reconciliation is both a goal and a process—long term, individual and communal healing can only be achieved at the community level through engagement and sharing among community members, including story-telling, and the creation of spaces for families through community platforms and local dialogue groups. Ideally, this should take the form of a micro-level initiative where every individual and family feels comfortable to take part in the social unit, creating a progressive socio-cultural environment. Unfortunately, to date, examples from local peace committees have largely failed to create such a foundation for reconciliation. Promoting a victim-centric approach that focuses on victims’ participation and their needs within society can play a significant role to change such dynamics.

Various interests, particularly those prescribed by top-level actors, have taken control of the reconciliation process. In particular, Kathmandu elites have dominated the failed process to promulgate transitional justice mechanisms. In a blatant disregard for transitional justice, political elites have continued to ignore the Supreme Court verdicts of June 1, 2007 and January 2 and neglected the need for a Disappearance Commission. Furthermore, the new TRC Act, signed by President Ram Baran Yadav on May 11, ignores the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance and does not recognise disappearance as a crime against humanity. Achieving meaningful progress and reconciliation amidst these challenges will require new approaches and new ways of thinking about transitional justice, both nationally and locally.

Bottom up

As discussed earlier, the current political approach of reconciliation has failed to address the micro-level agenda of building peace from the community level. True reconciliation requires recognition and respect for the dignity of individual families and communities. However, the Nepali process,  centred in politics, excludes a community approach to reconciliation. The recent TRC legislation has fueled new conflicts, not only at the political level, but socially as well; criticised for its faulty process and amnesty provisions that not only fail to address victims’ agendas but add to the culture of revenge. Politically, the government must seek to ground transitional efforts at the local level, working closely with those most affected to build the trust and relationships necessary to move towards reconciliation.

Politics aside, local efforts have the potential to create a space for reconciliation.  For example, Hateymalo, an accompaniment programme of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has greatly benefitted relatives of the disappeared, creating an initiative to practice healing at the community level in support of true reconciliation and helping families to overcome psychological and social trauma. This programme has reached a majority of families of the disappeared and has been supportive in bringing them together to share their pain, suffering and life experiences. This has not only created a space for families but has also provided families with a path to a shared truth and empowerment within the community. Storytelling and sharing among family members has helped heal individuals and community members.

Aditionally, a Berlin-based organisation, Inmedio, has worked to reconcile and train ex-combatants, conflict victims and community members in rural villages. Inmedio has initiated community-based programmes and directly engaged with former fighters and local peoples to reconcile ‘new’ and ‘old’ community members. Such cooperation between victims and the wider community has created a harmonious route to bring people together. Understanding such dynamics and engaging constructively in the community is not only useful in comprehending conflict analysis but also to foster comprehensive solutions in our post- conflict environment.

Local initiatives

There are several local initiatives in the villages to strengthen community processes and locally-driven campaigns. Various family associations in the districts have been organising interactions and dialogue within victim’s families and with the media, civil society, women groups, youth clubs and local government and politicians to create spaces for themselves. In many cases, the victims’ initiative for local campaigns and to lead community reconciliation has not only given them agency but also a productive channel to establish their social and economic agendas. The Conflict Victims Committee Bardiya’s example of social harmony initiatives, various micro-level income generating activities of families, publishing memory books or smarikas, building local memorials such as monuments, gates, chautaris, naming schools and streets, building taps and community meeting halls provide social recognition which is part of repairing and healing. Government and other agencies could learn from such initiatives that have created a potential route to reconciliation through mobilisation, dialogue and promoting local processes to support victims and the broader community to strengthen local democracy and respect peoples’ rights on a need basis, not from the prescription of outsiders.

The value of a bottom up process at the individual and village level to the district level is an example of local efforts that should be encouraged and replicated. Programmes such as Hateymalo and Inmedio’s support through facilitation, mediation and constructive dialogue show the tangible impacts of locally-driven reconciliation mechanisms. Whilst political efforts to reform state and security institutions will be crucial for long term national peace and sustainability, post-conflict reconciliation must reach all citizens of Nepal, whatever their relationship to the fissures of the conflict. To move forward effectively will require a greater concentration on locally-driven efforts and village-level activism that will allow us to transcend the problems that persist nationally.

Bhandari is founder-coordinator of the National Network of Families of Disappeared and Missing

Published: 11-06-2014 08:47

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