Print Edition - 2014-07-13  |  Free the Words

Forgiving the past

  • The TRC must discourage individuals and political parties from using victims and families as a means to an end
Forgiving the past

Jul 12, 2014-

Truth, mercy, justice, and well-being are essential components for reconciliation in a post-conflict society. In the absence of any one of these qualities, true peace can hardly be realised. After violent conflicts, a well-structured mechanism, such as a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), is required to cultivate peace.

In post-conflict peacebuilding, the goals of TRCs worldwide reside in advancing public acknowledgement of atrocities and increasing national unity. The TRC sets the tone for the entire transitional justice process by putting victims first.

Offering forgiveness

The TRC is a challenging but constructive mechanism that reaches deeply into the centre of each individual’s trauma. It is a route to bring about genuine peace in society by offering forgiveness to perpetrators for their past wrongdoing under the assumption that they will not reengage in violence. In light of this, the TRC empowers victims to understand that without offering forgiveness, rebuilding relations with neighbours is not possible. Nobel laureate and South African TRC Chair, Desmond Tutu, once said, “Without forgiveness, there will be no reconciliation, and without reconciliation, there will be no development and peace.”

Nevertheless, many people, including our lawmakers in Nepal and some human rights activists, have said that justice is a prerequisite for reconciliation, rather than an alternative to it, and that the TRC may remain prejudiced in favour of the perpetrators of abuse. However, we should understand that former perpetrators will not come forward for peace unless they receive some guarantee that they will not be wholly punished for their crimes.

In order to ensure a harmonious future for both victims and perpetrators, communities must acknowledge the harm done to each other, provide compensation for losses, increase economic development and commit to resolving future differences through discussions and deliberations. It is very clear that without guaranteeing human rights, there can be no peace; however, some consideration must be made in transitional periods. Controversial cases, such as Doramba, Bhairabnath, Badhermudhe massacres, Bal Krishna Dhungel and Col Kumar Lama, should have been brought under the TRC.

Engaging both sides

It is obvious that victims and their families need care, love, mercy, respect, opportunity and compensation. The TRC should discourage individuals and political parties from using victims and families as a means to an end. Families of victims deserve peace. Families of perpetrators also deserve peace so contributions from both sides are needed.

Therefore, the TRC is a platform to reconcile everyone and open up an avenue for durable peace, particularly in the victims’ and perpetrators’ homes. TRCs worldwide attempt to promote psychological healing for individuals and groups by meeting victims in person and holding consultations. In light of this, TRCs should provide a therapeutic process for victims and families. At the individual level, testimonies provide a constructive way to channel anger and hatred by allowing the expression of feelings. Victims deserve the opportunity to tell their stories of trauma and bring them to public attention. Each testimony redirects people’s desires for recrimination through a highly visible process of public investigation into past atrocities.

Additionally, preventing the repetition of the abuses by seeking a broad analysis of social, historical and psychological causes of the conflict should remain another goal of the TRC in Nepal. Human wrongdoings during conflicts should be investigated to accumulate a more comprehensive and diversified record of past injustices than individual criminal trials. The TRC should make an effort to unravel patterns of abuse by examining historical events and the political structures surrounding incidents of violence. Following a report on serious acts of violence, recommendations are normally made to prevent a repetition of events. This often entails institutional reform.

Facing the music

By serving various purposes not met by national and international criminal judiciaries, TRCs provide an appropriate route to close the painful pages of recent history. Although justice is an important issue, the work of various commissions can be judged in terms of non-judicial effects. The suffering of victims can be acknowledged by offering non-judicial forms of justice, such as reparations and public identification of perpetrators.

My advice to members of the Nepali diaspora who were engaged in the insurgency at policy levels or in the actual conflict is that you visit Nepal and the TRC, when it comes into effect. If you refuse to do so, you may face a similar situation here in the United States, like Col Lama faced in the UK. The US Department of Justice has already begun investigations into those who were involved in the conflict in some capacity.

Transitional justice seeks collaboration from all kinds of people. But individuals and organisations that had engaged in atrocities should not underestimate the scope of the TRC. This is an opportunity to engage in long-lasting peace and we should all cooperate with the commission for it to function effectively, regardless of where we are. Taking to the streets before a TRC trial, launching campaigns against perpetrators on social media or digging up upsetting memories are not proper ways to heal the trauma of victims and their families.

This is an edited version of a piece presented at the intellectual forum of the Association of Nepalis in the Americas conference on July 5 in Washington, DC. Paneru is a faculty member at Strayer University, the US

Published: 13-07-2014 09:38

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