Nepal’s decade-long civil war ended in 2006. Fourteen years later, families that lost loved ones are still struggling to find justice, and perpetrators of war crimes have yet to face consequences of their actions. Despite the creation of national institutions to try and build a sustainable post-conflict society, the help of international human rights organizations, and a significant amount of time since the end of the war, why hasn’t the peace-building process in Nepal brought justice to the war’s victims?
“The People’s War”
Two years after The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was created in 1994, the group launched a “people’s war” in Nepal to fight the constitutional monarchy and establish a communist state. Many who fought as Maoists were unhappy with the oppression, discrimination, and patriarchy that they felt were part of Nepalese society at the time. In 2001, there were attempts at a ceasefire, though the talks were unsuccessful: the Maoists continued their ambushes leading to further violence from Nepal’s security forces and undermined the peace efforts.
After the king took absolute power in 2005, he made it his mission to extinguish the Maoists. The Maoists quickly followed by declaring a ceasefire, which ended a few months later. When extensive protests took place against the King’s seizure of power, a new Prime Minister was sworn in and began to engage in negotiations with the Maoist rebels.
At the end of 2006, the Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed by both sides, reshaping the government to include the Communist Party. The agreement also called for the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a National Human Rights Commission, and a National Peace and Rehabilitation Commission. These bodies were included in the agreement to encourage the investigation of perpetrators of human rights abuses, enforce human rights throughout the country, and rehabilitate victims of the conflict. In 2008, Nepal’s monarchy was officially abolished and the Communist Party, renamed the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), continues to hold power in the government today.
The Transitional Justice Process
Transitional justice refers to the specific processes a country goes through after a period of conflict to ensure that systematic human rights violations are properly addressed and the society can build a sustainable peace. For example, the transitional justice process in South Africa that addressed the injustices of Apartheid has been widely recognized as a success. It was conducted with transparency, included what both the victims and perpetrators had to say, and acknowledged the decades of racial violence as a part of the country’s history. While there is no single way to approach a history of war crimes, some countries have been more successful than others. In Nepal, the transitional justice process is still underway, though it has largely been considered a failure by international human rights organizations for numerous reasons.
First, even though the peace agreement was signed in 2006, the country’s two transitional justice bodies, the TRC and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), were not created until nine years later in 2015. This delay caused victims to be wary of the commissions from the outset. Additionally, neither commission has completed a single investigation despite having over 63,000 complaints. To this day, the government refuses to follow through with its international obligations to investigate suspected perpetrators of human rights abuses. Instead, government officials have tried to grant amnesty to suspects despite Nepal’s Supreme Court orders and repeated calls from international actors.
Furthermore, the peacebuilding initiatives in Nepal have been predominantly top-down, meaning that the local population has been excluded from the process. For years, victims of the war have demanded that they be included in the consultations that take place before the appointment of new officials to Nepal’s transitional justice bodies. In addition, they have asked the government to amend Nepal’s existing legal framework to align with international human rights laws. However, the government’s minor concessions to include victims in the consultations and peacebuilding initiatives have not been satisfactory.
The most recent set of consultations happened in January of this year. They were conducted in two three-hour sessions, included only a small number of victims, and were criticized as being more for show than to actually listen to how the victims feel and follow with measures to achieve justice. The government appointed the new officials to the TRC and CIEDP and made no attempt to change the legal framework before doing so. After a year of a stagnant transitional justice process, the initiation of these consultations brought hope to the victims that things might change for the better. However, when this process concluded, international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, released press statements accusing the government of being neither transparent nor inclusive enough in the process and ultimately undermining transitional justice in Nepal.
At first glance, it may appear that peace has been achieved in Nepal. All sides of the conflict have signed a peace agreement, the government structure was recreated to include those who rebelled, and the country has not seen widespread conflict since. However, it is the local population, namely the victims, that have been the most affected by the horrors of war, who need to feel that they have received justice. If Nepal wants to build a strong, sustainable society, the war’s victims need to be properly included in the process, and the government needs to commit to the process beyond just doing it to please the international community. It is only when the victims’ demands have been heard and acted on that an effective transitional justice process can move forward and Nepal can create a society beyond the confines of being labelled a “post-conflict” country.