Outrage in Nepal as Justice Eludes Civil War Victims

On October 1st, victims of the Nepalese civil war wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres imploring him to remind Nepalese politicians of their duty to amend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, so there is no amnesty for persons guilty of severe human rights abuses, and complete the long-delayed transitional justice process. This plea is a response to a speech given by Narayan Khadka, Nepal’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the UN General Assembly on September 27th. Khadka declared that the Nepalese government is determined to deliver justice for conflict victims via the TRC and CIEDP (Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons), according to the Kathmandu Post.

Conflict victims and advocacy groups are concerned Khadka will not keep his promise. They warned the Post that “We have heard the same lies again and again over the years.” The civil war, which for a decade pitted Maoist insurgents against the government, killed approximately 13,000 Nepalis and led to the disappearance of 1,300 more. Combatants on both sides committed atrocities, yet the TRC and CIEDP have consistently failed to resolve most of the nearly 63,000 complaints filed by victims. Nepalese police and prosecutors are still refusing to obey numerous Supreme Court injunctions urging them to investigate wartime cases, as noted by Human Rights Watch.

Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission, the Advocacy Forum, and Human Rights Watch all agree that the international community should pressure Nepalese authorities to fulfill their obligation to implement effective justice commissions. The United States, which took part in a joint military exercise with Nepali troops last year, according to The Rising Nepal, should cease cooperation with the Nepalese army until all soldiers responsible for war crimes are identified and face trial.

Human Rights Watch attests that since the end of hostilities in 2006, a pervasive unwillingness to address war crimes has entrenched a culture of corruption, impunity, and brutality among Nepalese Police, Armed Police Forces, and the Army. Security forces regularly commit gross human rights violations against Nepal’s most vulnerable minorities without fear of retribution or disgrace.

In 2015, Amnesty International uncovered the violent police repression unleashed on the marginalized Tharu community. The “Tikapur massacre” began with thousands of Tharu protestors marching for an autonomous “Tharuhat” region free from centralized state control. A clash with police resulted in the deaths of eight policemen and the Head Constable’s eighteen-month-old son. While the violence on the part of the protestors warrants condemnation, so does the police response. In retaliation, Nepalese police terrorized Tharu villages, drunkenly attacked and threatened families, arrested dozens of innocent men and teenagers, and tortured suspects with bamboo sticks and rifle butts. Ram Prasad, a teacher falsely accused of plotting to murder policemen at Tikapur, suffered such severe beatings while in custody that he still requires medication, according to the Nepali Times. The Wire reported that twelve out of eighteen people who died in police custody between June 2015 and June 2020 belonged to Madhesi, Dalit, and Adivasi communities.

Human Rights Watch retrieved multiple eye-witness accounts exposing the security forces’ unlawful, discriminatory, and disgraceful conduct towards the Madhesi people during anti-Constitution protests in 2015. Additionally, Nepalese police are often accused of ignoring crimes affecting the Dalit community, according to Development and Cooperation. Activists and journalists struggle to find any policemen facing charges for their misdeeds.

Nepalese politicians also take full advantage of impunity to further their interests. The President, who has the power to pardon criminals on special occasions, can misuse this law to get friends, colleagues, or benefactors out of jail. Immunity for a favored few and draconian punishment for the rest is breeding widespread resentment, according to the Jurist. Trust in state parties and institutions is eroding at an alarming rate. Delivering justice to victims of the civil war and systematically reforming the police could transform Nepalese society. These initiatives have the potential to restore faith in democracy and the rule of law, ensuring the maintenance of peace in Nepal.