21st of November 2020 marks the 14th anniversary of signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement(CPA) between the then CPN (Maoist) and the Government of Nepal . In 2012, upon completion of the rehabilitation of the People Liberation Army (PLA), many believed it to be the end of the peace process. However, one vital part of the process, the conflict victims were left out of the equations. The Transitional Justice mechanisms failed to function properly during its tenure due to lack of a stable strategy to deal with complaints filed by the victims. At the same time little has been done to run an effective discourse on the root causes of the war. The propaganda campaign runs high to discredit the legitimate grievances of the people and establish a narrative of the decade long war as presented by the Kathmandu elites.
The decade long war fundamentally changed Nepal. We went through plethora of structural changes. It was the first time in the history of Nepal that a constitution was drafted by a Constituent Assembly. The monarchy was abolished and Nepal was transformed from a unitary Hindu Kingdom to a Secular Federal Republic. Female participation in politics increased manyfold. Special provisions for the upliftment of marginalized communities were included in the constitution. It was the Maoist’s People’s war that developed the conscience of the general population to speak against the national discrimination more vocally. It is quite evident from the fact that a large number of NGOs advocating against discrimination came in to existence only after the Maoists joined the mainstream politics. The identity politics was given a boost and the ethnic communities were able to muster strength to demonstrate openly in the Kathmandu valley, a rare phenomenon before Maoists’ entry into the Nepal’s mainstream politics. A nation will always be a backward one if the social justice is not a part of its development agenda and this is where the Maoists were able to tune in.
However, the war also had numerous causalities, the brutal crackdown by the Nepalese state with the help of Royal Nepal Army and the Armed Police Force escalated the situation. Numerous reports of rapes committed by the Royal Nepal Army’s personnel and subsequent murders only shows the overall attitude of the then Nepalese state. It reflects on the type of relation the Nepalese state had with its population which is why more people flocked to join the ranks of Maoists at the later stage of the war. Having said that, it is also important to note that the Maoists were also responsible for number of human rights abuses as the war progressed.
Most of the conflict era cases haven’t gone through preliminary investigations let alone any detailed one. Though the Peace Agreement mandated creation of Transitional Justice mechanisms to deal with the conflict-era cases, the mechanisms were formally established after a long wait and have been marred with numerous controversies. The political leadership has failed to come up with an effective plan and as I write, the Transitional justice mechanisms remain defunct. There are differences among different stake-holders on the modus operandi of the Transitional Justice (TJ) process.
The major issue of contention is disagreement over the nature of conflict. The root causes of the conflict were purely of political nature and so the need to steer the TJ process by awarding it the political ownership is the most tempting one. However, many have argued against this proposition by dubbing it as a strategy to shield the perpetrators. Some have even argued that the cases should go through regular justice system which I believe to be an absurd proposition given the complex nature of the conflict. The retributive justice system is not going to take us towards any resolution instead it might fuel animosity and prepare fresh ground for another conflict. The whole purpose of signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was to address the legitimate grievances and stop a re-emergence of a conflict and if we fail to adhere to the spirit of the agreement, we might fail as a society.
I believe it is of utmost importance that all the stake holders hold continuous meaningful dialogues and only increased participation of varied group can ensure a path that most of us ultimately agree upon. The peace process will not be considered complete until the issue of Transitional justice has a resolution acceptable to most of us. The clock is ticking and if the leaders fail to act, the possibility of losing grip over the whole process is palpable. I sincerely hope for a better way out. Let this be our own national agenda. Let it be done the Nepalese way led by the Nepalese.
*AfterNote: The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed on 21st November 2006 as per the Gregorian Calendar but according to Nepalese Hindu Calendar the day was 5th of the month of Mangsir of the year 2063. The same day on both calendar often gets out of sync due to some difference in number of days in a month of each calendar. Accordingly this year's 5th of Mangsir has fallen on 20th November. Hence the anniversary being observed on 20th November of this year rather than on the 21st of November.