KATHMANDU, May 24, 2017—As Nepal’s two truth commissions face mounting doubts about their ability to deliver substantive findings, a new report from the International Center for Transitional Justice and the Martin Chautari Institute highlights the continued need for truth about the human rights abuses committed during the country’s 10-year civil war. The report is aimed at helping those working on truth seeking in Nepal to better understand the gaps that currently exist between victims’ needs and rights, public policy and the current transitional justice process.
The 50-page report, titled, “We Cannot Forget”: Truth and Memory in Post-Conflict Nepal, explains that a more nuanced understanding of the value and meaning of truth in Nepal is needed in order to fulfill victims’ rights to truth, which has so far been sidelined in the national agenda. It is based on interviews with conflict victims, civil society leaders, government officials, former insurgents, political party leaders, and academics from six districts, who were asked to reflect on what “truth” means to them and their country.
“Our findings urge all actors involved in transitional justice to broaden their conception of the meaning and purpose of truth, beyond its contribution to criminal justice,” said Aileen Thomson, ICTJ’s Head of Office in Nepal. “A genuine effort at reckoning with the past would contribute to a more accountable and transparent government.”
According to the report, perspectives on truth vary considerably in Nepal. For conflict victims, the right to truth is inextricably linked to uncovering facts about violations they or their loved ones suffered. As a victim in Bardiya said, “We cannot forget, as long as we don’t find out who killed [our loved ones], who is guilty, or until we find out the truth.”
For others, particularly those in the government, truth takes on a more pragmatic value. In some cases it represents a political compromise necessary for peace, and in others a tool for political gain.
The families of the missing or forcibly disappeared, who live each day not knowing whether their loved ones will ever return home, and if they are alive or dead, continually express the need for clear information about their missing relatives, or a body so they can perform funeral rites. A woman in Daliekh whose husband was forcibly disappeared said: “If they were killed, we should be told where and how they were killed. If they’re alive, we should be told where they are. This is our biggest need.”
Not all the victims interviewed knew about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons, which are tasked with investigating and reporting on conflict-era abuses. Although the research was conducted at the early stages of the commissions’ work, and awareness has since grown, victims’ impressions and expectations remain highly relevant.
Of those who had heard of the truth commissions, some see them as deeply flawed, while others hope they will be able to help victims overcome obstacles they face locally to finding the truth and ensuring their stories form part of the official record on the conflict. Unfortunately, national debates on the commissions have narrowly focused on criminal investigations — and whether to grant amnesty to perpetrators.
“Ensuring non-repetition of human rights violations requires confronting the truth about what really happened and remembering the conflict’s devastating consequences for victims. We owe to it all future generations of Nepalis to seek the truth,” said Yogesh Raj, Chair of Martin Chautari.
According to the report, victims and their families place special importance on having their experiences recognized in an official way, through memorials, ceremonies, activities, and commemorative days. For victims, many of whom come from marginalized groups such as Dalits or indigenous and ethnic groups, being acknowledged in a such a way would mean finally gaining some respect, a sense of dignity, and self-worth.
Some victims and families have already taken steps to create their own memorials, to remember victims and spark conversation about the ravages of the conflict. However, these grassroots initiatives often face serious challenges, such as insufficient funding and lack of government support. There are also clear demands for prosecution and reparative measures, to hold perpetrators accountable and get to the root cause of victims’ suffering.
The report calls on the two truth commissions to fully implement their mandates and fulfill victims’ right to truth. It also calls on Nepali policy makers to involve victims and activists in crafting and implementing credible truth-seeking measures, including through the two truth commissions.
Aileen Thomson, ICTJ Head of Office in Nepal E-mail: email@example.com
PHOTO: Martyr's Gate in Rukumkhot, Rukum (Chiran Manandhar)