Time runs out for victims of Nepal’s civil war as deadline to investigative abuses expires
More than 17,000 people were killed, 1,300 disappeared and thousands displaced during the decade-long civil war between Maoists and government forces that ended in 2006
Shanti Dhakal’s husband disappeared without a trace nearly two decades ago at the height of Nepal’s brutal Maoist insurgency, presumed murdered by police for having links to the rebels.
Dhakal was among 60,000 victims who registered a complaint with two commissions set up in 2015 with a two-year mandate to investigate the murders, rapes and forced disappearances perpetrated by both sides.
On Thursday, that mandate will expire before a single case has been investigated, leaving her no closer to learning the fate of her husband.
“They didn’t give us his clothes or the watch and rings he wore. If they had given us even his shoes, I could have said: ‘My husband is dead’,” Dhakal said at the school in the midwestern town of Birendranagar, where she teaches. “There was no proof, I haven’t even performed the last rites.”
More than 17,000 people were killed, 1,300 disappeared and thousands displaced during the decade-long civil war between Maoists and government forces that ended in 2006.
The commissions have been hamstrung by a lack of funds and government inertia, according to activists, suggesting authorities have been reluctant to pursue perpetrators as many still fill Nepal’s military and political ranks.
Surya Gurung, who heads one of the commissions, said repeated assurances from the government that adequate support would be provided had not translated into concrete action.
“We are not satisfied with the way the government has worked with us these past two years,” Gurung said. “They are a bit scared of this commission. They don’t know what this commission can do, will they be implicated.”
Calls to give the commissions teeth by granting them legal powers to prosecute war crimes have fallen on deaf ears, activists say. The UN has refused to support the commissions until the government ensures they are brought in line with international law.
Legislation criminalising torture has not been adopted, and the government has dithered in revoking a provision granting amnesty to alleged perpetrators, despite the Supreme Court shooting it down.
Rights groups have been scathing, warning that failure to bolster the commissions’ legal clout will “squander the hope that wartime victims have placed in this process”, Amnesty International’s Biraj Patnaik said.
The peace deal struck between Maoist and government forces to end the war paved the way for two commissions – one investigating the broader crimes committed during the insurgency and a second to scrutinise the disappearances.
They were meant to help heal the deep divides left by the brutal war, but the impoverished Himalayan country has since shuffled through nine governments as political infighting has overshadowed reconciliation.
Despite the political roadblocks, however, Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the commissions had “succeeded in accumulating a body of evidence of wartime atrocities that can lead to justice, accountability and reparations for survivors”.
“It is time for Nepal’s political parties to prove their commitment to justice and truth,” he added.
It is expected the commissions will be extended by another year when Nepal’s cabinet was to meet on Thursday, but the news brings little solace to victims like Dhakal whose faith in the process has been dashed.
“They keep reopening our wounds again and again, torturing us,” the teacher said. “At least, if in two years, they had given some proof that our loved ones have disappeared, they would be dead in our dreams. Even now he is alive in my dreams.”