Transitional Justice in Nepal – an achievable goal?

Nepal successfully conducted their parliamentary elections in November 2022. No single political party attained a majority of seats in the elections. The Nepali Congress Party and the Communist party of Nepal (MaoistParty), led by the incumbent Sher Bahadur Deuba and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (nom de guerre Prachanda), respectively. However, at the time of forming a coalition government, in a move that shocked the whole nation, the Maoist Party went ahead and formed a government with the Unified Marxist Leninist Party of Nepal, headed by KP Oli, with Prachanda as the new Prime Minister.

Interestingly, in the previous parliamentary elections, KP Oli and Prachanda had contested as an alliance and had won an overwhelming majority of seats. The alliance was broken in the third year of the government due to personal differences between the two parties. Now, two months after the formation of the new government, KP Oli and Prachanda have found themselves in yet another personal dispute and KP Oli and his party, Unified Marxist Leninist have exited the government. Prachanda is all set to rejoin the alliance with the Nepali Congress to retain his position as the Prime Minister.

Amidst the see-saw politics and the game of thrones played by the senior political leaders, especially by Prachanda, the Nepalese public find themselves in yet another period of political instability. These turbulent political waves were accompanied with a simple yet complex question –  who is Prachanda, and how did he come to be at the centre of Nepalese politics?

Prachanda and the Nepalese Civil War

Nepal’s Civil War was a decade-long conflict that began in 1996 and ended in 2006, resulting in the loss of more than 17,000 lives and leaving thousands injured and displaced. The conflict was primarily between the government forces and the Maoist rebels who sought to overthrow the monarchy and establish a communist state.

The Nepalese Civil War was rooted in long-standing social and economic inequalities in Nepal. The Maoists believed that the country’s monarchy and political elite had failed to address these issues, and that armed struggle was the only way to achieve a fairer society. The war saw brutal tactics on both sides, including targeted killings, torture, and the use of child soldiers.

In 2006, after years of talks, the Maoists and the government signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the civil war and paved the way for a new democratic constitution. Prachanda played a crucial role in negotiating the agreement and helped to transition the Maoist movement from a guerrilla force to a political party.

Human Rights Abuses during the Civil War

During the civil war, Maoist rebels committed many human rights abuses against civilians, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrests.

One of the most egregious examples of human rights abuses committed by the Maoists was the widespread use of child soldiers. According to the United Nations, the Maoists recruited and used more than 20,000 child soldiers during the conflict, many of whom were forcibly abducted from their families and communities.

The Maoists also targeted political opponents and members of the security forces, often executing them without trial. Human rights groups documented numerous cases of extrajudicial killings by the Maoists, including the murder of elected officials, journalists, and human rights activists. In addition, the Maoists engaged in widespread extortion and forced taxation, particularly in rural areas where they had a strong presence.

Farmers and other rural residents were often forced to pay a percentage of their income to the Maoists, and those who refused or were unable to pay risked violence or even death. The Maoists also targeted women and girls, particularly those from marginalized communities and rural backgrounds. Women and girls were subjected to sexual violence, forced marriages, and other forms of gender-based violence.

Overall, the human rights abuses committed by the Maoists during the conflict in Nepal were widespread and systematic, and had a profound impact on the civilian population. While the conflict officially ended with a peace agreement in 2006, the legacy of the Maoist insurgency continues to be felt in Nepal today.

Maoist Party in Mainstream Politics

One of the main reasons for the Maoists’ participation in the government was their strong showing in the 2008 elections. The Maoists emerged as the largest party in the Constituent Assembly and were able to form a government with the support of other parties. This was a significant achievement for the Maoists, who had previously been regarded as a fringe group outside the mainstream political process.

Another factor that contributed to the Maoists’ participation in the government was the Comprehensive Peace Accord. The Peace Agreement provided for the integration of Maoist fighters into the Nepalese army and the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights abuses committed during the conflict. The Maoists saw these provisions as a way to advance their agenda and secure justice for their supporters. Once in power, the Maoists faced a number of challenges. One of the main challenges was the issue of disarmament. The Maoists had agreed to disarm as part of the Peace Agreement, but the process was slow and fraught with difficulties. The Nepalese army was also resistant to the integration of Maoist fighters, which further complicated the situation.

Another challenge facing the Maoists was the need to balance their revolutionary ideology with the practical realities of governing. The Maoists had long advocated for a radical transformation of Nepalese society, but once in power, they had to work within the constraints of the political system. This led to tensions within the party and a sense of disillusionment among some supporters.

Transitional Justice

Transitional justice, the legal and institutional mechanisms employed by designated entities to address the legacy of past human rights abuses, has been a crucial issue in Nepal since the end of the conflict. Nepal’s transitional justice process has been stagnant, for more than a decade, due to the inability and unwillingness of every government that has come to power. Given the political alliances made by the senior leaders with Prachanda on numerous occasions, a firm commitment to transitional justice by any government has been unlikely.

One of the primary challenges facing transitional justice in Nepal is the lack of political will to implement it. The government has been criticized for its failure to establish institutions to address past human rights abuses and to provide justice to the victims. Despite the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) in 2015, the government has not taken any significant steps towards holding perpetrators accountable or providing reparations to the victims.

Another significant challenge facing transitional justice in Nepal is the lack of transparency and inclusivity in the process. The TRC and CIEDP have been criticized for their lack of independence and impartiality. The commissions have been accused of being influenced by political parties and failing to involve victims in the decision-making process. The lack of transparency has eroded public trust in the commissions and the entire transitional justice process.

Moreover, Nepal’s political instability and the continued presence of armed groups have further complicated the transitional justice process. The government’s failure to disarm and demobilize the Maoist rebels has made it difficult to hold them accountable for past human rights abuses. The lack of security has also prevented victims and witnesses from coming forward and sharing their stories.

Despite these challenges, there have been some positive developments in Nepal’s transitional justice process. The Supreme Court of Nepal has played a critical role in pushing the government to take concrete steps towards establishing a robust transitional justice system. In 2015, the court ruled that the government’s failure to investigate past human rights abuses was unconstitutional and ordered the establishment of the TRC and CIEDP. The court’s intervention has given hope to victims and human rights advocates who have been fighting for justice for years.

Indictment against Prachanda?

Since 2006, Prachanda has consistently and entirely shrugged off responsibility for all crimes committed during the Maoist insurgency. In an interview, he stated that he can be blamed for a mere ‘five thousand’ deaths and the state forces were responsible for the remaining twelve thousand. However, justice against the perpetrators of human rights abuse cannot be brushed aside using a political veil. Each individual who was involved in the violation of human rights and engaging in war crimes, including the Honorable Prime Minister must be made to stand trial.

The international donor community that provide foreign aid to Nepal must play an active role in the deliverance of justice. Foreign aid provided to Nepal must contain a precursory arrangement to form special tribunals and conduct trials to deliver justice to the victims and their families. If the victims are prevented from seeking justice in Nepal, they will be forced to seek justice elsewhere.

Transitional justice in Nepal remains a significant challenge, and the process has been marred by political instability, lack of political will, and lack of transparency. The government must take concrete steps towards establishing an independent and impartial transitional justice system that provides justice to the victims and holds perpetrators accountable for their actions. Nepal’s civil society and the international community must continue to support victims and human rights advocates in their fight for justice and accountability. Only then can Nepal move towards a more peaceful and just society.

Akshya Aryal
Akshya Aryal
Akshya Aryal is a lawyer based in Nepal