The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) would like to congratulate CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairperson Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” for being elected the 39th Prime Minister of Nepal on 3 August 2016. He begins his second period in eight years. The last time around, he led the government after the first Constituent Assembly elections, from 18 August 2008 to 25 May 2009.
His reign ended last time, with him resigning out of frustration, having failed to oust the then Army Chief Rookmangud Katawal. The then President Ram Baran Yadav had turned down his Cabinet’s decision to remove Katawal, ordering Katawal to stay put in office.
This time he may not be able to save face so easily. Daunting tasks lie ahead.
If the inside stories emerging are to be believed, there is a gentlemen’s agreement with the Nepali Congress in place. They have agreed to lead the government for 9 months each.
So, if the political parties in Nepal are playing musical chairs, the incoming CPN (Maoist Centre) has 9 months to push for an end to the protracted transition and pull the country out of under-development, with an immediate reconstruction drive.
Considering past political arrangements, however, there is little hope the Nepalese people can have in this abrupt change of custodian.
First and foremost is the matter of the implementation of the Constitution, which has been rejected outright by the Madhesi parties, and Madhesi citizenry.
Then, it is essential to address the delay in reconstruction in the wake of the devastating April 2015 earthquake. Common Nepalese, without any elite and political connections, have braced up to survive, without the government providing them promised assistance in reconstruction. The landslides, as a result of incessant rain last month have even added around 100 deaths to the toll. And yet, there are many Nepalese in villages and rural areas waiting for the government to reach and reach out to them, to help them withstand the rain and brace for the upcoming winter chill.
The AHRC strongly urges the government of Nepal not to smother the basic aspirations of Nepalese; they must all have roofs over their heads in coming months. Money is not an issue, as donors have pledged billions of dollars already; all that is required are robust and dedicated institutions to function with accountability. So far, such institutions are not on the horizon, and the new Prime Minister would do well to face up to this task.
Next, the Prime Minister needs to bring the peace process to a logical conclusion, particularly by allowing the transitional justice process, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), to function free and fair, so that Nepal is not seen as a State that is reluctant or incapable of dealing with past atrocities. It is imperative Nepal wants to avoid more Colonel Kumar Lamas being tried in foreign courts.
For those unfamiliar, Colonel Lama was arrested in London during a family visit in January 2013, on the charge of inflicting severe pain on Karam Hussian and Janak Bahadur Raut, at a time when the Maoist insurgency in Nepal was at its height, i.e. in early 2005. The Nepali Army allegedly tortured the two, after detaining them at Gorusinghe Barracks, where Colonel Lama was in charge. British authorities claim “universal jurisdiction” over serious human rights abuses, such as war crimes, rape, disappearance, and torture, and those crimes can be prosecuted in Britain irrespective of where they occurred.
Old Bailey Central Criminal Court has acquitted Nepali Army (NA) Colonel Kumar Lama, in one out of the two cases, for war crimes filed against him for alleged torture during the decade-long armed conflict in Nepal, while a decision is still pending in another case of torture. The 12-member jury declared him not guilty in a case filed by Karam Hussain after hearing the case for seven weeks. The verdict in the case of alleged torture of Janak Bahadur Raut has been postponed till the first week of September 2016, as the Jury failed to arrive at a conclusion.
National and international human right organizations and victim groups have reiterated the need for prosecutions at least for serious human rights abuses committed during the conflict period, 1996 to 2006. But the Maoists are vying for an amnesty process, in an attempt to conclude the peace process, however, not serve the interests of helping the Maoists wash their hands and get away easily. Countries like the United Kingdom can act upon ‘Universal Jurisdiction’, and put the perpetrators behind bars, if the route of mass amnesty is taken to cover up serious human rights abuses committed during the conflict period.
The AHRC urges the government under Prime Minister Prachanda to take care of these issues, in order to end protracted transition, and bring the peace process to a conclusion. For Nepal to move forward, it must heal, and for this to happen, victims of conflict may need to be taken abroad, their voices are heard, and their demands met.
There is no meaning otherwise, in changing the government and its custodians; it is the changing of the attitude, motivations, and institutions of the country that must be a priority.