Tackling impunity key to consolidating peace in Nepal – UN rights official

29 July 2009
Richard Bennett of the human rights office (OHCHR)  in Nepal  (file Photo)

Lack of accountability is hindering progress in the peace process in Nepal, the top United Nations human rights official in the country said today, calling for perpetrators of violations, committed both during the decade-long civil war and afterwards, to be brought to justice.

At a press briefing, Richard Bennett, the Representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR-Nepal), stressed the need for both sides of the conflict to cooperate with independent investigations into abuses.

“The victims of these violations and their families deserve no less,” he said. “They have the right to know the truth and to a remedy, and they should be at the heart of everyone’s concerns.”

Parties to the peace process agreed that addressing the past is essential for a durable peace, “but, regrettably, too little progress has been made,” the official noted.

Impunity reigns, he added, for political crimes as well, including cases of torture and arbitrary detention at the Maharajgunj barracks in the capital, Kathmandu, in 2003 and 2004, as well as several instances of where the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) are responsible.

In a recent letter to the Nepalese prime minister, Mr. Bennett said that he highlighted the urgency of the need to make progress on investigating the disappearances at the Kathmandu barracks.

In 2006, a high-level military task force dismissed allegations made in a OHCHR-Nepal report from the same year, which identified that the actions of the brigade during 2003-2004 at the barracks “as one example of systematic violations of human rights committed by [army personnel] during the conflict.”

“OHCHR considers that the NA [Nepalese army], as the alleged perpetrator, is not the appropriate institution to investigate allegations of conflict-related disappearances,” Mr. Bennett said today.

During a recent meeting with Pushpa Kamal Dahal (“Prachanda”), who heads the UCPN-M and stepped down as Nepal’s prime minister in May, the UN official said that he reiterated his concerns about unresolved cases, both committed during the conflict and in its aftermath, which the UCPN-M has admitted responsibility but the alleged perpetrators remain at large.

Some of these cases include the bombing of a public vehicle in Madi, Chitwan, killing nearly 40 people and for which the party claimed to be behind. To date, none of the five cadres identified as being behind the incident have been detained or investigated.

Mr. Bennett said that the party has also refused to cooperate with Nepal’s police in the investigation into abductions and killings.

He reiterated High Commissioner Navi Pillay’s comments in the Nepalese capital earlier this year that until demands “for justice are fulfilled and accountability for past, and in particular on-going, violations are ensured, a truly new Nepal will not emerge, and indeed, the peace process could be jeopardized.”

Earlier this month, a new UN-backed project was launched to help heal the scars left by Nepal’s civil war, using transitional justice mechanisms to spur reconciliation.

The "Peace through Justice" initiative, financed through a $2 million grant from the UN Peace Fund for Nepal (UNPFN), seeks to aid in setting up effective transitional justice systems provided for in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the 2006 pact ended the conflict between forces loyal to the former King of Nepal and Maoists.

OHCHR said that “a systematic approach to dealing with the past can help societies heal and work their way back to normality. Establishing the facts of the conflict, acknowledging the losses suffered by the victims and providing a platform for justice helps end impunity and aids reconciliation.”

The project, which will run initially for 12 months, will support the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction (MoPR) to set up bodies, such as the Commission on Inquiry on Disappearances, and will focus on documenting human rights and international humanitarian law violations committed during the conflict, which claimed some 13,000 lives.

Last week, Karin Landgren, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, cautioned that the peace process has stagnated, as the Security Council unanimously voted to extend the mandate of the the UN mission in Nepal (UNMIN) for six months.

Ms. Landgren voiced hope that the resolution sends a signal to the Government and parties “to take the peace process forward.”

Established following the signing of the 2006 peace deal by the Government and the Maoists to end the country’s decade-long civil war, UNMIN has been assisting with key tasks, such as monitoring of the management of arms and armed personnel of the Maoists and the Nepal Army.

“The peace process has had significant successes since its inception,” Ms. Landgren told reporters in New York.

But she pointed to several issues that could derail the process, such as polarization among the parties and the controversy over the roles of the army and the president.

In his latest report on Nepal’s request for UN assistance in support of the peace process, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote that progress on key elements in Nepal’s peace process has slowed down or stalled altogether owing to the country’s recent political crisis.

“The two major tasks at the current stage of the peace process are the integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist army personnel and the drafting of the new constitution,” he said, noting that efforts to advance on both these fronts slowed with the onset of the crisis sparked by the resignation of Mr. Dahal, the UCPN-M chairperson, in early May, which occurred one day after the Chief of Army Staff – who he had fired – was reinstated.

A senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML), Madhav Kumar Nepal, was elected Prime Minister on 23 May and subsequently formed a new coalition Government with the support of 21 other political parties but without the participation of the Maoists.

“The modest progress witnessed in some aspects of the peace process during the first quarter of 2009 has stalled against a backdrop of mistrust and a further deterioration of relations among key stakeholders, notably between UCPN-M and the other major parties and between UCPN-M and the Nepal Army,” said the Secretary-General.


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