By Dr. Gyan Basnet
Nepal is struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of a decade-long violent civil war that ended six years ago. Genuine peace has not yet dawned, and the task of drafting a new constitution remains incomplete and now the country is going through the worst political crisis since the country entered into the peace dialogue in 2006. During the decade-long insurgency (1996-2006) eighteen thousand Nepalese, most of them civilians, were killed, and horrendous human rights violations were committed, some amounting to crimes against humanity.
Since Nepal entered the current political transition, the Maoists – instigators of the ten years of civil conflict in the name of the ‘People’s War’ – have led the government twice and have been able to make themselves the largest party in the Constituent Assembly (demised 27 May). However, far from becoming the solution to their country’s woes they seem now to be their chief cause. The time has come for some important questions to be asked of the present Maoist government and of the Maoist party as a whole. As a researcher and writer in defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms and a firm believer in the rule of law, this columnist would like to ask the following: Has so huge a sacrifice led to any improvement in their country’s fortunes? If not, what was it all for? How have ten years of suffering in the name of the People’s War been justified by its end result? The Maoists must provide answers to the people of Nepal today, and their response must cover the following points:
The Maoists fired the first shot in the People’s War on 1 February 1996 when they demanded that the government implement a forty point action plan that included the following: the removal of all unequal stipulations and agreements from the 1950 Treaty between India and Nepal; an admission that the anti-nationalist Tanakpur Agreement had been wrong, and that the consequent Mahakali Treaty should be nullified; and an end to the monopoly of foreign capital in Nepal’s industry, trade and economic sector. The paradoxical irony is that not one of these demands has yet been addressed despite the fact that their Maoist authors have themselves twice been in power since the country entered into the peace process. Their demands of 1996 could hardly be regarded as simply a piece of paper that might easily be torn up and disposed of: those demands became the basis for ten years of conflict in which over eighteen thousand of our fellow countrymen were to die.
Not only, indeed, have those demands now been ignored, but the party has a few months ago agreed with Delhi to enforce the treaty on the Mahakali and Pahcheshower projects that they themselves called Rastraghati (anti Nepal’s interest and one-sided) in the forty-point demands: they urged then that the project be stopped. Moreover, contrary to the Maoists’ own demand to nullify the ‘monopoly of foreign capital in Nepal’s industry’, the Maoist-led government has concluded the controversial Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with India. Furthermore, both Prime Ministers, Puspa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda and Dr Bhattarai have made state visits to India, but neither appeared to raise the matter of the so-called ‘unequal’ treaty of 1950 between Nepal and India.
How can such things be so easily and quickly forgotten? Once the Maoists came to power (and certainly since they signed the twelve-point agreement brokered by India in 2006) the party has completely ignored its original demands. What a paradoxical absurdity! The people of Nepal must now demand a proper justification for their failure to fulfil the very demands that they articulated so well before declaring war on the then Government of Nepal. Either they should fulfil all the demands now, or, if they cannot (or will not), offer a reasoned explanation and apology not only to our twenty-seven million citizens alive today but also to the souls of the eighteen thousand who died in what would appear to have been a wasted war.
Nepal has under the present government witnessed some of the worst examples of human rights violation, lawlessness and rampant corruption since the country entered the political transition. Government under the Maoists appears synonymous with injustice, terror and the provision of a safe haven for criminals, mafia dons and murderers already convicted by the courts. Many criminals, such as Bal Krishna Dhungel etc., have been convicted by the Supreme Court and yet are today members of the government and many were members of the Constituent Assembly. They walk freely and are well protected by the government. Is that not a great mockery of their justice and legal system?
Many times the government has promised to restore law and order in the country, but ironically its own behaviour proves that it is itself unwilling to recognise the law of the country and the decisions of its highest court. Its few months ago decision to withdraw around four hundred criminal cases, some relating to the gross violation of human rights during the ‘People’s War’, has further intensified the on-going culture of lawlessness in their country. A recent Amnesty International report on Nepal proves those facts stating ‘Nepal continued to backtrack on commitments to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses accountable before the law.
Political parties in government actively subverted justice by demanding the withdrawal of criminal charges in hundreds of cases, including for serious human rights violations committed during the armed conflict. Torture and other ill-treatment in police custody remained widespread.’ The Government’s action to release high-profile criminals from prison has made a further mockery of the rule of law and amounts to a gigantic misuse of political power.
This Government has promised time and again to ensure the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to bring to justice those responsible for extra-judicial killings, rapes and honour killings during the ten-year conflict. On the contrary, however, the Government and the Maoist party had tried to negotiate with other political forces in the country to achieve a blanket general amnesty for those who were responsible for the atrocities of the civil strife. There can be no greater disrespect for human rights and fundamental freedoms than that. A few months ago, the major political parties have agreed at long last to table the draft bill to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
However, since then there has been silence, and still they have failed to punish the perpetrators of 18,000 deaths and hundreds of disappearances. Such establishment has been delayed for years, owing to the parties’ divergent views on the terms of the bill. Late though this may be, it is nevertheless a most welcome step. What is not so welcome is that the major parties have agreed also to remove a clause that would prohibit any amnesty for serious conflict-era abuses. The omission of this clause could throw into doubt the possible effectiveness and fairness of the future TRC in seeking to establish the truth. Will there not be a danger and a fear that the perpetrators may use the TRC as a means of legitimizing their own gross actions during the war?
Present government, now caretaker since the demise of the Constituent Assembly in 27 May, talks repeatedly about ensuring good governance in the country, but its actions appear to justify practices more corrupt than ever before in all sectors of the administration. ‘Good governance’ has many characteristics: it is participatory; it is consensus-oriented; it is accountable; it is transparent; it is responsive; it is effective and efficient; it is equitable and inclusive; and it acts always in accordance with the rule of law. It ensures, above all, that corruption is minimized. However, under the current government, the level of corruption has increased, the politics of ‘Bhagbanda’ (Politics of give and take) have been encouraged, and there is a mafia-style grip on the nation’s economy (note the cosy relationship between politicians, press barons, business and contractors), siphoning off riches to family and friends and taxpayers’ money to its supporters. This is a monstrous example of nepotism, favouritism and corruption. In the twenty-first century it is hard to believe that Nepal has become a ‘networking’ state in action, a place where contacts count, and where what you do or are capable of doing matters less than whom you know.
The politics of ‘Bhagbanda’ are spreading as a cancer in their country. No single public institution appears immune from them today as the political parties bargain to appoint officials from the lowest to the highest. The practice of patronage has destroyed a society that was once based on merit, and it is destroying fast any suggestion of a democratic nation. The lavish life-style of the leaders contrasts dramatically with that of the forty per cent of our people who must live on less than one dollar a day. Therefore their people ask today: Do these immoral and irresponsible politicians have the right to mortgage the country and the future of people for their benefit alone?
The central mission now must be to change the mind-set of their twenty seven million people – to encourage them to engage in active citizenship. Their politics will only find sensible solutions when they start asserting their rights as citizens. To solve this problem, they need to reduce the concentration of power and wealth dramatically. Only by strengthening their democratic norms and values and making internal politics fairer, more transparent and more accountable shall they achieve any improvement in their state. They must seek to preserve the best of the past and abandon the worst. More homework is needed, and there must be a greater involvement of qualified individuals. As citizens and rights holders, people of Nepal must become more active politically and socially. It is vital that they exercise good judgement when participating in the political process. It is vital that they use common sense when choosing between right and wrong, between good leaders and bad. They as citizens must prove that they are more than blind supporters. They must start from today to search out a destiny for themselves.
Democracy is a noble ideal, imbued with universal principles, rights, obligations, and procedures. Democracy involves the people in a struggle to decide, not only how to organize themselves, but also how to define their system of governance and its social and cultural boundaries. Any political leaders or parties that fail to align themselves with the norms of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms must be offered no second chance. Power must be seen to lie with the people. That is the very essence of democracy.
Citizens need to be heard, and the political process must be wrested from the monopoly of a few politicians. Very different leadership qualities are needed from a louder cadre of public intellectuals who understand the nature of politics and are able to transform them into something more than just a ‘dirty game’. Now is the time to establish a positive message in their country that politics are a form of art that deserves the respect of them all.
Dr Basnet, who holds a Ph.D. and an LL.M degree in International Human Rights Law at Lancaster University, U.K, is a Columnist, Researcher in International Human Rights Law and an Advocate in the Supreme Court Nepal. Email: [email protected]