On the map
- South Asian country
- Area: 147,181 km² (5 times the size of Belgium)
- More than 27 million inhabitants
- Date of independence: 1768
- 1 out of 4 people live below the poverty line
- 3 out of 10 people can neither read nor write
- Human Development Index*: 145th out of 187 (France is 20th)
- 1 lawyer per 2,299 inhabitants (half less than in the United Kingdom)
*The Human Development Index is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and have a decent standard of living (source: UNDP).
Nepal: justice and development
In 1996, CPN-Maoists led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal started an armed conflict against the government demanding, in their words, that “the pro-people agenda” be addressed. In 2001, the government declared a state of emergency and mobilised the army, increasing the war atrocities on both sides.
The decade-long war in Nepal claimed the lives of more than 13,000 people, leaving around 1,000 people subjected to enforced disappearance. Thousands were wounded or tortured. Other human rights violations included arbitrary detention, rape and other forms of sexual violence and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Thousands were internally displaced. The conflict affected all socio-economic classes, ethnicities and caste groups throughout the country.
With the effort of seven political parties and the CPN-Maoists, an agreement was reached – also known as the 12-point Agreement – to stand against the autocratic government.
Supported by the Nepalese population aspiring for peace, the 19-day People’s Uprising in 2006 forced the then King Gyanendra to reinstate the parliament. The rebel party decided to join mainstream politics. The government and rebels signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in late 2006, bringing a formal end to the conflict.
However, the victims of the conflict still seek justice and the family members of those who disappeared are waiting for answers as to the whereabouts of their loved ones.
The very causes of the conflict are social and economic inequality, poverty and exclusion, all of which remain real and ongoing issues in Nepal.
While the civil and political rights of victims are emphasised, the immediate needs of the victims such as livelihood, employment, education, medical care etc. need to form part and parcel of the measures for reparative justice, which is missing from the current legislation and mechanisms in place.
A Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between the government and rebels in late 2006. This agreement contained a number of human rights commitments aimed at preventing future violence and accounting for the past. This includes promises to develop and adopt mechanisms to account for the dead and the missing, and to punish suspected perpetrators of human rights violations.
The parties to the CPA promised they would “not protect impunity” and vowed to safeguard the rights of the families of those who disappeared. However, eight years on impunity remains rampant. The Government of Nepal has made no meaningful progress towards identifying and prosecuting those responsible for human rights violations and crimes under international law committed during the armed conflict.
A long-awaited Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act was drafted, which was expected to be a tool of reparation and justice for victims. However, it took eight years for this law to be passed. Ensuring the Act is adequate and comprehensive is a work in progress but there are concerns that it falls short of international legal standards on crucial issues such as amnesty, victim protection and safeguarding individual rights.
Indeed, successive governments have withdrawn criminal cases against the perpetrators. Some within the police and military have even been promoted to high-ranking positions. Amnesties which could cover serious crimes under international law have been proposed.
Despite the concerns raised by the national and international human rights community, the government has failed to arrest a Maoist cadre, convicted of murder by the Supreme Court.
Recommendations made to the government by the National Human Rights Commission regarding the conflict-era cases remain unaddressed.
Furthermore, the army refuses to cooperate in the cases filed in the civilian court and former rebels do not want a proactive judiciary, ironically bringing the former foes together in opposition to justice.
One of the main challenges that Nepal faces is the little progress made and resistance to establishing genuine judicial processes. The establishment of international treaties and, in particular, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has dominated policy discussions for over seven years. However, efforts to agree on legislation that satisfies the main political parties and the security establishment, on the one hand, and the victims and civil society on the other, have met with controversy and several failed attempts.
The cumulative effect of these delays and the withdrawal of criminal cases have eroded confidence in the government’s willingness to address conflict-related crimes. It undermines the independence of the judiciary and further entrenches impunity in Nepal.
Besides, institutional reform – including of the state security forces responsible for committing many of the human rights violations that took place during the conflict – has not moved forward. Police and military personnel suspected of committing those violations have continued to serve in both forces.
Another challenge is the Interim Relief Program (IRP) put in place by the government to respond to the conflict-related abuses to date. The program’s definition of “victim” excludes victims of torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence.
Most of the victims of international crimes are the disempowered and the marginalised women, and the Dalits, Madeshis and Janajati groups. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the government and rebels in late 2006 and the transitional justice debate were assembled by political parties with international input. In fact, it emerged almost exclusively from the Nepalese elites and global discourse is not aware of the victims’ everyday lives and suffering.
Finally, Nepal has not yet acceded to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This is another major hurdle to establishing lasting peace in the country.
The international community can play a crucial role in pressurising the Government of Nepal to address any grievances people may have from the conflict era, which continue to hold them back.
Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between the government and rebels in late 2006, years have passed with no visible progression on establishing lasting peace. Today, most of the victims remain neglected and uncared for as their hopes prove unfounded.
In the absence of these concerns being dealt with rapidly, divisive issues such as ethnic and regional tensions are gaining momentum and the situation looks bleak for many. To prevent the social cracks and divisions, the government and the political parties need to work towards pro-people issues.
While such issues remain unsolved, the country can never recover from the decade-long conflict and subsequent eight years of deteriorating social and political structures.
The international community can exert its influence on the Government of Nepal to urge both the government and the political parties to act responsibly and listen to the people, including the victims of the armed conflict and their families.
The victims’ needs depend on family circumstances, education and the economic situation.
Most victims want answers to questions about the fate and the whereabouts of their missing relatives and loved ones. They are also seeking economic support, often phrased as “compensation” or a demand for privileges in terms of education, medical treatment and employment for family members. A third expect justice, with those responsible being punished.
It must be noted that the majority of victims are women and members of the Dalits, Madeshis and Janajati communities. These marginalised groups have been excluded from the peace and reconciliation process just as effectively as they have been excluded from social and political life.
As a result of the violence during the armed conflict, thousands of people were displaced and driven to the urban areas. Their property was seized by the then rebels and distributed among loyal supporters. Tensions emerged from dual ownership of the land and other property has not yet been appropriately allocated, with the government deciding to recognise that the conflict created disputes over any properties captured during the conflict.
The women, particularly those who were victims of sexual violence, have not been able to see the perpetrators face-to-face, while the hundreds of orphaned children and those who were forced to join the rebel army remain stranded.
Finally, the infrastructure destroyed by the rebels, including the bridges over the Himalayan rivers, is yet to be rebuilt. This is delaying the recovery process and depriving the population of hoping for furture prosperity.
Dealing with the international crimes will allow those affected to find closure and act as a deterrent to the suspected perpetrators.
The judiciary in Nepal has been unable to try such crimes due to several factors, including political interference and the fear of repercussions. The judges find it easy to shift the burden of justice to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and even when the Court has, in some cases, ordered the police or the State to proceed with the case, such instructions have been ignored.
In joining the International Criminal Court (ICC), Nepal will further consolidate the rule of law and will send a clear message to the international community regarding its commitment to upholding the highest international human rights. Nepal’s accession to the Rome Statute would further strengthen the Nepal peace process and help bring Asian expertise to this landmark institution.
More importantly, human rights are essential to not only achieving, but sustaining development. The link between human rights, good governance and development is well known. Finally, it is also widely acknowledged that impatience on the part of the rebels has pushed the development process in the country back by decades.
The Nepalese have waited a long time for lasting peace and hope for development. To deliver justice to the country’s long-suffering people, the Rome Statute is a tool that allows them to look to the future with hope.
Get to know the people
Hariram Chanday only had one Son who was beaten and abducted by the State Police. On the day he was abducted he went to hand in his application to join the state army. Hariram’s granddaughter has no recollection of her father. Similarly many other children where made orphans by the State and the Maoist rebels across the country.
©Universal Tv and Media
Janak Ruat is one of the few survivors of torture carried out the State on people who where arrested on suspicion of being a rebel. he was never taken to court or had a case filed against him. However, since being freed he has filed a case against the state and his tormentors and set up a trust in order to help other victims of state violence. He is an activist who travels to other countries to give talks on his ordeal and is still coming to terms with his traumatic experience.
©Universal Tv and Media
Her daughter was abducted, tortured and killed in the Army barracks. “If I had been home that day, the military men would have definitely abducted and killed me, but at least my innocent girl would still be alive.”
©Universal Tv and Media
Crossroads in Nepal
Understanding of the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court (ICC) is essential for the stakeholders including lawyers, judges and civil society members to conduct advocacy for Nepal’s ratification of the Statute. The political parties should also realise the importance of the ICC in and for Nepal and to dispel their wrong concepts resulted from misinformation on the very concept of ICC. The project is believed to build up an informed circle of people from different sectors who can take step for accession to the Rome Statute, adoption of implementation legislation and push for necessary structural reforms.
Contributing to the full implementation of the Rome Statute principles by strengthening access to justice including strengthening of the national legal frameworks by promoting ratification of the Rome Statute, contributing to its effective implementation within national legislation, and increasing target groups’ awareness of the Rome Statute system.
The project activities include a series of activities related to advocacy including workshops and trainings, publication of International Criminal Court (ICC) training module, capacity building of professionals of justice, lawyers and civil society organizations, review of existing Nepali penal laws.
Through the activities including capacity building of lawyers, judges and civil society organizations, workshop, it is hoped that associations of lawyers and legal professionals, political parties and civil society would be made aware of the ICC process and system. The development of the ICC training module would not only be useful to INSEC but to any organisation interested in the various aspects of the ICC.
Meet The Team
Bijay Raj Gautam
Executive Director, INSEC
Advocacy Department Manager, INSEC