THE BLOG

Waiting for Truth and Justice in Nepal

Editor's Note: The stories in this piece are based on interviews conducted with conflict-affected women in Kathmandu and Dhanghadi, Nepal. Their names have been changed to protect their identities.

A wife should never have to witness the murder of her husband as he is shot dead next to her and dies in her arms. But for Radha Nepali, this is her story.

From 1996-2006, Nepal -- a country roughly the size of Illinois, located between China and India -- was immersed in an internal conflict that has become known as "The People's War." During this decade, many of the country's population was affected by the widespread violence.

At the time, Radha's husband served as a policeman in Dhangadi, the capital city of Nepal's western Kailali district. Close to ten years ago, Radha went to visit her husband while he was patrolling a bazaar near town. She recalls standing next to him when, suddenly, she heard a gunshot and her husband fell lifeless into her lap.

Radha was so devastated that she did not think to file a police report, but believes that an investigation was opened. To this day, though, there are no leads in the investigation and she still does not know who killed her husband. Furthermore, Radha remains skeptical that she will ever know the truth because of the vast number of murders committed during the conflict.

"Personally, when I go back to that day, I feel very angry and very frustrated," Radha recalled in an interview. "If I found out who that person was who shot him [her husband] I would want to prosecute or even kill him myself, but the reality is that there are so many widows whose husbands were killed that it is impossible."

Radha's story is a familiar one in Nepal. More than 13,000 people lost their lives during the decade-long civil war, and another estimated 1,000 people disappeared. Gross human rights atrocities were committed by both sides of the conflict, including brutal killings, widespread sexual and gender based violence, torture, abduction, and disappearances. Thousands of women such as Radha were widowed as a result.

The husband of Sita Kumari from Nepal's Kavre district suffered a similar fate during the conflict. Eight years ago, her husband -- who had no political affiliations -- was abducted while attending a ceremony in honor of his new post in the district's education office. The entire village sent search parties out to look for him in nearby fields, jungle, and neighboring towns. After several days, Maoists came to Sita's home and told her to stop searching for her husband -- she never saw him again.

Two and a half years later, Sita heard that her husband had been forced to dig a hole and was then buried alive, but no one has confirmed this. Because of the uncertainty surrounding his death, Sita's family has not been able to recover her husband's body to perform the traditional death rituals, which remain sacred in Nepali culture.

Most concerning, Sita and her family believe they know the man who abducted her husband. He is from their village and serves as a prominent Maoist in the district government. Despite Sita immediately reporting her husband's death to local police and filing the case in district court, nothing was done. Sita believes this lack of action is because the case implicates officials who remain at high levels of authority. Determined to continue her pursuit for justice, Sita filed the case with the Supreme Court, which, after two years, ordered the district court to carry out an investigation. To date, the district court has yet to open an investigation.

Sita and her family's fight for justice over the last eight years has cost them both their savings and their home. After receiving threats in Kavre, Sita felt compelled to relocate her family to Kathmandu where she now lives with her eight children. Her ongoing struggle demonstrates the strength and determination of conflict-affected women in their quest for justice, but also offers a glimpse into the challenging political environment that continues to hinder and delay justice for conflict victims in Nepal.

The conflict officially ended in 2006 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which laid out provisions to facilitate the country's transitional justice process. These included the establishment of a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or TRC, and an investigation into the disappeared. Now, six years later, the government has finally enacted an ordinance bill to establish a national TRC, but has tacked on a provision that would allow commissioners to grant perpetrators amnesty in some cases.

This amnesty provision has sparked criticism from victim groups who believe that the amnesty provision's vague language is designed to protect high-level perpetrators from criminal charges and ignores victims' calls for justice. The international community has also voiced opposition to the provision, which does not meet Nepal's obligations under international humanitarian law. When asked about amnesty, both Sita and Radha were vehemently opposed to the provision.

On behalf of these concerns, a national victim groups' alliance filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court. Currently, the Court has issued an interim order against the implementation of the TRC until it is done reviewing the controversial provision.

For the thousands of conflict-affected widows -- such as Sita and Radha -- and their families, amnesty is not an option. The Supreme Court must take this opportunity to end the culture of impunity that has so far defined Nepal's post-conflict transition. Crimes committed during the conflict must be addressed before the country and its people can move forward.

The government of Nepal must prioritize the establishment of an inclusive transitional justice process that aims to investigate and prosecute crimes committed during the conflict instead of excuse them. Enacting a TRC that does not uphold the victim's rights will undermine the reconciliation process and further prolong the victims' and their families' perpetual wait for truth and justice.

Tracy Fehr is an international volunteer with Women for Human Rights, Single Women Group in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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