Nepal Fears a Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Hundreds of people disappeared during Nepal’s decade-long civil war. Nearly five years after the end of the war only a few dozen of them have been accounted for. Even the number of missing people is uncertain: The Nepal Red Cross makes the total as 1,383; a prominent Nepal human-rights NGO, INSEC, lists 930; and Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission counts 835 people as disappeared.

Both the government security forces and the Maoist rebels are responsible. INSEC says that the Maoists took away and killed 109 people and that government security forces disappeared 821.

The November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement included promises by both sides in the war to release information about the disappeared within 60 days, to form a National Peace and Rehabilitation Commission to provide relief for the victims, and to form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to “probe those involved in serious violations of human rights” and to “develop an atmosphere for reconciliation in the society.”

None of that has happened and may never happen. Both sides to the conflict wish the issue would itself disappear. Part of the agreement which recently placed Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai in the prime minister’s chair proposed blanket amnesty for all crimes committed during the war, despite howls of protest from civic groups. They say that amnesty would be a mistake and that ignoring a wound this deep will only cause it to fester.

Even though the Maoists have have many fewer missing people to account for than the security forces, Maoist legislators have been a major stumbling block to the TRC bill languishing in the Assembly. The current bill would also apply to land seized by Maoists during the war. Although Prime Minister Bhattarai is widely believed to be sincere in his promises to investigate the disappeared and return seized land, hardliners within his party consider the property to be valuable leverage to force radical land reform.

The Assembly could pass the TRC bill without the Maoists: The fact the other parties have not even tried to bring the bill up for debate suggests that they too fear an inquiry. Even the most lenient sort of TRC that would pardon offenders would taint them and block them from future service in government or politics. Senior politicians, civil servants, and Army and police officers could all be sidelined by their testimony before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (or prosecuted for war crimes if they failed to testify).

A TRC would give closure to the victims’ families would go a long way towards re-establishing trust in a society badly damaged by the civil war. But with both parties to the conflict afraid of the truth, real reconciliation looks far away for Nepal.