Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nepal: Peace and Justice


Kathmandu/Brussels, 14 January 2010: Nepal’s peace process is undermined by the failure to address the systematic crimes committed during the country’s conflict.

Nepal: Peace and Justice*, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the impact of the abuses and impunity on the peace process, the institutional cultures that allowed the crimes to be committed in the first place, and the prospects for progress on justice. Tackling justice now is not only feasible but would also improve the chances of re-establishing productive political negotiations and salvaging the credibility of the parties and the state. For those directly affected by the conflict, in particular victims and their families, the pursuit of justice and reparation, as well as the truth about the abuses suffered, is not an abstract concern.

“There has not been a single prosecution in civilian courts for any of the serious crimes committed during the conflict”, says Rhoderick Chalmers, Crisis Group’s South Asia Deputy Project Director. “The cultures of impunity that enabled abuses in the first place have remained intact, further increasing public distrust and incentives to resort to violence”.

There are tensions between the pursuit of justice and the pursuit of peace. An absolutist approach to accountability for past abuses is impossible in practice and could obstruct the compromises needed to bring formerly warring parties together to forge a stable political settlement. But dealing with impunity and improving accountability has a direct and acute relevance to managing Nepal’s fractious transition. Unaccountable and heavy-handed security measures by a state with weak legitimacy have escalated conflict before and threaten to do so again.

Clear priorities are required. The first should be prosecution of the most serious conflict-era cases. Without a credible threat of prosecution, any commissions of inquiry will not get beyond the inadequate explanations the army and Maoists have already provided. The second is to ensure the commissions on disappearances and on truth and reconciliation specified in the 2006 peace agreement meet basic standards. More importantly, they should be locally owned and have clear, achievable goals. Finally, vetting is needed – both domestically and internationally – to help ensure the stability of any future security forces.

Currently, the conditions for action are poor. International actors can do more to target their support, especially if the UN can take a lead by making its engagement with Nepal on the peace process and peacekeeping operations more consistent. However, international efforts are no substitute for national will.

“Nepalese society as a whole faces larger questions of the value it places on justice and the kind of peace it hopes to build”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “Such questions relate to the future as much as the past. Simply saying ‘never again’ will not ensure that abuses are not repeated”.

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