(New York) – Ten years after signing a peace accord, successive Nepali governments have failed to deliver on its central human rights promises, Human Rights Watch said today. The international community, and particularly the United Nations, should press the government to fulfill its pledges as victims wait in vain for information about missing family members and accountability for crimes committed during the war.
The Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) of November 21, 2006, brought an end to Nepal’s civil war, which was started in 1996 by the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist. The war claimed more than 13,000 lives. Both the Maoists and government forces committed serious human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and sexual violence.
“The ceasefire agreement ended armed conflict, a landmark for a country torn apart by violence and war,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But the promises of accountability for abuses and the resolution of thousands of disappearances have been broken by Nepal’s main political parties, all of which have taken turns at leading the government in the last decade.”
The long civil war left a political gap that led King Gyanendra to reassert monarchical autocracy and suspend the constitution on February 1, 2005, with the support of the military. The authoritarian approach and serious human rights violations led to a people’s movement to oppose the monarchy. Nepal’s political parties formed an alliance, and together with the Maoists, made a commitment to democracy and human rights under the 2006 peace deal.
One of the key undertakings under the peace accord was to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for human rights violations committed during the war. Yet, all the political parties appear to have forgotten those promises, and the victims’ families are still waiting.
Devi Sunuwar is still demanding justice for the killing of her daughter Maina, then 15. Soldiers detained Maina in February 2004, though the army vehemently denied it at the time. Under sustained pressure from the international community, including from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the army finally proceeded with an internal inquiry and military prosecutors brought three soldiers allegedly responsible before a court martial.
According to army records, the accused were only charged with minor offenses of using improper interrogation techniques and not following procedures during the disposal of Maina’s body. They were sentenced to six months in prison, effective from March 2005. Since they had already spent that time confined to barracks during the period of investigation, the officers were set free. “The government is protecting murderers,” Sunuwar told Human Rights Watch. “But I will keep fighting till I get justice.”
Arjun Lama was abducted in May 2005, in broad daylight and in front of many witnesses by men known to be Maoists. Although the exact circumstances of his death are not yet known, his body was partially exhumed at a spot identified by witnesses who said they saw his murder. Agni Sapkota, a Maoist leader accused in the case, was denied a visa to visit the United States in June 2010, but the government has yet to take any action on the case. The National Human Rights Commission has secured the exhumation site but fears that because it is not guarded, his remains are not safe.
After much faltering, a truth-seeking commission and a disappearances commission were established in 2015, but were slow to get under way. The legislation undergirding the commissions is deeply flawed as it allows for amnesty for certain crimes, creating space for those responsible to escape justice. The law has been criticized by international experts, including OHCHR, and has been struck down twice by Nepal’s Supreme Court. But the authorities have not amended the legislation to bring it into line with either the Supreme Court’s orders or international law.
By September 2016, the two commissions had received nearly 59,000 complaints relating to wartime abuses, according to sources close to the commissions.
In a cynical move designed to provide further shelter for the abusers, the then-prime minister, Khadga Prasad Oli, signed an agreement in May 2016, with the other main political parties agreeing to withdraw all wartime cases before the courts and to provide amnesty to alleged perpetrators. This agreement was a clear statement that regardless of the Supreme Court directives, all political parties are actively working against accountability and justice.
An unrealistically short statute of limitations on reporting sexual violence has served as a serious bar to women and girls reporting rape, Human Rights Watch said. Social stigma and lack of medical and legal support have suppressed their testimony. Survivors say that they continue to feel a deep sense of injustice at being left out of reparation and reconciliation mechanisms.
In addition to accountability for wartime cases, Human Rights Watch noted that many other obligations under the peace agreement remain unfulfilled. The pledge to end discrimination based on gender, caste, class, ethnicity, and membership in other marginalized groups remains deeply contested, and power continues to rest among traditional elites. Demands to restructure the state to invest more power in marginalized communities, a central pledge of the agreement, led to months of economic blockade and many deaths in the country’s southern districts between September 2015 and February 2016. Talks designed to remedy these grievances remain stalled.
“The war was brutal, and Nepal’s political leadership should not forget that injustices need redress,” Adams said. “Nepali political leaders should stop sweeping war crimes and justice issues under the rug, and instead live up to the incredibly brave promises made under the CPA.”
A significant success of the peace accord was the demobilization and rehabilitation of child soldiers from Maoist forces. By early 2010, an estimated 3,000 Maoist soldiers who had joined as minors were reintegrated into civilian life through a government program assisted by the UN.
The UN and Nepal’s donors have an important continuing role to play, Human Rights Watch said. The UN had a large and significant presence in Nepal through a dedicated Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Mission in Nepal to enforce and monitor the agreement. Although the Nepali government applied considerable pressure to restrict full operation of the two offices, both provided important independent reports on the implementation of the peace agreement. However, the Nepali authorities, in December 2011, forced OHCHR to shut down its operations.
“The United Nations played an important role in bringing about the peace and in ensuring that both sides abided by the main planks of the peace agreement, including on human rights,” Adams said. “The UN and Nepal’s donors have a continuing obligation toward the victims of Nepal’s conflict to ensure that government delivers on its commitment to justice.”