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NEPAL: LAWMAKERS DRAG FEET ON TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION BILL
[September 05, 2008]

NEPAL: LAWMAKERS DRAG FEET ON TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION BILL


(English IPS News Via Acquire Media NewsEdge)
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Sep. 5, 2008 (IPS/GIN) -- Nepal's Supreme
Court extended hope to many survivors in June 2007, when it
directed the government to form a commission to investigate cases
of forced disappearances committed during the 1996-2006 civil war.
More than a year later, however, the idea of a truth and
reconciliation commission is still in limbo.

For Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Nepal's new prime minister, a major
concern is the integration of his Maoist fighters with the Nepal
Army, which he fought bitterly for 10 years. Dahal's Communist
Party of Nepal (Maoist) emerged victorious in the constituent
assembly elections held in April.

So far the bill to create the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission, introduced immediately after the Supreme Court ruling,
appears to have stalled through poor coordination between the home
and peace ministries, preoccupation with the April elections and
lack of sufficient political initiative.

"It is the sheer lack of political will," said Jitendra Bohara
of the Advocacy Forum, a Nepali human rights group.

The bill for the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation
Commission, drafted by the Peace Ministry, has undergone a fourth
revision because of a controversy over a clause concerning amnesty
for perpetrators of war crimes.

"You can't establish a truth commission in a hurry," rights
experts have warned, adding that the environment is still not safe
for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to begin work. However,
other activists say time is quickly running out and that if nothing
is done, valuable evidence will be lost. With the Maoists getting
a majority in the election and now leading the new government,
victims and their families are also afraid that the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission may never be formed.

Ramesh Shrestha, a former Maoist, lost his right arm in a
grenade attack in Kathmandu in 2000 and was in and out of military
custody for 17 months during the war. He is not hopeful for the
families of the disappeared. "In the Nepal Army as well as the
[People's Liberation Army], those responsible for war crimes during
the war are all high-level officers," Shrestha said. "If a
disappearance commission is formed, they will all be exposed -- the
Maoists will never let that happen."

Bhaikaji Ghimire, managing editor of the monthly Sama Drishti,
was secretly held for 15 months and moved between the Bhairabnath,
Shivapuri and Nakkhu Prisons in Kathmandu from 2003-2005. He said
it is the responsibility of the state and the Maoists to make
public all who were disappeared, killed and tortured during the
war, and get the perpetrators to ask for forgiveness in public.

Ghimire added, "No one has the right to forgive the perpetrators
but the victims." He was convicted under an anti-terrorism law,
tortured, made to sleep on the bare floor and put through regular
death threats and mock executions. He was freed in August 2005 when
Nepal's Supreme Court ruled that his detention was illegal and
ordered an immediate release.

Although the Maoists are now hesitant about the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission, they did support the idea of a
disappearances commission before the election. "Perhaps the Maoist
leaders now feel there is a lot of evidence against them, which is
why they want to push this issue under the rug," Bohara said. The
Maoists have told the families of those abducted by the state that
all such victims will be declared martyrs, and that they should



keep quiet for now.

Meanwhile, rights groups are disturbed by a memo from the United
States-based law firm of Holland and Knight (H&K) that proposes a
blanket amnesty for perpetrators of human rights violations. The
memo states that Nepal does not have a "clear, binding, general
duty" under international customary law or Nepali law to prosecute
rights violations. It said there is no firm support for claims that
Nepal must prosecute violations of human rights and humanitarian
law. The memo added that amnesty is common in times of political
transition, especially when truth commissions are set up.


Advocate Mandira Sharma said the memo has many flaws. "Impunity
has been the biggest challenge in Nepal, reports like the one H&K
prepared can only strengthen this culture," she said.

But Hannes Siebert, a South African consultant with the
USAID-funded Nepal's Transition to Peace Initiative, said the memo
does not state, recommend or imply that international law permits
blanket amnesties for serious crimes.

"That is a terrible misreading, or non-reading, of the report,"
added Siebert, who is also chairman of the Appeal Foundation of the
Nobel Peace Laureates, for whom the memo was written pro bono by
H&K. The group aims to enable Nepali stakeholders to develop common
ground within their often opposed positions and provide support to
the Peace Secretariat and political parties.

About the controversy over amnesty provisions in the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission bill, Siebert said this should be an
internal Nepali debate and "not the place of international advisers
to take positions or prescribe."

Joint secretary at the peace ministry, Madhu Regmi, said the H&K
memo was an independent study and its recommendations are not
binding. "We did not ask H&K to write a report in our favor. We are
not obligated in any way to implement their suggestions. Since the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a living document, we have
left it open for experts to comment, and H&K's memo is just that,"
he said.

Devi Sunuwar, the mother of Maina Sunuwar, a 15-year-old who was
tortured and killed in 2004 while in the Nepal Army's custody, is
outraged at all the talk of amnesty.

"The report says not all crimes committed during the war are
eligible for prosecution -- they need to clarify what kinds of
crimes get amnesty," Sunuwar said. "They killed my little daughter;
forgiveness is out of question. If they killed once, they will kill
again."

Copyright ? 2008 Global Information Network

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