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Inside Story

Nepal: Reconciliation or retribution?

We look at whether an inquiry into the former kingdom's civil war will heal old wounds or tear the nation apart.

Last Modified: 15 May 2013 08:44
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As Nepal seeks answers after its brutal civil war, plans to launch a commission to investigate war crimes are dividing the Himalayan nation.

This new commission should be set up on the basis of a proper law that's developed through a proper, democratic, transparent and consultative process where the views of all the stakeholders should be taken into account.

 Rory Mungoven, UN Human Rights adviser

Nepal's 10-year-long civil war left more than 16,000 people killed. Hundreds of others simply disappeared while thousands more were injured.

The country's leaders agreed to investigate the war crimes as part of a 2006 peace deal between the government and Maoist rebels.

But nothing much was done until March this year, when President Ram Baran Yadav endorsed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Barely two weeks later, Nepal's Supreme Court blocked government attempts to set it up, citing concerns that the new law could grant amnesty to those convicted of the most serious crimes.

It all means that nearly seven years after the end of the war, no one from either side has been prosecuted yet. And attempts to resolve the issue appear to have stalled.

Nepal’s civil war began in 1996 when Maoist rebels revolted and called for the abolishment of the monarchy.

Five years later, Prince Gyanendra was crowned king for the second time. But direct rule by the monarchy ended in 2006, and a peace deal was signed.

Still, the Maoist rebels continued to call for the monarchy to be scrapped altogether. In 2008, they emerged as the largest party during national elections. And within a month, the 239-year-old monarchy was abolished, and Nepal became a republic, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.

Most people have this view that the South African transition was all due to the TRC and that it was a peaceful one, but that wasn't the case ... transitions are not easy so I am not surprised that Nepal is grappling with a plan for an effective transition.

Howard Varney, adviser at International Centre for Transitional Justice

Since then, the country has been plagued by political instability. A new constitution - an important part of the 2006 peace deal - has yet to be agreed on.

South Africa is one country that previously set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). A special panel was launched there in the 1990s to deal with abuses committed during the apartheid era.

Witnesses from both sides spoke of human rights violations. More than 5,000 applications for amnesty were refused, and only 849 granted.

The TRC was seen as a crucial part of South Africa's transition to a full and free democracy. But whether it was successful or not is still the subject of much debate.

So, as Nepal seeks closure after its 10-year civil war, should those found guilty of serious crimes be granted amnesty, or should they face punishment?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Shakuntala Santhiran, is joined by guests: Mrinendra Risal, a member of Nepal's Truth and Reconciliation Commission task force; Rory Mungoven, head of Asia-Pacific for the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights; and Howard Varney, a senior adviser at the International Centre for Transitional Justice, and a consultant for the South African TRC.

"As we stand today, I would say that the piece of [amnesty] legislation has been challenged in court, and let the supreme court decide whether this in contradiction with any of the constitutional provisions or is in contradiction with the international standards or norms. If it is so, we would be happy to revise it, if it's not then certainly we will move forward with it."

- Mrinendra Risal, a member of Nepal's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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