The government of Nepal continues to stall on holding war criminals accountable for the war crimes committed during the country’s civil war. The decade long war, from 1996-2006, led to more than 13,000 slain. The armed conflict resulted in the overthrow of the Nepalese monarchy and in the establishment of a People’s Republic, following a comprehensive peace accord in 2006.
Human Rights Watch published a World Report each year, reviewing the human rights practices in more than 90 countries. Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote in the 2017 report that the “new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections,” and that the populists consider human rights an “impediment to the majority will.”
Since the 2006 peace accord, the government has established two commissions in February 2015, to hear civilians’ complaints regarding the war crimes they had witnessed and experienced. The purpose of both commissions is to investigate the allegations of war crimes and the disappearances associated with the civil war. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been modeled after the post-apartheid commission in South Africa. Meanwhile, the Commission on Enforced Disappearances investigated the 1,300 people who remain missing since the civil war’s conclusion.
Each served as an attempt to remedy the state’s ongoing failure to properly investigate the human rights violations from the civil war. Both sides of the conflict agreed to do their investigations within six months of signing the peace agreement, but have yet to do so. Instead, controversial legislation has been signed that, “allows perpetrators amnesties,” extending forgiveness to many war criminals. Nepal’s Supreme Court subsequently ordered for the legislation to be amended, but the judicial order has not yet been enforced.
Despite the fact that over 59,000 complaints have been thus reported to the commissions, the four main political parties, each of which brought forward complaints, have agreed to withdraw all wartime cases before the courts. This retraction calls to question the county’s commitment to human rights and has sparked a series of protests in opposition to the retraction. While some arrests have been made from the protests, , “no movement on justice for the civilians who were killed, which included some children,” has been made.
Political leaders from each party are investing their time and energy by focusing on the present, trying to rebuild the country after the 2015 natural disasters. Many want the country’s tumultuous past to stay in the past, and do not want to simply deal with war crime cases. As Brad Adams, the Asia director at the Human Rights Watch, said, “Every step of the way, what we see with the Nepali government and political parties is a willingness to sacrifice victims’ needs in order to promote their own interests.” Adams continues by saying that this is a betrayal of the promises that were made ten years ago when the democratic parties “wrested control from an authoritarian state, established a peace, and promised a new inclusive and just governance.”
After 2016, members of the Maoist party promised that amendments to the constitution would be made to address grievances by holding war criminals more accountable for their crimes; however, these amendments have not moved forward. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said that the mandates created by the commissions should “be extended indefinitely to ensure that justice, accountability, and reparations are achieved” for Nepal’s victims. Both the UN and donors around the world who participated in post-conflict peacemaking and rights protections need to openly and publicly call on Nepal’s government to amend their laws. There needs to be a better response to war crime accountability.
Article 3 of The Geneva Conventions applies explicitly to internal armed conflicts. It outlines the minimum protections and standards of conduct which a State and its armed opponents must adhere to. People who are not taking an active part in the hostilities are protected by Article 3 from violence, including murder, mutilation, and cruel treatment or torture. Additionally, holding these individuals hostage is prohibited. The Parties involved in the conflict are supposed to bring into force all or part of the other provisions in the Convention. Nepal is breaking The Geneva Conventions Article 3 by not prosecuting the war crimes that have been reported. Overall, the country cannot move forward without remedying the past. The international community and bodies such as the UN should hold Nepal more accountable for the sake of human rights, and for the Nepalese people.