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Publication Date : 07-01-2013
The arrest of Nepal Army Col Kumar Lama in the United Kingdom has caused great consternation among Nepal’s political class. They have criticised the arrest as an assault on Nepal’s sovereignty. Presumably many of them are also worried about the precedent this might set; perhaps others will be arrested in a similar manner in the future. Of course, there is some justification for such concerns. Ideally, the victims of Nepal’s decade-long conflict would have been served justice within the country. Arrests and prosecutions in foreign lands have something arbitrary about them and don’t necessarily help transform Nepal into a just society where the rule of law is upheld. There are, however, some positives coming from the recent arrest. For very long the Nepali political class has been dismissive, even contemptuous, of human rights claims. The government refused to extend Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’s mandate in December 2011, and since then, public discussions on human rights violations have been very few. Col Lama’s arrest has forced the political class to once again pay attention to human rights violations that have occurred during the conflict. On Friday, police belatedly held five Maoist cadres suspected to have been involved in the murder of journalist Dekendra Thapa in Dailekh district in 2004.
One of the striking facts about Nepal’s current political process is how both the state Army and the Maoists, sworn enemies during the conflict, are now keen to hush up human rights violations committed by both sides. For the Maoists, this clearly is a tactical move. They are worried that a focus on violations committed by the security forces will lead to a focus on their own violations. The Maoists also seem unwilling to antagonise the Army leadership. The fall of the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government in 2009 made them realise the consequences of adopting an antagonistic position towards the Army. The current government has made efforts to cultivate the Army, even going so far as to promote Col Raju Basnet, an accused in cases of disappearances and torture at the Bhairavnath battalion during the insurgency.
Such actions have led the international community to believe that Nepal has no intention of tackling cases of serious human rights violations. As a result, various Western governments have taken a series of steps in protest. Visas to senior officials accused of torture have been denied. In recent years, Army officials have been unable to get senior positions in UN peacekeeping missions. These steps, however, have not been able to gain much traction in Kathmandu’s political circles. The arrest of Col Lama, on the other hand, has already sent ripples across the parties, government agencies and security forces. The message is clear: if Nepal is to regain credibility internationally, it has to start prosecutions for crimes committed during the conflict. As a very first step, it has to establish the long-delayed Commissions for Disappearances and Truth and Reconciliation, which still haven’t been formed even six years after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed.