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Publication Date : 18-03-2013
Activists gathered under the ‘Occupy’ banner in Nepal have been protesting at Baluwatar, in front of the prime minister’s residence, for over two months now. Initially, their protests were focused against violence against women. More recently, their demands have expanded and what they seek is justice for a broad range of Nepali citizens and rule of law. As such, they have recently been demanding the prosecution of Bal Krishna Dhungel, a Maoist activist who the country's Supreme Court has found guilty of murder during the conflict.
Needless to say, this has severely annoyed several Maoist activists and leaders. A few days ago, some Maoists issued a statement warning Occupy Baluwatar protestors not to insist on the Dhungel case. Yesterday morning, a crowd of Maoist activists gathered at Baluwatar before the Occupy protestors got there and tore down their posters and pamphlets. They then proceeded to chant slogans in favour of Dhungel. When the Occupy protestors finally arrived, the police briefly detained them in order to prevent a clash between the two groups of demonstrators.
The conflict between activists seeking rule of law and prosecution for wartime crimes on the one hand, and Maoists on the other, points to a broad cleavage in Nepali society. The tensions between these two opposing viewpoints have been a major feature of Nepali politics for some years now. The incident at Baluwatar yesterday only points towards the difficulty of reconciling positions so as to ensure justice for victims of crimes committed during the conflict.
Rights activists believe that prosecution for war-era crimes is necessary for a variety of reasons. First, it is essential if victims are to feel a sense of closure and that they have received justice from the state. Second, prosecutions are seen to be a necessary step towards ensuring rule of law in the nation and prevent violent conflicts from erupting in the future. The Maoists, meanwhile, fear that activists seeking prosecution are intent on delegitimising their party. They believe that the Maoist rebellion brought unprecedented political change in the country and violence was part of this change. They thus believe that wartime crimes should not be prosecuted. They also fear that many of their close friends and comrades will be put in jail if wartime crimes are investigated and prosecuted.
The contestation between the two viewpoints is set to continue, as remains evident over discussions on the Truth and Reconciliation Bill. What is necessary for Maoist activists to understand in the meantime, however, is that disruption and violence are methods that should be shunned. While Maoist activists did not physically assault Occupy Baluwatar protestors, they did tear down posters and pamphlets. This is a form of disruption that has only antagonised a significant section of society. It is crucial that the Maoists learn to respect protests and other public events held by those who hold different beliefs than theirs.