And so the backlash begins, as victims realise the extent of the Maoist-parties agreement on war crimes.
Slain brothers’ family fights Maoist Goliath for justice in Nepal
KATHMANDU: “I carry my brother’s last image everywhere with me,” says a smouldering Sabitri Shrestha, whipping out a piece of paper from her handbag and holding it aloft for all to see. There is a stunned silence punctuated by gasps. The black and white photo is that of a dead man lying in mud, a pool of dried blood encircling him.
“They didn’t even allow us to perform his last rites, threatening to kill us if we tried to do so,” says Shrestha as she begins to sob. “And now the government is trying to pardon the men who killed my brother and wanted his body to be left to jackals and vultures.”
The Shrestha family’s brush with Nepal’s ruling Maoist party started in 1998, two years after the communist insurgency had started. Sabitri’s brother Ujjan was killed by a group of rebels led by a powerful local Maoist leader Bal Krishna Dhungel. Dhungel became a member of parliament from the party after it signed a peace accord in 2006 and took part in elections two years later.
Nepal’s Supreme Court found Dhungel guilty of murder and sentenced him to prison for life. However, the court verdict was ignored by the Maoists, other major parliamentary parties as well as the house itself with the Maoist MP continuing to remain a lawmaker and out of prison.
This week, the Maoists, now back in power once more, added insult to the injury by asking the President Dr Ram Baran Yadav, to issue a pardon to Dhungel. The decision was endorsed by the cabinet headed by new Maoist Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai, who began his tenure this year with a clean image that however is rapidly tarnishing.
The Maoists say Dhungel is innocent and that the case against him was politically motivated. However, the apex court has found the Maoist leader guilty and several rights organisations, including the UN’s human rights office in Kathmandu, have come down heavily on the government for trying to pardon the tainted MP.
Advocacy Forum, a leading rights organisation, says Ujjan was killed not even due to political reasons but personal vendetta. He was wrongly accused of having impregnated a woman after he married Dhungel’s cousin. The cousin was from a different caste and inter-caste marriages often face a hard time in Nepal.
What makes the killing even more stark is the fact that Ujjan’s brother Ganesh was also killed by the Maoists for filing a complaint with police. The tragedy was further compounded when Ganesh’s daughter Rachana, who witnessed the murder of her father, killed herself in a fit of depression.
“Can Baburam Bhattarai bear it if his own child is killed and the murderer is allowed to go scot-free?” asks a weeping Ram Kumari, the slain brothers’ mother. The 79-year-old, along with her 81-year-old husband Jagat Das, has been reduced to sitting in protest before the prime minister’s office in the capital, stoically holding placards that say “You can’t grant amnesty to our son’s murderer” but to no avail.
Though Sabitri filed a petition in the apex court on Thursday against the PM, cabinet and the President, asking for the pardon to be scrapped, given the growing culture of impunity in Nepal, there is scant chance of her receiving justice from the Maoist government.
Though two of the other largest parties, the Nepali Congress and communists, flayed the government in parliament on Friday for over the pardon, the fact remains that they ignored the issue when they were in power. They have now seized it merely because as opposition parties they need a handle to beat the government with.
Constitutional experts are asking the President to strike a blow for justice. “The President can send the matter back to the cabinet for reconsideration,” said Bhimarjun Acharya, a leading lawyer. “Or he can consult experts to come up with his own decision.”
The President, though a constitutional head, played a key role in 2009 when the then Maoist government tried to sack the army chief. The President reinstated the sacked general, which subsequently led to the fall of the earlier Maoist government.