The lords of impunity

From Nepali Times, ISSUE #578 (11 NOV 2011 – 17 NOV 2011)


Balkrishna Dhungel, an aspiring politico of Okhaldhunga, was angry about an inter-ethnic marriage in the family which involved Ujjan Kumar Shrestha. On 24 June 1998, he led a cohort that waylaid Ujjan on the trail to Ramechhap.
Dhungel shot Ujjan Kumar dead, and the body was dumped into the Likhu River, never to be found. Later, Ujjan’s brother Ganesh Kumar Shrestha was murdered by a Maoist group for daring to approach the court on the murder. Ganesh’s daughter, Rachana, who had innocently pointed out her father working on the family terrace, committed suicide out of guilt.

Dhungel went on to fight the CA elections in April 2006 and terrorised the voters to get elected. Convicted of murder by the district court and reconfirmed on appeal by the Supreme Court in January 2010, Dhungel moved about freely as member of the CA, mocking the justice system. Today, Jagat Das and Ram Kumari, the elderly parents of the two dead brothers, and their dauntless sister Sabitri, are fighting Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai for having recommended a presidential pardon for Dhungel.

It is a brutal irony that the allegedly upright prime minister of Nepal has surrounded himself with unreformed bandits and murderers. Balkrishna Dhungel is on the top of that list, enjoying the cover of impunity provided by the Maoist top brass. Bhattarai is also close to the murder- accused Prabhu Sah of Birgunj, recently forced out of the cabinet.

Bhattarai also enjoys the support of many other human rights violators of the conflict era, including, it is said, the un-apprehended killers of teacher Muktinath Adhikari of Lamjung. With his weak support within the party, Bhattarai obviously has had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to build his own support base.

Not that the philosophy of political violence is remote from Bhattarai’s political ideology. It was his own 40-point document of February 1996 that took the Maoists underground in their armed struggle. On the visitor’s book of a conflict era exhibition of photographs when it visited his home district of Gorkha, Bhattarai defended the murder and mayhem suggesting that they be understood ‘in historical perspective’.

While the current prime minister may be willing to pull back on some of his party’s destructive positions of the past, on the matter of murder of the citizenry by his cohort, he seems defiantly unrepentant. The accountability for the pardon recommendation is shared between Bhattarai and each and every member of his cabinet, including the Madhesi coalition partners who agreed in the four-point deal of government formation to roll back conflict era cases and give general amnesty to those convicted. There is no arguing with the Maoists, perhaps, but one must ask the Madhesi members of the cabinet: why have you accepted this attempt to derail society by destroying the very basis of rule of law, a decision of the Supreme Court on a non-political matter?

Indeed, the Maoists and the Madhesi Front seem to be at one today in trying to weaken the structures of state. The pardon recommendation is an attempt to drag into controversy and weaken the office of the president. The rejection of this attempt must come from civil society and responsible politicians. The president can perhaps ask the prime minister to have a re-think on the cabinet recommendation, but what is required is a public opinion surge that would force Prime Minister Bhattarai to backtrack.

The National Human Rights Commission, which has stood firmly against the idea of amnesty for excesses committed during the conflict, must be backed up by the public’s opinion on the Dhungel case. Above all, it is the Parliament/CA which must demand that the government uphold the Supreme Court decision against Dhungel, and that the perpetrator himself be suspended from the House. Speaker Subhas Chandra Nembang, a lawyer and constitutionalist himself, must take the initiative and stand on the side of non-violence in politics.

If Balkrishna Dhungel is not apprehended and taken to jail as instructed by the Supreme Court in 2010 and reconfirmed by its further decision of June 2011, Nepal will be sucked into a whirlpool of impunity and depravity. No outside force can help.

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