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12 Point Agenda

Bipin Adhikari
The Kathmandu Post
22 Decemeber, 2005

Like the Holy Grail, the bowl that was the subject of many legends in the European Middle Ages, the Memoran-dum of Under-standing agreed between the major parliamentary parties and the Maoist rebels has also become a subject of intense efforts to discover it.

Different people describe the document differently and the nature, meaning and purpose ascribed to its text vary from party to party and analyst to analyst.

What is certain is that the document has helped forge a noteworthy alliance between the seven-party coalition and the Maoists without the latter's pre-commitment to forgo violence, lay down arms, and take responsibility for loss of human life and violation of human rights hitherto this day.

The most modest political interpretation of the 12-point common agenda agreed between the Maoists and the seven party alliance is that it does not seek an abolition of the monarchy in the changed context; it envisages, however, a limited monarchy reconfirmed by an elected constituent assembly where the king's powers are well-defined and constitutional, and parties are allowed to operate in a democratic system.

This interpretation seems to be misleading, if the way the conflict is further unfolding in Nepal is taken into account. But that is not the issue here.

The give and take between the Maoists and the seven parties, as well as the king and the rest of the forces has its own importance, as far as the inevitability of reaching a national reconciliation is concerned.

But if the 12-point common agenda is to be materialized in the framework of democracy and nationalism, and in any case, off the milieu of the "Prachanda Path," or the strategic thinking of the Maoist Chairman Prachanda, the present tendency of the leaders on the streets to trade off the rights of people with their political agenda will not help much. The issue here is the tendency to downplay human rights considerations in the peace process. One essential component of any peace building effort is to agree with each other and the rest of the nation about investigating human rights violations and war crimes committed during the last nine years of internal insurgency.

The plan should not only entail investigation of human rights cases, collection of detailed information about past abuses, commemoration of victims, and prosecution of those who are responsible for these violations.

There must also be a clear understanding that those accused of having been involved in the prior commission of atrocities will not be allowed to contest elections and take political refuge in the new set up.

International law requires there be no impunity for those who commit war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. All leading offenders must be punished in order to achieve respect for the rule of law. Societies have the right to demand a full and impartial narration of the past without closing the door on criminal responsibility.

There is just no reason why those who have committed crimes against humanity should take part in the parliamentary elections or the elections to the constituent assembly (if that is to materialize as a compromise solution).

Nepal needs to deal with those crimes to prevent a recurrence today and tomorrow. It needs to address head-on the sequels of abuses and violence of the past nine years, rebuilding confidence among those whose lives were crushed by the insurgency. It is a major issue. The 12-point agenda is just authorit-arian in its approach.

National reconciliation must not happen at the price of ignoring justice. A culture of violence, impunity and intolerance survives unchecked, and the sufferings of the victims continue to haunt the survivors.

Even though the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal and international observers in Kathmandu have chosen not to comment on the 12-point agenda in this light, there is enough going on in the world to make criminals accountable to the judicial process. Just close home, after months of delay, for example, the government of President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan has adopted an Action Plan for Peace Reconciliation and Justice last week.

As a country which witnessed a series of conflicts from 1978 through to the end of rule, Afghanistan has now declared a five-point strategy which could lead eventually to a truth and reconciliation body, similar to the one established in South Africa at the end of apartheid, or a full criminal tribunal.

Afghans now want to deal with the question of accountability for the human rights violations by the former communist regime as well as Western-backed guerrillas who overthrew it, leading to fighting among themselves and later against the Taliban.

According to a recent investigation by the Afghan Human Rights Commission, 69 percent of the 6,000 people interviewed reported they were direct victims of violations during the years of conflict.

The Action Plan commits the government and the international community to reforming the justice system and setting up a five-member task force by the end of the year to draw up a strategy to deal with the abuses.

The action plan has ruled out amnesties for those involved in serious abuses, a response to concerns that perpetrators in government and the new parliament might try to block prosecutions. It also provides for the exclusion of those responsible for cri-mes from government and the administration. President Kar-zai's adoption of the Action Plan would seem to avert that option.

The 12-point memorandum of understanding agreed between the seven-party alliance and the Maoists is a human-rights-unfriendly document at the core of its strategy. It needs a sincere revision to make it a document with a sense of accountability.

The Holy Grail is still undiscovered. But that should not mean in any case that the seven parties can waive off the application of international human rights regime as far as it involves the human rights abuses that this country is made to suffer with.

[The writer is a lawyer]

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