Building trust

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has held out some hope for concerned families by his assurance that he would inquire into the alleged illegal detentions and forced disappearances of persons suspected of links with the Maoists. Deuba’s assurance came on Monday when relatives met him with a letter demanding that the whereabouts of those thus arrested be made known to them. At a time when gross cases of human rights violations have been pointed out by domestic and international human rights watchdogs, the Prime Minister’s pledge, the first coming from the present government, should be viewed in a positive light. The Kathmandu-based Collective Camapign for Peace, for example, estimates that the number of such disappearances comes to about 1,000.

It is but natural that voices are raised against such violations. When things are not transparent, the number and extent of violations often tend to be exaggerated. When the Chand-led government set about talking with the CPN-Maoist, the latter demanded that the government should make public the whereabouts or status of its detained members. Soon after the last general elections, the then Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai once told human rights representatives, when pressed to disclose the whereabouts of detainees, that those said to have disappeared have already been killed by the security forces. Now, the complaint by those in government is that human rights bodies are blaming the government more than the Maoists who are also committing atrocities. While there is some truth in this, the Maoists’ excesses are not being condoned. Besides, the responsibility of the State is far greater as it cannot be equated with the insurgents, officially labelled as terrorists. The government should follow the due legal process to deal with those who have violated the law; it cannot violate the law itself.

Merely pointing out each other’s mistakes and excesses is unlikely to resolve the nation’s crisis. What is required is a genuine effort by both the State and the rebels to improve their records in future. Now that the government is taking tentatives steps towards a political settlement of the Maoist issue, all, including the civil society, need to focus on confidence-building measures. The Prime Minister’s pledge and the government’s move to withdraw the terrorist tag on the ANNISU-R, the student wing of the CPN-Maoist, will certainly help build an atmosphere for the peace process to resume. These need to be strengthened with further steps. In a sharp departure from the past, the government should weigh the implications of its pledges, but once made, they should be implemented. This approach will go a long way in restoring mutual trust and perhaps peace later.