The skeleton key

The much-awaited report of the High-Level Investigation Commission on the excesses committed in connection with the Jana Andolan-II has indicted the King as the person primarily responsible for the suppression and killings. The 1,184-page document, submitted to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala on Monday, recommends that the parliament should take action against him. For the members of the King-led cabinet, the panel has prescribed prosecution on charges of human rights violations, or of corruption, or of both. It has suggested the making of a law to facilitate action. According to the report, dismissal or prosecution should be the lot of a number of bureaucrats or security personnel. Against current army chief Rookmangud Katawal, the then second-in-command, and Basudev Oli, the incumbent head of the armed police force, who was then in charge of operations, the panel has recommended departmental action, advising the government to demote them if they repeat the offence. Altogether, the panel has recommended action against 202 persons out of the 296 it interrogated.

The report, prepared over six months by a team of experts headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court, Krishna Jung Rayamajhi, is expected to have drawn its conclusions based on a thorough examination of the evidences. However, among the few questions it may raise is its use of the term “departmental action”, which is too wide and too vague, and is likely to bring accusations against the government of being too soft or too hard on some. What further complicates matters is its recommendation that the government should warn them of demotion if they repeat the offence. This rider is meaningless, as the probability of another revolution and another bout of suppression are negligible, at least in the near future, and by then, anyway, these persons will have already retired. Critics may rather accuse the panel of trying to appear tough without meaning much.

The responsibility of how to deal with the report will lie with the interim government and the interim parliament, both of which will be composed of all the major political parties, including all of those who steered the Jana Andolan II to a successful conclusion. While there is a widespread fear that the Rayamajhi commission report may go the way of the unimplemented Mallik commission report, which had recommended punitive action against the suppressors of the 1990 pro-democracy movement. This fear may be due partly to the fact that G P Koirala was then and is now the Prime Minister. However, in view of the radically changed times and Koirala’s November 17 statement that the government would strictly implement the report, Koirala, who is likely to head the interim government too, and the political parties, deserve the benefit of the doubt, at least for a few weeks. What cannot, however, wait that long is the need to make public a report of such vital general interest. There are two aspects to culpability — one is legal and the other is moral. The question arises whether those found to be responsible for acting against the Nepali people’s uprising, in various degrees, can morally continue to hold their office.